If you successfully got through Part 1 and Part 2 of this series on shark fishing, you will be staring at a large fish somewhere in your chum slick. What do you do now? Most likely: tease, catch and release.

Sometimes the fish come in all hot and bothered. They may even nudge or grab the chum bucket trying to figure out what’s putting out that yummy odor. But often they hang back, swimming back and forth in the slick, never coming that close to the boat.

Our two expert shark-on-fly guides, Capt. Dave Trimble of On The Fly Fishing Charters, and Capt. Conway Bowman, will walk us through the basic techniques of getting those reluctant predators to grab a fly.

Effective teasing at work!

A teaser got this shark’s attention! Photo courtesy Capt. Dave Trimble

How to tease the fish…

Both Capts. Trimble and Bowman use hookless teasers to draw reluctant fish to the boat, and aggravate them into striking. We’ll go over rigging the teaser in Part 4, when we talk about tackle.

Start by casting the teaser near the shark, and let the fish swim up to it. Let them bump it if you want, but DON’T let the fish get a good grip on it, or even worse, swallow it.

Reel the teaser a short distance away from the fish, then let the fish find it again. Keep up this cat-and-mouse game by moving the teaser steadily closer to the boat. With a little luck, the fish will follow it in, and become increasingly agitated.

When the fish is within casting range and appears ready to eat, use the rod to flip the teaser away from the shark as far as you can. The angler should  make their cast at the same time, plopping the fly in the hole left by the teaser.

Quickly reel the teaser back to the boat and keep it out of the water. But store the rod someplace handy, in case you have to cast again.

Be very careful when you take the teaser away from the fish. Never flip the teaser directly into the boat. If you are teasing a mako and flip the teaser straight into the boat, the shark might follow it into the cockpit. Instead, flip it to the side of the boat before lifting it out of the water.

Capt. Conway Bowman working on a mako.

Capt. Conway Bowman working on a mako
Photo courtesy Conway Bowman

Cast the fly…with a clear presentation in mind

Sharks pose some unique problems when presenting the fly. First, they can’t see things directly in front of them very well because their eyes are positioned on the sides of their head, well back from the nose. Second, they have multiple rows of teeth, making a secure hook set in the front part of their jaws very difficult.

According to Capt. Trimble, successful hookups are rare when a shark takes the fly head-on.

Since sharks have long noses, if the shark takes the fly while swimming straight at you, all you will see is the fly disappearing under the shark’s nose. There’s a natural tendency to strike too soon, and pull the fly away from the fish.

But if you wait too long before you strike, the shark will take the fly too deeply, making it hard to release. This also reduces the length of the wire bite tippet outside the fish’s mouth.

And in a straight-on strike, the hook will have a hard time getting a bite in their multiple rows of teeth, often popping out during the fight.

Maximize your chances for a secure hookup

Given these factors, Capt. Bowman feels that the most effective presentation is to the side and slightly ahead of a fish moving away from the boat. The side placement allows the shark to spot the fly more easily, and if the fish is moving away from the boat when it takes the fly, striking the fish will usually cause the hook to slide back into the cartilage in the corner of the mouth

With the hook in that position, the fish can be easily released, and your wire leader will be entirely outside the shark’s mouth.

If the angler is right-handed, he will be in the port stern corner of the cockpit, facing back into the slick. This allows his back-cast to clear the boat. In an ideal world, the shark will be astern of the boat, within casting distance, heading slightly away, and passing from starboard to port

A shark about to strike the fly

A nice mako about to strike the fly. Photo courtesy Capt. Conway Bowman

Capt. Trimble notes that you can use the teaser to help make this happen. The trick is to cast the teaser beyond the fish, out to the side of the boat that complements the angler’s casting hand.

This will cause the shark to turn broadside to the angler, heading away from the boat. If the teaser is then flipped away and the fly presented in the same spot, the fish will hit it going away from the boat, which is the desired result.

What kind of retrieve? Or not?

Blue sharks are often not aggressive, even after being teased. They respond best to a fly that is dead-drifted naturally in the slick. Once the cast is made, let the fly drift freely, feeding slack out through the guides.

If the fish is ready to eat, it will turn back in the slick and engulf the fly. If the fish does not take the fly, strip the fly in, and try the drift again.

According to Capt. Bowman, it can sometimes help to throw a couple of small chunks of cut-up mackerel or sardine out near the fish. But keep them close to the boat, and don’t throw too many.

For makos, give the fly a couple of long, quick strips to get the shark’s attention, then let it sit. They’ll hit it if they’re ready to eat. If the fish loses interest, break out the teaser rod and tease it again.

Setting the hook

Set the hook with a strip strike, never with the rod. After initial hook set, Capt. Trimble likes his anglers to shift the rod and their position in the boat to pull as hard as possible at a low angle towards the tail of the fish.

That low rod angle and heavy pressure during the first run firmly seats the hook in the corner of the mouth, and keeps as much of the wire bite tippet out of the fish’s mouth as possible.

A big mako comes in for a landing

A big mako comes in for a landing. Photo courtesy Randall Bryett

Fighting the fish

Sharks are funny animals. Some fish immediately go into panic mode and take off like a scalded cat. Others allow themselves to be dragged directly to the boat after they’re hooked. They seem to be completely distracted by the pointy thing in their mouth, and ignore you as you pull them close to the boat.

But once they realize they’re in trouble, watch out! Makos are known for their jumping ability, and even a large fish can come out of the water in head-high jumps. Not a good thing close to the boat! Blues can pull strongly, but don’t jump, so they don’t pose the same risk.

Let the fish have its way for the first run. But after the fish settles down, it’s important to apply maximum pressure. Keep a low rod angle, and don’t let it rest.

Landing sharks on fly gear can be extremely difficult, because a shark’s skin is tough and has a texture similar to 220 grit emery paper. It can make short work of a monofilament leader that rubs over it. The edges of a shark’s fins can also saw through mono leaders or fly lines pretty easily.

One way to deal with this situation is to do some aggressive boat driving. Maneuver the boat to keep the line on the same side of the fish as the hook, and away from the shark’s body. Unfortunately, while this tactic protects your leader, it will completely mess up your chum slick.

For this reason, most anglers rig with heavier leaders and longer wire bite tippets (again, see Part 4), and fight the fish without moving the boat. They take their lumps and lose some fish, rather than risk disrupting their slick.

Ready for the release

Ready for the release. Photo courtesy Capt. Dave Trimble.

End Game and Release

Some sharks roll when they get near the boat. These antics make it very easy for the fish to wear through the leader. Or, if you’re using a long wire bite tippet, the fish can roll themselves up in the wire and get severely cut.

Either situation is not good. Put as much pressure as you can on the fish, and sometimes it will stop rolling. But that’s a danger signal. Get the fish to the boat as quickly as possible for the release. 

When you finally get the fish alongside, Capt. Bowman recommends keeping the boat in gear and moving forward slowly while you unhook the fish. This keeps the fish fairly calm. If the boat is completely stopped while trying to release the fish, it will sometimes get agitated and become hard to handle.

Unhooking the fish is best done using a long-handled dehooker of some sort (see Part 4, coming soon). When the fly is too far down the fish’s throat, the safest thing to do is cut the leader. If you used a plated hook instead of a stainless steel hook in your fly, it will rust out eventually.

Whew! Fish caught and released. Now go get yourself a drink and relax.

What’s next?

In Part 4 of this series, we’ll go over tackle and other gear you need to be successful.