This is the fifth and final post in our series on DIY shark fly fishing in Southern California. We discuss some of the challenges and concerns around shark fly fishing, and what their current status is.

Past posts included:

Challenges

In Part 1, we mentioned that while makos and blues are the primary targets for fly fishermen in Southern California, there are several other offshore shark species that might be of interest. Let’s take a look at these, and discuss some of the challenges to capturing them on fly.

Thresher sharks

Thresher sharks are readily identified by their tails, which feature extremely long, whiplike upper lobes. They are considered by many to be the hardest-fighting  fish in the ocean.

Threshers are popular targets for conventional tackle fishermen, who troll plugs and skirted baits. But for fly fishermen, they’re a challenge because they don’t respond as readily to chum or teasing as makos and blues. As a result, no one has a recorded capture of a thresher on regulation fly gear.

We know of at least two very experienced thresher shark fishermen who are working on trying to catch a thresher on fly. Both are targeting small (30 – 40 lb) fish that feed actively on baitfish schools in shallow water.

No success so far, but when someone develops a reliable technique to take threshers, you can be sure that we’ll get the scoop and let you know how it’s done.

Common thresher shark

Common thresher shark

Hammerhead sharks

Readily identified by their flattened “T” shaped heads with eyes at the ends of the lobes, hammerheads appear in Southern California only in late summer, when water temperatures are at their peak. They respond to the same techniques used for makos and blues.

While hammerhead captures on fly have occurred in other parts of the US (including one by our field editor, Capt. Scott Leon), as far as we know, there have been none out here in Southern California.

The fish we see are usually over 10′ in length, and according to Capt. Trimble, are quite agile for their size. They can turn on a dime, and usually clip the leader or fly line with their fins, tail, or the lobes of their head during the fight. Captain Trimble has hooked over a dozen in the last 3 years, but has only managed to get one close to the boat, and was not able to land it.

Hammerhead shark

Hammerhead sharks respond to chum like makos
Photo courtesy Capt. Dave Trimble

Great White sharks

Over the last several years, an increasing number of Great Whites sharks have been seen in Southern California. Why this is happening is the subject of several studies, with theories focused around increasing seal populations and changes in water temperatures.

At a distance, Great Whites appear similar to makos, but there are some key differences: they have blockier bodies, a more pronounced dorsal fin, and the top lobe of their tails have a small “flag”.

When seen at boatside, their pectoral fins usually have black tips on the underside, and a great white’s teeth are triangular in shape, as opposed to the finger- or claw-like shape of a mako’s dentures.

They are a protected species in California, so it’s illegal to harass them. On the other hand, accidentally hooking and landing one is OK as long as the fish is  released immediately.

Several years ago, Jeff Patterson of Abel Reels hooked and landed one while fishing for makos with Capt. Bowman. Because of the lighting, they could not identify the fish when they cast to it, and did not realize what they’d hooked until they got the fish to boatside. The fish was released shortly after they identified the species.

Mako teeth are thin and "claw-like"

A mako’s teeth are long and “claw-like”
Photo courtesy Capt. Dave Trimble

A geart white's teeth are triangular

A great white’s teeth are triangular

Concerns

Protecting the Resource

As noted earlier, if you’re just fishing for fun, consider using a heavier tippet (25-30 lb) to avoid tiring the fish out too much, and to have more control over it at boatside. If you’re trying for a record, you’ll need to use lighter tackle compliant with IGFA rules, but if not, it makes sense to rig to protect the resource.

Keeping sharks for the table (or not)

As we mentioned in Part 4, mako sharks caught by fly fishermen in Southern California are often immature fish. While they’re large compared to most fish we catch on fly in Southern California, they’re still “just kids” and haven’t had a chance to reproduce.

No one in the fly-fishing community advocates indiscriminately keeping sharks. The only controversy concerns whether it is reasonable for anglers to keep a world record shark, or an occasional fish for the table (makos are similar to swordfish in texture and taste).

Why Catch-and-Release sharks?

  • Sharks are an essential part of the food chain, and as apex predators, there are relatively few of them around
  • They have a long gestation cycle, and only give birth to a few young each year
  • Therefore it is easy for recreational fishermen to impact our shark populations

Capt. Bowman and Capt. Trimble insist on Catch & Release only on their boats, even if the fish is a potential record. They feel that releasing all sharks is essential to protecting the resource.

Why keep a shark?

  • If you are after a world record, you will most likely need to kill the shark in order to weigh it (see below)
  • Some argue that because the California Department of Fish and Game does not prohibit harvesting mako or blue sharks, it’s a matter of personal choice whether or not you keep a shark

Whichever way you lean, just keep in mind that it is a fragile fishery, and should be treated with respect.

Can you Catch-and-Release a record shark?

One our readers, Steve Mras, has developed a technique that can be used to keep sharks alive when taking them in to be weighed for records. It involves running a raw water hose through the shark’s gills while restraining it on the deck. He’s used this method to successfully catch, weigh, and release several record makos.

Of course, this technique is potentially very dangerous. We recommend that you contact Steve to get his advice before attempting something similar.

Conclusions

So there you have it…DIY Shark Fly Fishing. We did not go into some of the more advanced techniques, such as sight-casting to cruising makos, but we think you’ve got enough information to get started and be successful. Shark fly-fishing can be a blast. Give it a try!