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The Basics of Shark Fishing
By: Captain Ray Kelly

Shark season has started. It is August -- prime time for shark here on Long Island. Anglers have been chomping at the bit to get out there. Most shark anglers know that blue sharks are the primarily bite in June with Makos also making their appearance. Although not as experienced at catching sharks as other species, it gives me a big thrill to go after them. There is just something about the fish that I find fascinating. I am sure the movie Jaws had something to do with it.

It really is not that difficult to fish for sharks. Of course you need much heavier tackle than you would use for catching bluefish or striped bass. Many shark anglers use Penn International Reels with heavy shark or tuna rods. You hear about Penn 50's or Penn 80's, but your more anglers are now switching to lighter tackle. Penn 30 and even Penn GTI series reels are more commonly being used. I have landed sharks on a Penn 114 H, and let me tell you, it is some fight. The line test varies but should be somewhere between 30 pound to 50 pound test. I like to use 50 pound just in case a big mako hits.

Generally anglers do not like catching blue sharks because they do not jump like mako sharks. Blue sharks can get pretty big, though -- as big as 12 feet! If you haven't caught a big shark, it is quite an experience. Some say blue sharks even give you a good fight. Here again, if you have never caught one you'll enjoy the experience. It is something worth doing at least once in your lifetime.

The most important technique used when shark fishing is to set a good chum slick -- just like when flounder fishing -- only using much more chum. There are different kinds of chum used for catching sharks. I'll mention two here. The first is bunker chum. Bunker chum is ground up bunker which is then frozen in large tins. Bunker chum is very oily and produces a slick on top of the water. You can actually see the slick flatter than the surrounding water.

The second type of chum is mackerel chum. It is ground up mackerel which produces the same effect. You can get a nice chum bag, but you can also just punch holes in the tin can itself to get the chum to leak out. You should be aware that sometimes the sharks will attack the chum bags and tins, themselves! I like to use a plastic milk crate with the chum right in it. Some say this is over-doing it, but I don't like to wait long for a hit, and it seems that sharks appear that much sooner when I start chumming this way.

It is amazing to see the big sharks swimming right up the chum slick and right by your boat. You get an eerie feeling the first few times it happens. I might add that it's very beneficial to wear polarized sunglasses when you are out there on the water. They protect your eyes from the ultraviolet rays and allow you to cut the glare and see into the water. My choice would be like Ocean Wave polarized sunglasses.

I have been told by a number of different shark anglers to always use different baits. The best baits I have found are whole bluefish (preferably live), bluefish filets, mackerel, mackerel filets and tuna filets. Use different baits on different rigs. You should also have a heavy leader, about 10-15 feet in length. 100 lb. monofilament, a wire leader, a pre-rigged leader all work. The usual hook size is 6/0 to 10/0. Another important item is your float. You have to float the baits at different depths. Common floats to use are pieces of styrofoam or balloons. I prefer balloons because they're easier to put on the line, and seem to stay better. Some anglers have favorite colors but I'm not sure of their effect, although reds, pinks and whites do show up better on the water. Fish one line about 50 yards from the boat and another at 75 yards. Remember to keep one in close as well, especially for those sharks that come right up to your chum bucket.

That is basically all there is to shark fishing. Now all you have to do is start drifting. It is very advantageous to have a southerly wind. The reason is that the wind will cause you to drift towards the beach, which is home. Keep the drag off your reel, but leave the clicker on. It will warn you when a shark takes you bait. Some anglers like to let the shark eat the bait for a while. As they say: "let him run with the bait". I prefer to try and hook the shark quickly, just in case it's planning on spitting the bait. Remember to set the hook three or four times to make sure you have a good hook up.

When hooked, Mako Sharks will usually jump and put on quite an exciting. Blue sharks don't jump but they will give you pretty good fight, depending on the size of fish. In Long Island waters, you might also catch the fairly common Thresher sharks.

Sharks are normally offshore, but have been caught close to the beach as well. Anglers will say that you have to fish the canyons for the bigger fish. Some also like to fish wrecks. But the bottom line is that where there is bait, sharks will follow. I do most of my sharks fishing about 15-20 miles southeast of Shinnecock Inlet. The water depth is between 130 and 180 feet. Most of the time I catch blue sharks, which can be fun to catch, although not edible. On the other hand, Makos are delicious. If you have never tried Mako on the restaurant menu, you should do so at least once. You know the old saying: "try it , you'll like it!".

I would also highly recommend that you enter a shark tournament. You really don't have to be experienced to enter. The fees are not that expensive, and what is more important is that you're part of a competition. Make sure you have a seaworthy boat (some tournaments have minimum lengths on the boats, which is a good safety measure). A great tournament to enter is the Mako Mania Shark Tournament sponsored by the Shinnecock Anglers Society.

This year it was held on July 9-10 with the weigh-in being held at Oakland's Dock and Marina, on Dune Road in Hampton Bays. There was $10,000 in cash and prizes given away. The winning Mako weighed 376 pounds, and was caught on the "Bimini Bum", Captained by Anthony Vaccaro of the Hampton Harbor Marina. For information on next years tournament, call Molnaršs Landing at 728-1860. We filmed the weigh-in for a segment on our television show, ADVENTURES IN FISHING WITH CAPT. RAY KELLY. I would highly recommend entering next years tournament. You'll have a good time and you may even win!

Capt. Allan can be reached at 1-800-743-8898 or give us a call at (516) 929-6711 and we will arrange your fishing vacation for you.

Visit Capt. Ray at his website or drop him a line at


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