Interest in UK shark fishing has expanded rapidly over the last few years and what’s really exciting is that it looks like this trend is set to continue. It’s easy to understand why. Shark fishing is now very accessible, relatively affordable and certainly great value for money. Not only does everyone have a very good chance to catch a shark, you may also have the chance to catch a very large shark!
Our season preview guides you to the best in shark fishing tackle, offers top tips on fishing techniques plus some input from key shark charter boat skippers across the country. Let’s take a closer look and break the sport down into bite sized chunks in our uk shark fishing season guide!
The Quarry - Sharks in UK Waters
Shark fishing in the UK is generally centred on blue and porbeagle sharks. Blue sharks tend to show from May in the South West, before becoming the predominant catch in the South Wales area from mid-June through to the end of October. The blues vary in size from 20lbs through to over 200lbs, but anything over 80lbs is a great catch and will certainly give a decent account of itself on the right tackle.
Porbeagle sharks are present in the South West from March as they move inshore, but tend to feature less prominently through the middle of the season before returning in the autumn. In the north of Scotland the season runs from November through to March, and we certainly had customers hooking up before Christmas. These sharks vary in size depending upon the location and the time of year, but last year fish of over 500lbs were released in Cornwall. The current official IGFA world record fish was caught in the Pentland Firth, Caithness, Scotland in March 1993 by Christopher Bennet and weighed 507lbs.
Other sharks species that have been captured in the last couple of years include thresher sharks, short-finned mako and six-gilled sharks. Sadly these sharks are rare captures although most experienced shark anglers agree that greater effort with specialist techniques would lead to more being caught. The thresher and mako are both excellent sport fish, both are known for their huge stamina and ability to jump many feet clear of the water. The six-gill is very much a deep water shark that reaches huge sizes and can be caught off the west of Ireland.
Quote from Welsh Charter Boat Skipper, Nick O'Sullivan
"Celtic Charter has been shark fishing for 17 years and each year has been an improvement on the last. We first visited the shark grounds during July and August as a break from inshore fishing on spring tides. We steamed out about 20 to 25 miles and spent the day on a long drift. Catches were mostly blue shark and for a change the odd porbeagle shark. These days we travel up to 35/40 miles offshore and the season has extended from late May through to Mid-October, I think the sharks are around for a while longer but the weather and less daylight hours are against a good days fishing. The pattern for most seasons is for porbeagle sharks to appear in late May and early June, joined by the blue shark in late June. From then on through to mid-October almost anything can happen. In recent years there has been an increase in the catches of porbeagles and a mako (in 2013) plus two thresher sharks (in 2015) were caught and landed within a week of one another on different boats in the area. If previous years are anything to go by I think the prospects are good for the 2016 season, all we need is a little better weather. I am never surprised at what is caught out there, who knows but one day soon, maybe this season, a great white will take a bait. Celtic Wildcat will be available for shark trips from the last week of May. The season usually ends about mid-October." - www.celticwildcat.com
Where to Fish
Currently the two most prolific shark grounds are located in the South West of England and in South West Wales. However, charter boats are now targeting sharks further east along the channel in response to growing numbers of encounters whilst wreck fishing and this will only serve to open up the accessibility to anglers based in the East and centre of the country. Historically the grounds off St Catherines Point, Isle of Wight have produced good numbers of porbeagles and occasional threshers, and this fishing should get better as the impact of conservation measures for porbeagles takes effect. Charter boats targeting porbeagles off the North East coast are also seeing improving results. There is no doubt that other areas will produce sharks if pioneering anglers and skippers are prepared to put the effort into developing new fisheries. Don’t ignore Scotland and Ireland either both have some amazing fishing to offer.
Shark Fishing Tackle Selection
There are several different approaches to gearing up for shark fishing, and you will need to factor in a few further considerations such as the predominant target species, the age and strength of the angler and of course the budget. Have a browse through our shark fishing rods range to familiarise yourself with the different kinds that are available.
1. Stand-Up Tackle Setup
Most commonly blue sharks will be fished for with a rod rated 20lbs class or more. To get the maximum fun from each shark you catch steer clear of excessively heavy tackle. The rod will typically be around 7ft teamed with a quality multiplier reel capable of holding 300 yards or more of 25-40lb nylon monofilament. A smooth drag is a must to allow the shark take line during the fight without incident. If you intend to use a fighting harness, you will need a reel with lugs to clip the harness on to. Most anglers like to wear a light fighting belt to spread the load across the waist, while a harness would benefit those with back issues or of less than average fitness. Nylon monofilament lines are popular for shark fishing as they offer a degree of stretch to cushion the hook hold and offer greater abrasion resistance than braid. Monofilament and braided lines are not a good mix on the same boat – if you intend using braid it will pay to ask the skipper if this is ok before the day. Discover our full range of shark fishing lines before speaking to your skipper.
For targeting the bigger blues and porbeagles at the beginning or end of the season you may consider upping the line class. For shark fishing in the UK there is generally no need for tackle over 50lbs class.
Please browse through our range of shark rods and shark reels - there's a wide variety available for all fishing techniques.
Below we discuss a couple of other approaches to shark tackle for the more adventurous and experienced angler.
2. Fly Tackle Setup
For something very different and exciting, we can look at shark fly fishing tackle. We are not talking about chasing rainbow trout here, so forget any aspirations of trying to adapt reservoir or river gear. We are talking about specialist single-handed rods that are made for chasing fish such as tarpon or sailfish. These ultra-light rods matched with quality fly reels, with plenty of drag and line capacity are very capable of taking and beating blue sharks and even porbeagles in the right hands. We must stress that this is fishing with a fly rod as opposed to fly fishing. There is no casting involved and the terminal tackle is the same as would be used for the traditional method, including the use of fish strips in conjunction with the fly. Such outfits are deceptively powerful and certainly good fun to fish with. One of the benefits of fishing using fly gear is that you are always holding the rod and in direct contact with any enquiries at the business end.
3. Spinning Setup
Finally, there has been a recent trend towards heavy spinning tackle (the type of rods and reels used for giant trevally and tuna). There are a number of spinning outfits capable of handling sharks, but favourite would be a high quality saltwater fixed-spool reel loaded with braid and matched with a rod designed for popper fishing, such as the Daiwa Saltist Popping Rod. This is an 8ft lure rod with immense power, but surprisingly effective for taming most sharks. Just be mindful of previous comments about using braid.
While fly and spinning tackle are more sporting methods of approach, consider that both will be more strenuous than standard gear that could be used with a harness.
Quote from Whitby Charter Boat Skipper, Richard Ward
"We are looking forward to some good shark fishing again this year. Hopefully 2016 will be as good as the past few years with our best year up to now being 2014 when we boated 11 shark on 9 trips during the season. Our season at Whitby starts when the mackerel start showing themselves in good numbers. That can be as early as mid-May some years. Usually the best sharking is from June onwards. Our best shark to date is just over 360lbs. We have had several now around the 300 - 320lb mark since we started. We have also had a good number of 'pups' around the 90 - 120lb mark. The water temperature is up slightly at the moment on last year so if this remains the same from now on, the prospects should be quite good. All shark gear can be provided on our trips although a good number of our regular anglers have their own. All calls are welcome between 8 am and 8 pm, my mobile numbers are 07733 233352 & 07747 848406 (always with me), the land line is 01947 603472" - www.shy-torque2000.com
Terminal Tackle Requirements
Terminal tackle tends to be pretty standard for most types of shark fishing. There are two basic components, the rubbing leader and the bite trace. The rubbing leader (typically 12ft of stainless steel multistrand cable) is designed to stop the shark wearing through the line as it rubs against its rough skin (or teeth if it rolls on the leader). As the fish runs or dives its abrasive skin and tail will damage normal monofilament or braid and the leader will part. The wire rubbing leader is typically attached to the main line using a quality swivel. We use and recommend either 275lbs or 400lbs AFW 49 Strand Wire. View our full range of shark wire, traces and rigging to find out more.
At the other end of the rubbing leader is a snap link, to attach the bite trace. This is a 4-5ft length of multistrand cable, typically between 400 and 480lb with a Flemish loop for the snap-link to attach to at one end and the hook at the other. This section provides bite resistance against the shark’s formidable teeth. When a shark has been hooked and played to the side of the boat the skipper will decide if the shark is to be bought aboard. He will then disconnect the rubbing leader from the bite trace to ensure that only the short bite trace is attached to the shark. This is vital to prevent the shark rolling and tangling the wire, dragging tackle, equipment or anglers into the mess. Because there is no hardware on the end of the trace it is often easier unhook by pulling the hook and bite trace right through the hook hole to detach the shark.
i One important thing to note is that in certain cases the skipper may decide to cut the trace rather than remove the hook to prevent further damage. Always use hooks that will rust out quickly. There is a choice of using either circle or J hooks – some skippers insist on using circles to limit the number of deeply hooked sharks. Remember that the size of a circle hook is much smaller than the same sized J hook – so we would normally use 14/0 to 16/0 circles for most shark fishing.
Terminal tackle must be strong - there really is no point in using inferior gear. We've had several people phone up enquiring why their home-made traces failed... having used bicycle brake cable! Always use proper fishing wire, swivels, snap-links, crimps and quality hooks. Hooks should be either duratin or bronzed and never stainless steel which will not rust out if they are left in a fish. Components can be purchased from us to make your own traces or you can choose from our pre-assembled ranges. We have a lot of experience of making traces (Rok Max has been selling shark traces for over 20 years) and all are made in-house to order by our experienced staff. After use check your traces for any damage and signs of corrosion – either will weaken them. Always wash off in freshwater and dry thoroughly. Discard any you are suspicious of.
Shark Fishing Top Tips & Techniques
There are several methods for catching sharks but perhaps the most common is setting up a chum trail and then suspending fish baits below floats. Several baits can be fished at different distances, with the furthest bait set the deepest as the chum slick spreads wider and deeper away from the boat. The reel is set on ratchet and the rod placed in a holder ready. This is where the use of fly gear excels as the rod is always being held. There are no floats and the depth of the bait is controlled by the distance from the boat and the density of fly line used. Don’t leave the fish to run for too long before setting the hook otherwise it will be deeply hooked. For most situations we prefer to use circle hooks – this will ensure the majority of the sharks caught will be lip hooked.
Trolling: This method involves trolling weighted fish baits either with or without a chum slick. It may be that sharks are attracted to the boat as they associate trawlers with food as the as discarded fish are thrown overboard giving an easy meal. You can also chum as the boat trolls slowly, then back track through the slick you have created. What is certain is that this method is very effective in the USA. It’s considered a good method to target the larger porbeagles and mako sharks over this side of the Atlantic. The standard leader and bite trace are used, but care must be taken to ensure any fish bait doesn’t spin and twist up your traces. Always use high quality ball bearing swivels with this method. A large muppet over the head of the fish bait will also reduce twisting. Traces will also need to be weighted. There are a few purpose made shark trolling lures available. We sell a 16oz chisel head lure designed for trolling for mako’s in the USA. There is room for a lot of experimentation with this technique.
Fly Gear: We have discussed the use of fly fishing gear for sharks, but this method is very similar to standard chumming and drifting techniques. The difference is that the rods are always held, and everyone can fish at the same time. The lines are paid back at different distances and depth is regulated by the type of line used, but you are always in direct contact with what is going on. It is amazing the amount of enquiries you feel on the line when using this method. You can also impart some action to the lure if you suspect that a shark is investigating to trigger a take.
Handling and Unhooking: Some skippers advocate releasing sharks in the water. Alongside the boat. Some have special doors to enable fish to be landed safely, unhooked and then a picture taken. In any eventuality, try to minimise the time out of water and return the shark as gently as possible.
Shark Fishing Safety Basics
On Board: Some shark charter boats travel long distances to the grounds, so stow the gear as instructed and don’t start assembling rods or traces until it’s safe to do so.
Sharp knives and hooks: Be sensible, apart from the fact that a deep cut or hook injury miles from shore is going to be serious and potentially write the day off, minor injuries could spoil your enjoyment. Stow knives after use, only prepare bait in areas instructed and keep hooks and rigs in wallets and not left trailing around the deck or hung from somewhere where they could catch somebody. The skipper will give you a safety briefing before you set off and answer any questions you may have.
Footwear: It is best to wear some form of waterproof footwear with a decent grip. Walking boots are good as they are tough and comfortable to stand up in for long periods of time. Expect your footwear to come into contact with chum, oil and all sorts of other smelly residue.
Clothing: There is usually ample storage on board so take sufficient layers to ensure you don’t get cold. If you are going to be helping prepare chum and bait then waterproof over trousers are a good idea. Take waterproof and windproof clothing on every trip just in case.
Gloves: You'll be handling wire, hooks and knives throughout the day, so it's advisable to have a pair of fishing gloves to hand. They will also help you grip your fishing gear far better than wet hands.
Quote from South West Charter Boat Skipper, Chippy
"We think the prospects for sharking this season are looking good. The temperature is higher than this time last year and the mackerel are here already. We tend to start the blue shark fishing around the first week in May, but it's earlier for the porbeagles. Last year we had 1004 sharks and our best day was 112... quite possibly the best day ever recorded in the UK but in all honesty, it’s not all about the numbers. I advocate the use of circle hooks and last year we only cut off 8 hooks in 1004 sharks. I think you agree that's some great statistics and of course, good for the sharks. We also encourage the use of heavy duty spinning gear as a sporting approach. The season is looking good, but of course it's down to weather but I hope to see some of you soon." - www.biteadventures.com
Choosing a Charter Boat
It is unfortunate that some of the best known and successful boats are booked for the year or even into the following year, and it is difficult to break into the boats regular client group but there are plenty of boats available. Before you book with a charter just check a few basic points. If the boat hasn’t got any bookings is there a reason? Catch history will be the main stay in a boats popularity so do your research. Cost wise expect to pay anything between £400 and £800 per day for a charter boat offering shark fishing, but factor in your travel, accommodation, food and any tackle or bait required. Consider also how many of you will be fishing. If you are targeting summer blues then you are far more likely to achieve a higher shark per rod average than if you are setting out to catch a big back end shark, so look at the cost per head balanced with the prospects. Book well in advance. You may be lucky to pick up a cancellation and it is always worth leaving your details so a skipper can call you if he is let down.
For those of you lucky enough to have your own boats then this is not an issue but in either case, you cannot beat the weather! It is an unfortunate part of shark fishing that some trips are lost to bad weather conditions, which is frustrating when you have planned so far in advance.
Prospects for 2016
We are already in full swing here at Rok Max, supplying anglers who are busy making traces and getting prepared. While the anglers in the South of the country wait for the off, the guys in Scotland have already been out since November, but their season has been frustrated by the wind.
Expect the very first porbeagles to show in the South West from now on, but with water temperatures higher than last year things could happen earlier this season. Obviously we have had a dramatic period of prolonged high winds which affected much of the general winter charter, so let’s hope for better conditions through the season!
TIGHT LINES, THE ROK MAX TEAM
Leave your comments in the box below or if you have any questions, wish to discuss shark tackle and outfit setup, call Allan on +44 (0)1635 736436 or email in via our contact form and we will be happy to help.
2016 SHARK FISING SEASON NEWS UPDATES