The popularity of shark fishing with UK sea anglers continues to grow year on year. This is true for anglers fishing on charter boats as well as private boat owners looking for a chance to tangle with exciting, large, hard fighting predators.
As I write this we are getting a steam of good news from the UK government about COVID 19 being bought under control and prospects look good for a return to something like normal life. As many anglers will need to travel and stay away from home to access shark fishing this will be an important factor for a successful shark fishing season.
Key UK Shark Species
Let’s look at the various UK shark species you are likely to encounter in UK waters and the best methods for catching them. As a group of species dogfish, smooth hounds, spurdogs and tope are included as sharks in the literal sense and most of these species provide great sport on suitable tackle but we are looking at the larger species here.
Blues are most common in the South West and West Wales and are regarded as an offshore species. They prefer warmer water and become prolific in UK waters from June through to November. They are the best species for beginners to target as fish in the 50-100lb provide good sport and are great for learning how to safely unhook and handle these creatures. Most anglers favour unhooking all sharks in the water to minimise the risk of injuring any sharks captured. Sharks have evolved to have their body weight supported by the water and you risk damaging their internal organs if they are lifted onboard.
The most reliable method for catching blues is drifting with a bag of chum over the side, the chum is a mix of mashed fish, fish oil and bran to soak up the oil and scent from the mashed fish. As the boat drifts these scents will drift away in the tide and sharks will follow the trail to the boat. On the right day this can lead to a large concentration of hungry sharks and a lot of bent rods! There are great opportunities for light tackle sport with blues using large fixed-spool reels and heavy spinning rods. Please remember that in some areas you stand a chance of hooking very large blue, porbeagle or thresher with these tactics so it pays not to go too light.
You can browse our range of recommended blue shark tackle online.
Since the ban on commercial exploitation of porbeagles the population has steadily risen and now they are being found over a much wider area than for many years. At the right time of year porbeagles can be found from the northern most parts of Scotland to Lands End and the Channel Islands. This species prefers cooler water and recent scientific research has revealed that, like its cousin the great white, porbeagles can regulate their body temperature in cold conditions. They are a great species for the angler to target, they fight unbelievably hard and will exploit any weakness in your tackle.
Tactics are similar to those used for blues but as porbeagles are often found much closer inshore and around reefs, wrecks and pinnacle rocks you will generally not be drifting open water in the same way. Trolling methods are well worth trying for porbeagles – there is no doubt that they are attracted by movement. Be aware that these are very powerful fish that need treating with respect and quality tackle.
You can browse our range of recommended porbeagle shark tackle online.
The thresher is the UK’s most enigmatic shark – often hard to find, sometimes hard to catch even though they can be seen jumping close to the boat. They also look quite weird! Thresher fishing is not for anglers who don’t like blank trips. But when you do hook one you may well be treated to a fantastic display of aerobatics and screaming runs that would put a marlin to shame.
Threshers are a double threat to a school of baitfish - the front end is armed with a relatively small mouth filled with sharp teeth. The back end is armed with a long whip like tail that can scythe through a baitfish shoal allowing the shark to double back and mop up the injured. These are open water predators capable of covering large distances hunting their prey. They are generally fished for on the drift.
Tackle for UK Shark Fishing
Whenever you fish for sharks there is a possibility that your next run could be the fish of a lifetime so it pays to consider every aspect of the shark tackle you are using very carefully indeed. Large powerful sharks are quick to exploit any weakness in your gear.
Try to check all connections in your wire traces, rubbing leaders and reel line before your bait goes overboard. Double check everything again after each fish too. It’s easy to pick up some damage when playing a large fish close to the boat.
Here are the main tackle items you will need:-
Shark Fishing Rods
Most anglers use a Stand-up Rod for shark fishing - go for a rod with an IGFA line rating. Rods rated for UK boat fishing are not designed for big game fishing and won’t have the required power. You may prefer a rod fitted with rollers - rollers ease the strain on the line during the fight. Many anglers are now switch to bent butt rods. These are great for playing large fish because they lower the angle between the rod and the water allowing you to use the power in the lower part of the rod blank more efficiently.
If you do your fishing from a charter boat you will find the safety rails around the boat will be too high for a bent butt to work so opt for a straight butt or get a second alternative butt if required. For general blue shark fishing a 30lb class outfit is fine but a 50lb class set up is a better option for targeting porbeagles and threshers. In certain circumstances a fixed spool set up with a heavy popping rod is a good option and the longer rod can be useful for keeping fish away from the boat at the end of the fight. Go for the most powerful rod in the range if you decide to go this route.
Shark Fishing Reels
Most will opt for a quality big game fishing multiplier reel ideally with a wide spool (for good line capacity) and two-speed gearing to make life easier for you if a big fish goes deep with the tide running. For a fixed–spool outfit look for one of the quality brands that have designed the reel for playing big game fish.
Shark Fishing Line
There are some choices here. My preference is for a reel loaded with hollow-core braided line fitted with a replaceable 50-100yard wind on top-shot leader. This system gives you the benefits of the finer hollow core to increase line capacity coupled with the abrasion resistance and stretch of the mono top-shot at the business end. A big bonus here is that you can replace the top-shot at sea if required in a few minutes.
Alternatively you can fill the reel with mono or solid braid – mono eats up the line capacity of your reel. Braid has very little stretch so there is little margin for error.
Trace Wire and Crimps
We sell AFW 49-Strand Stainless Steel Shark Leader Cable - this product has proved itself time and time again to be superior to other leader wires on the market. For a start its purpose designed as a shark trace wire and is pre-stretched to prevent slippage. It’s also extra flexible and easy to work with as well as being corrosion resistant. For general shark fishing we recommend the 400lb size moving to the 480lb size where greater durability is required.
Give your connections extra security by using the Offshore or Flemish Loop. Always use double barrel copper crimps for crimping shark wire - it’s generally not necessary to use two crimps on one connection as long as you crimp the trace correctly. Make sure the crimping pliers you are using are designed for use with the crimps. Aluminium crimps are for use with monofilament line not wire.
Swivels and Snap Links
I recommend the AFW Ball Bearing swivels and snap links for all heavy duty big game fishing - these products are tried and tested and never seem to let anyone down. I’ve recently started using Momoi Diamond Escape Proof Ball Bearing Snap Swivel. This clever gizmo is really strong and very easy to clip and unclip - even with cold wet hands. In big sizes conventional snap links are hard work to unclip.
Shark Fishing Hooks
Most anglers now use Circle hooks for their shark fishing. This is a great thing to do as true circle hooks rarely get swallowed and the majority of sharks you catch will be well hooked in the corner of the mouth. As long as you reel down slowly onto a run your hook up rate will be good. If you strike as you would with a J-hook you will bounce the hook out of the shark’s mouth. Beware of baiting the hook so the gape blocked with the bait. This won’t work. An easy way to hook a baitfish on is to pass the hook through the lower and upper jaws just behind the baits nose. That way the hook is not obscured and hook ups should be easy.
In certain circumstances a J-hook is preferable – this is when, for whatever reason, the shark doesn’t have time to take the bait and swim off with it. A good example would be when you are trolling a bait behind a boat.
Floats / Balloons
My preference is for a balloon attached to the line by a Fisher King Balloon Clip. The big advantage of these is you can inflate the balloon more or less to get the exact amount of buoyancy required. Less buoyancy means less resistance when a shark picks up the bait – this can be important if they are in a finicky mood.
Other things to try
In recent years shark anglers have got quite inventive with adding things to their traces to make their bait look more attractive. Our customers have had good success with the following:-
We hope everyone has a great Shark season in 2021 with plenty of calm sunny days on the water.
Allan and Gordon