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drifting and berleying for mako sharks

Aussie anglers had a massive scare during the summer of 2009.  The enigmatic mako shark went from a legitimate and highly desired off shore angling target to banned in the blink of an eye due to political principles surrounding Australia being a signatory to the Conservation of Migratory Species Treaty – It was a knucklehead move based upon stock pressures in the northern hemisphere and no reflection of the health of the population down south, anglers were saved by some hard data collected by local game fishos that was hard to ignore – it’s very hard to separate fishing from politics these days.


Thank goodness some concerted efforts by a determined band of anglers across the country who saw this overturned with nothing more then a summer of discontent when the mako’s were not part of the game fishing repertoire.  It was great that with the dawn of a new summer they were back on the ‘able to be pursued’ list.  So if you are a first time mako hunter, let’s take a closer at this iconic and mysterious species that were well worth fighting for. If you like toothies then for certain mako’s rate high on your list of a target species; they are extremely fast and are capable of smoking runs they have a nasty, unpredictable fighting style and are responsible for some of the highest leaps and piscatorial gymnastics in the ocean.  Makos can travel up to 60 kms a day for sustained periods and are capable of great bursts of speed over short distances and can at times fight very spiritedly – you get the appeal?

Favouring temperate and tropical oceans worldwide, Australian anglers have a good chance of crossing paths with mako sharks but less so in the tropics.  Whilst some mako sharks do travel enormous distances following tuna migrations, some are remarkably residential, especially juveniles.  Makos are more often targeted in the southern half of the land and will likely be found anywhere where offshore water is above 16 degrees.  Down south makos in the Southern Ocean and Bass Strait tend to thin out over the cooler months and make a stronger showing once the water climbs over 16 or 17 degrees.  On the east coast the bigger fish tend to be very reliable in winter whilst smaller fish turn up in numbers in the warmer months, so it’s a case of acquiring local knowledge as to their patterns in your local area.


As an apex predator, the mako fears little in its domain, especially as they get larger.  About the only other thing swimming that will cause grief to them is a bigger mako, tiger or white shark.  Indeed a large specimen taken at a Victorian game fishing comp had a smaller mako in its belly, neatly cut in two so there is no love lost between these guys.  Within its temperature range, the mako favours oceanic waters quite close to the shore and more commonly on and beyond the continental shelf; at any given time mako concentrations are likely to be food source related.  A common mako attribute is to hunt down its food sources at speed and strike at the tail enabling an easy clean-up of a disabled fish which makes their burst of speed an incredible attribute.  Their diet ranges considerably depending on age, location and availability of food.  Arrow squid, oceanic fish including mackerel, scad and tuna’s are all on the menu and they have a fairly voracious appetite, a full belly is no reason to stop hunting for these guys!

The average size encountered will be of about 70 kilograms or under, however, significantly larger fish are out there to several hundred kilograms. Larger specimens can be a handful on the trace and gaff if you don’t know what you are doing and sometimes even when you do so this can be a significant deciding factor to catch and release or to take and eat. The choice to keep or release is safety related and also conscious related, I strongly advocate that if you kill it, hanging it on a gantry then dumping it later is a sin.


Gear n’ baits
Makos can be caught on everything from 4 kilo specialist outfits up to 24 stand up game rigs, these days quality spin and jig gear will also suffice. You should base your line class around what you either own or what you feel comfortable fighting with, I personally find a 15-kilo outfit (30 size overhead reel and short stroker) is perfect but the choice is yours, however, choose quality gear, a mako will show any faults in your set up. You’re going to need to berley and you can buy berley or you can make it yourself, if you have the freezer capacity you should be keeping whatever left overs you can from other fishing trips ready for mako season, oily fish are obviously best!  Oily fish baits that are live or at least fresh are ideal but if you only have frozen bait there is a fair chance a hungry mako wont decline.  Bonito, salmon, mackerel, scad, small tuna whole or a fillet, arrow squid, barracouta, trevally and a host of others will do the trick.  Ideally the bait size will match your hooks and your hooks should match the line class you are fishing, it’s always important to remember that you wont set big thick hooks if you have light drag settings, in any style of fishing it’s integral that all your gear is balanced. If you’re unsure of how to go about balancing out a rig so your line, drag, rod, leader and hooks are all matched appropriatley, the best advice we can give is to talk to your local tackle store (and that’s tackle store, not tackle supermarket), they will be able to show you the product required and show you how to do it in a step by step process.

If using mono tie a double in your main line via a Bimini Twist and connect that to a wind-on leader via a loop-to-loop connection, attach the wind on leader via a snap swivel to a two-meter wire trace.  If using braid do away with loop-to-loop connection and use an FG knot or an Improved Albright knot to a heavy mono shock leader, again clipping to the wire trace.  This approach gives ample wire and leader to protect you from the sharp end of the shark and a significant length of scuff protection to guard against rough skin, long tails and fish rolling up in the trace. If you do purchase a wire trace pre made from a tackle store you should try and get nylon coated wire trace as it will be a little easier on your hands when grabbing the leader than standard non coated seven strand.  When rigging your bait presentation as always is very important and the last thing you want is a bait that spins.  If using a whole fish dead bait a two hook rig is necessary; have the tow hook placed up through the bottom of the jaw and out between the nostrils with the second trailing hook back behind the dorsal fin, this way the bait will ‘swim’ in the current and hopefully not tangle up.  Single hook rigs can be set up a variety of ways but I like to tow them backwards with the hook mid fish with the wire secured to the tail via cable ties or simply bridling the bait like a livey.  Whatever way you choose, make sure that the hook is sitting out exposed and if possible rigid so that it won’t roll flat against the bait.  If using a single hook rig on a strip bait, just place the hook through one end of the thicker part of the fillet and this will allow it to flow and flutter gently in the current.


How to raise a mako
Before we can present a bait to a mako we need him on the surface first. Whilst makos will take a trolled or cast lure when in the mood, far more are caught via the traditional approach to bait fishing in a berley trail.  Each state has a differing approach to berley limits so make sure your methods are legal. A combination of dispersing a frozen block of minced fish pieces in a scaler bag, punching fish frames and heads through a berley pot and dangling a punctured bottle of tuna oil over the side of your boat will all work. The banging of a berley pot is also an acoustic and sonic attractant to many sharks with makos included.  There are also electronic devices such as the Mako Magnet you can buy from the US that claim to raise sharks and I am led to believe they work but have not seen one in action.  The best game plan to raise these sharks is to cover productive ground.  Start your drift where there are signs of bait, temp breaks, deep reef, the edge of the shelf, or where a reliable source has told you they have caught them before.  The idea is that the boat is drifting and a 10 knot wind is ideal, it is still comfortable for the crew and provides for a good drift speed where you will likely cover many kilometres in a day’s sharking.  If the wind drift is at odds to the current direction this is good as the berley will spread further and ensure you keep the trail constant without creating interruptions in your berley trail.  At times I have had makos turn up immediately and other times after 10 hours, so you never know when it’s going to occur, be patient and keep an eye out for that dorsal fin!

When they rise
So hopefully things go to plan and a hungry fish arrives on cue. You have your chosen rig ready and you can have baits already presented set in the water or for the ultimate in fun, have the bait in the boat and only clip the trace onto the appropriate outfit when the size of the shark is seen, you can present a bait at this stage or a soft plastic, it’s up to you. If you favour waiting with baits out, the best set up is two at most, one about 15 or so feet down under a balloon and another bait without a balloon to drift down deep (again, if you don’t know how to rig a balloon as a float, speak to your tackle store).  If using overhead reels they should be just in gear enough to prevent an overrun, if using spin reels back off the drag so line can be taken with ease, you don’t want the shark to feel weight/drag pressure and spit the bait.  Regardless of your approach, when a shark has taken your bait, allow it plenty of time to swallow it before trying to set the hooks, makos can be really fussy at times. Dead baits are most commonly used on a one or two hook rig and either works quite well so I’m not going to try to influence you one way or another but the two hook rig can aid with a good hook set in larger baits.


Hook up and fight
Having had your bait taken each case will be different, as I have stated I like to give makos plenty of time to get a bait past their impressive dentures as they can be very fussy and finicky at time.  A good example of a fussy mako can be seen by visiting th punching in fussy mako into YouTube, you can see the amount of time this shark looks at, touches and generally stuffs around with this bait before eating and taking off for the horizon at braid burning speed!  Some sharks will go instantly airborne and it’s important to strike and set the hooks straight away as there is a fair chance they could throw the hook, it’s important to keep pressure on the fish!  Frustratingly, some makos once hooked will sometimes swim up to the boat and do nothing, in these cases it’s advisable to drive away and strike the fish hard in order to get it fired up, you don’t want to be dealing with big, powerful green sharks if you can avoid it, most damage to all concerned occurs at the boat on trace and gaff.  Generally a mako will be provide plenty of aerial antics and fast runs but recently I had a dour fight down deep for an hour so they can all be different.

To keep or not to keep?
Makos are a great eating fish. The choice is yours if you want to release the fish or keep him. I highly suggest that anything over 6ft should be released as the larger they get the worse on the plate they will be and the harder it will be to gaff and subdue the fish. If you are wanting to gaff a mako, take your time and wait until the fish has lost all fight, if you try and gaff a mako while he is still green and angry, bad things can and do happen, don’t try and handle the fish while he is still kicking and don’t bring him in the boat until he is dead. Gaff him through the head and try to get a tail rope around him and keep him out of the boat. If you want to release your catch make sure you have a quality tool on board that can quickly cut the trace and let the fish go free. Don’t panic, stay calm and enjoy the fight.  Your choice to cut off or keep is a personal one, tight lines and hope a mako doesn’t land on you!

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