February 12, 2009
Appears courtesy of South East and West Fishing magazine.
Written by John Cahill
For the last half an hour we had noticed an increase of life in the water. With Albatross circling and the occasional boil of baitfish it certainly looked the goods! Our berley trail had been running solid for six hours, yet as we drifted shallower I began to think it was almost time to call it quits and pack up, silently cursing that we had dropped our only chance of a Mako early in the day when we had failed to hook up after we had a run on a bait suspended under a balloon. About to call ‘time’ to my fishing companions, the smaller yakka bait set deep - 30 meters below, sprung to life with a slow clicking of the ratchet on the Shimano TLD25. My mate Dan Lee was on strike and as the fish started to run in earnest he counted down waiting for the unseen shark to swallow the bait. Satisfied that he had been given enough time, he pushed the lever drag to strike and came up solid on the fish. I had not even got out of my seat at this stage - but that soon changed as two seconds later a solid little mako took to the air behind the boat with four spectacular jumps, tail-walks and cartwheels as it tried to dislodge the hook! With each jump it came closer and closer to the back of the boat, forcing me to quickly drive away from the lunatic and make some space, concerned we may end up with a new crew member! It is little wonder that I love the excitement that Mako’s bring - especially when you get to witness their aerial acrobatics!
The short finned mako shark is dear to my heart, marked with striking coloring such as deep purple to indigo dorsal surfaces, silvery sides, and white ventral surfaces it is only there black eyes and dagger like teeth that remind you they are truly an apex predator. These oceanic speedsters are one of the few serious game fish available to us Mexicans and the beauty is that they are right on our Melbourne metropolitan doorstep. There is something about their unpredictable nature that is alluring to me and many others who each summer head out into Bass Straight with berley and baits on hand eager to find and tempt a mako - or as we prefer to call them ‘blue dynamite’! To get an idea how unpredictable this species is just check Al McGlashan’s Strike Zone Live Baiting DVD to see a mako consume an underwater camera - they are completely crazy!
Although they are possibility all year, in Bass Straight mako’s generally can be found with reliability from December until Late April, generally this coincides with an increase in the water temperature over 17 degrees Celsius. It is no coincidence that during this time there is an abundance of aero squid and barracouta in our southern waters which are a primary source of sustenance for mako’s and other large predatory sharks such as bronze whalers, threshers and great whites.
Like all fish – they are where you find them and although there have been occasional encounters within Melbourne’s main bays, it is worth remembering that they are an oceanic pelagic species so that is where you should concentrate your efforts. My fishing diary shows that I have encountered makos between 40 and 75 meters in local waters however an increase in raised fish generally occurs in depths between 60 and 70 meters which usually coincides with a 15 – 20 km trip from either Port Phillip heads or the Fairway Buoy in Westernport depending upon which direction you travel. As Bass straight is a relatively shallow stretch of ocean, you will find that it rarely gets much deeper than 80 meters in any place. A great factor with fishing for Mako’s is their convenience, as they are caught as commonly out from Point Lonsdale towards Barwon Heads as they are out from Westernport in front of Phillip Island or Cape Schanck. Last season saw Phillip Island and Woolamai as the hotspot but this is no indication of where they may favour this summer. Whilst heading to your intended fishing grounds it always pays to keep an eye on your sounder as if a significant patch of bait is located it can pay to stop and commence berleying as predators are never far away. This approach has worked for me on more than one occasion and is similar to working a bait ball for marlin.
Time to tempt
Any trip offshore to attract makos will require a good supply of both bait and berley. I started my mako fishing using prime striped tuna and bonito baits from the markets however I have found over time that this was expensive and not necessary. Simple local baits such as whole or filleted salmon, mullet or couta as well as aero squid are excellent baits. In reality these are easy to catch baits that are available on the way to your fishing grounds. Alternatively, catch and freeze them on other trips and although fresh is best, I have no hesitation using frozen baits for sharks. For berley I prefer to use a combination of pre purchased burley logs and fish scraps punched through a berley pot. Berley logs are readily commercially available which are hung off the stern of the boat in scaler bags, as the burley defrosts the wave action and drift disperses the burley. Using the pre made logs whilst occasionally punching fish scraps and frames out of the pot, you are assured that you are covering the entire water column and are a chance at attracting a shark cruising the surface or raising one from the depths due to the differing sink rates.
How to do it
Having studied the current, swell, wave and wind direction, I choose my starting location based upon where I want to end up with these factors in mind; if you get this right you will maximise your time in productive water, get it wrong and you may quickly drift out of the strike zone. It is worth stopping on the way out to tie some rigs to determine which way the actual drift will be as it is very easy to get this crucial factor wrong. Once we have arrived where the drift will commence, the team springs into action immediately getting a bait in the water fished under a balloon sent back about 80 meters whilst a second bait is fished mid water approximately 30 meters down. Both rods are set in sturdy holders with the reels set with the ratchet on and only enough drag applied to make sure the reel will not over run if struck hard. With the baits set, the task of berleying commences with a combination of pre made logs and the use of the berley pot applied. This is maintained until it is time to go home with baits checked about every hour or so to ensure that Aero Squid are not ravaging the baits which they can do in no time with very little indication until you check them. We find that generally we go through more berley in a days fishing depending upon the air and water temperature and drift speed encountered.
Hook up and Fight!
When one of the bait starts to ‘run’ it pays to wait until you think the fish has taken the bait deep in its mouth and is not just running with it in its teeth, this however needs to be sped up if the shark goes aerial! In this case the angler needs to push the drag to strike and wind fast! Once hooked up, it pays to get the motor running and keep the fish out off the stern and some distance between you until you are sure it is spent and ready for release or gaffing. No two mako’s do the same thing and they are extremely unpredictable with some jumping in spectacular fashion meters into the air whilst other cruise straight up to the boat without spending an ounce of energy. It is for this reason that mako’s boat side must be respected and if in doubt of your crew’s ability to safely handle a green shark they should be cut off rather than chance disaster. I cannot stress ‘safety first’ highly enough! Mako handling is best learnt from first hand experience, so try to get on board with an experienced crew before trying this yourself!
Preservation is the key
The Mako has firm white flesh that is absolutely delicious however they have been recently listed as a threatened species due to commercial and recreational fishing pressure and their time to reach reproductive maturity. With this in mind it is in our best interests to limit the number of sharks taken for consumption. The use of non stainless hooks and a good set of wire cutters is all you need to ensure the health of our mako fishery.
The pursuit of these blue speedsters is fascinating and although at times it can be tedious waiting for a run, that boredom evaporates when one takes to the skies and your reel screams for mercy! To help pass the day it always pays to do a little ‘bottom bashing’ whilst you drift as there is some excellent by-catch out there in the form of tiger flathead, gummy sharks and snapper. For me this summer will see an expansion of our current repertoire trying to entice a mako to take a surface popper or saltwater fly once attracted into the trail. If you like a little excitement and unpredictability in your fishing, give Melbourne’s mako’s a try this summer!