In search of night time mako sharks
by Jarrod Day on 3 Oct 2012
There is nothing I like more than heading out fishing on the weekend with nice brew of berley and an assortment of baits. With many of today’s dedicated anglers finding this time can sometimes be almost impossible. Although serious shark fishing is already a challenge by day, the keen and experienced do it by nightfall to add get a little more adrenalin rush from the fight.
Brad with a nice mako. © Jarrod Day www.jarrodday.com
Good mate Brad had told me of his exploits of night sharking because it was easier to venture out during the evening with his work commitments. Between Brad and his mates, they had already good success during the night with fish to an estimated 120 kilos taken. On many occasions, Brad had told me of his passion for night shark fishing and had painted a picture in my mind of their efforts when the estimated 120 kilo mako flew out of the water 30m from the back of the boat, twisting and turning though the air while the silhouette from the full moon shimmered on the water’s surface. What a rush!
Already an experienced shark angler I decided to join his crew and find out what all the fuss was about.
From the minute I awoke on Saturday morning I headed straight to the laptop for the days weather forecast before heading off to work. Sure it might have read 30 knots from the north but I was keen to get out and lock horns with a mako this early in the season.
We had just come off one of the best snapper fishing seasons Victoria had experienced in years, the whiting had just begun their spawning run and from the early shark reports it looked very promising. With four trips already under my belt by the first day of January, catching one during the night was an avenue I wanted to explore for some time. I had heard that sharks were much more active in their feeding patterns during the night and figured that fishing for them during this time was a sure sign to get one this early in the season.
Brad gave me a quick phone call during the afternoon, 'Jezza, load up the berley we’re a go ‘in out to get em’'. On that note, I rushed out the back, stockpiled a nice blend of blue fin tuna steaks, minced tuna logs, tuna oil, fish pellets and half a dozen blocks of pilchards as this is about the standard requirement when on the hunt for a shark either by night or day.
Finally it was knock off time, and like a keen angler I soon found myself rigging up some new traces and fitting them into the baits as Brad headed out to our destination.
Well I must admit, on this occasion I couldn’t really blame the weather man for an incorrect report because he was right on the money. It was a definite 30 knot northerly but the best part about it was we were heading off behind Cape Woolamai and all this could mean was flat, calm, and glass looking conditions as the wind blew from the tops of the cliffs. On route down the Eastern Entrance, as expected there was not even a swell for us to combat, this was just as we had hoped.
Further on we passed another boat, although heading in the opposite direction he was towing two water skiers, at least the conditions were in our favour while we headed on into Bass Strait.
Venturing out towards Pyramid rock, a well-known location for kingfish during the summer months, the wind was pushing in from the North West. For us, this meant we would drift in a south easterly direction across the 40, 50 and 60 metre lines and hopefully into the 70’s. There had already been quite a few recorded captures between the 60 and 70 metre line and amongst the others I also joined the early reported captures with an estimated 35 kilo blue shark assisted by mates Quinn and Ben a few days earlier.
By this stage a few estimated 100 plus kilo fish were heard of busting anglers off and with this information we could only try our best at raising a mako. Motoring towards Pyramid Rock, I kept a close eye on the sounder; we had just made our way over the 50 metre line when the bottom began to climb at a rapid incline approaching 40 metres. This looked like an excellent location to drop a bait for a few tiger flathead. At water level, the wind was now blowing a solid 15 knots, knowing this and wanting some flattie tails, we motored a few hundred metres ahead of the drop off, this gave us time to set the berley trail, lay out our baits and drop a paternoster rig right on top of the flatties heads.
As if it was rehearsed a hundred times before, we stopped the boat at our desired destination, immediately let out a nicely rigged chunk of blue fin tuna just in case a shark had been following our boat. Rarely, but not uncommon, sharks can swim up to your boat when you turn off the engine.
The trawlers that work in Bass Strait netting fish toss their bi-catch overboard. Mostly dead, this bi-catch is eaten by lingering sharks. Over time sharks begin to associate food with noise from the engines of the trawlers. Knowing this, it doesn’t take and extra time to toss out a bait the second you turn off the motor. After the bait had reached its desired depth (about five metres) I tied on a balloon and with the help from Brad began to set our trail while the first bait floated 30 metres from the transom. Firstly two onion bags were deployed with each containing a frozen tuna berley log and a kilo of fish based pellets. Closely followed by the onion bags was a 2.5ltr bottle of tuna oil with a few holes in it to disperse a tuna oil slick across the water’s surface. This enables a visual trail for anglers to see where the trail is heading as well as a smelly trail for any surface feeders. After all that was in place, Brad brought out the big guns. Earlier that day I had given brad a box of blue fin tuna steaks to drop through the mincer along with any old bait and tuna oil he had left over from the night before. After unfolding the minced blue fin and tuna oil mix it felt as if someone was unveiling the Holy Grail for the first time. It was like a gold halo that had appeared around the lid of the buckets, our eyes opened wide and we both looked at each other with grins from ear to ear, this mixture was sure to bring a hungry fish to the trail. Every punch from the pot left an oily cloud of fish flakes and oils slowly sinking beneath the transom.
This was sure to attract blue dynamite to our trail. After setting out the bait trap consisting of a whole salmon rigged on a two hook mako trace about 75m from the boat, then at about 50m was the tail end of an oily and bloody striped tuna rigged with a single hook on 250lb wire. There were two other baits out in the trail, one chunk of blue fin tuna and a butterflied mullet which I had caught a few days earlier while sitting at the Hastings boat ramp. I had suspended the tuna directly under the boat and about two metres from the sea floor with a sinker tied onto a piece of 10lb fishing line, the other end of the line was then tied onto the bend in the hook. This way it holds the bait down and when a shark eats it their teeth will cut the 10lb line releasing the sinker and you get a clean hook-up. The butterflied mullet was left to slowly sink in the trail un-weighted to float mid water in the trail. This way if a shark swam up the trail he would see this larger piece of food. While the baits hovered in the trail, Brad bashed the pot keeping the trail thick and smelly with all the minced offal we had. I quickly rigged up a paternoster rig and as we drifted over the drop offs I found myself hooking into some quality flatties.
During the day light hours, it is important to also send things down the trail such as squid jigs and lazer lures down the trail. Barracouta and arrow squid frequently swim in the berley trail to pick of all the small pieces of fish float in it. The only down fall is they also seek out our baits and eat them. If you are able to catch some of them they make excellent live baits and well as dead baits. By night though I have only had the arrow squid show up in the trail and with adequate lighting on the boat they cruise right up to the transom. This time though, no squid so punching the pot, catching flathead and letting the baits sit in the trail was all we could do.
Shortly after our trail was established the wind began to pick up a little more blowing us about two kilometres in an hour. The drift was quick but to keep the trail thick, Brad power berleyed, laying out more than usual to combat the speed of out drift. After the sun had decided to call it a day and disappeared below the horizon line the wind had all but dropped to nothing. No wind means no drift so thinking outside the square we lowered our baits closer to the sea floor. The reason for this was because the berley was floating straight down it would have been settling in a large pile on the bottom. Flathead and possible a gummy shark might pick up our baits if they come in on the trail. Our hopes for a mako were diminishing but by keeping the berley flowing and lowering the baits something just had to come to the trail, even if it was a gummy shark.
The night before, Brad and Billy had the same problem with the lack of wind but managed a great gummy shark, with the conditions much the same, a feed of gummy would still go down a treat. After about an hour a small sea breeze began to blow us east, at least our trail would once again continue on. Not long after Brad had asked me what the time was, glancing at my mobile phone it read 10:48pm, yep 'it’s shark o’clock' Brad said with a hint of excitement as he pounded away at the berley pot. I swear not even a minute passed and we heard some splashing 30m from the back of the boat.
Quickly I reached down and grabbed the torch; Brad shone the torch light into the trail and sure enough there was the dorsal fin from a mako zig zagging from one side of the trail to the other searching out something to eat. Hastily, it was all hands on deck; Brad and I both lunged onto a rod each to get the close baits out of the water. This way when we hooked him we would void all possibility of getting line tangles and reduce the risk of losing the fish. Approaching the transom, we quickly estimated the fish at around 25kg, perfect eating size and a great size to wrestle.
After winding in the last bait (the butterflied mullet) I waited until he came back into view and when close enough pitched the bait right next to his nose. Like my wife does with a piece of chocolate, the mako opened his mouth and consumed the entire mullet, hooks and all in one gasp. I sent the reel into free spool so not to set the hooks while he was so close to the boat. 10 metres down and it was time, I threw the reel into strike and as the 50 pound came tight, I hit the fish. The hooks must have driven themselves in because at that moment my Black Magic BMX reel was screaming under the pressure.
Having a range of rods and reels on board is important, this way you can set up your range of baits on different line classes. For instance my deepest bait is usually a whole tuna or salmon on a Tiagra 50 with 24kg line. Having the BMX reel loaded with 700 metres of 50 pound braid has enough brute strength to handle fish of this size with ease.
Since I had landed some other big fish on it from other fishing adventures around the country I knew I would win this battle unless he spat the hooks. Thank god this didn't happen and after pulling about 6 kilos of drag pressure I began making some headway getting him back to the boat. The line went slack and faster than I could wind the line to keep it tight, it crossed my mind that he had spat the hooks, the popular 'F' word flew from my mouth as I couldn’t feel the pressure.
With a few more turns of the handle the line once again pulled tight, a sigh of relief as I knew he was well and truly hooked by this stage. Trying to bring him out from under the boat was quite difficult but as I managed to do four laps of the boat I finally had him boat side. Brad quickly reached down and said 'no need to gaff him, I’ll lift him in' are you sure I said, 'No problem Brad replied' in that instant he grabbed the tail and began to life him up. But the little mako had other ideas and wriggled just like a yellow fin tuna trying to escape. Brad quickly said ' I'm going to drop him' I quickly backed the drag back into free spool and when the mako hit the water he was able to pull line from the reel without me busting him off and losing another mako. Again, shortly after some unusual head shakes this short battle felt quite different to the first initial run.
Finally I had him back at the surface and the unusual feeling to the last run was that he had twisted himself up in the trace and it was tight from the hooks to where it had wrapped around his tail. This made it easier for brad to lift into the boat this time and quickly both of us lunged upon the fish as he began to thrash around. A short time later after subduing it was time to call it a night, mind you I still had to go to work the next day but with a grin from ear to ear I was doubting if I would get any sleep or not.
'It’s not over yet', brad replied and after a short chat about how much fun that was, we had already penciled in another date to once again go back out and locate blue dynamite.