Mako shark fishing can be super fun, and luckily just about anyone can hook one. Even a small (pup) mako can put up an exhilarating fight, especially on light tackle. These sharks can be targeted and found from June until November during warm water years like this one. Even on cooler water years we have a population of makos that move into our waters and give those hungry for some offshore action a chance to get out and pull on something that actually pulls back.
“Where do I fish for mako sharks?” is a question I get asked frequently at Captain On Board. The basic answer is a simple one. “The same place you’d fish for anything offshore, where the life is.” Whether its marlin, tuna, or anything else you might hear about offshore, mako sharks are in the same areas. They congregate in certain areas for the same reason other exotics do, food. Cool, deep water currents hit the sides of seamounts and get forced upwards towards the surface. This is called upwelling, and this concentrates the nutrients that bait like sardines, mackerel, flying fish and sauries feed on. The food chain begins. This upwelling also helps create edges or current breaks, and on these breaks is where we catch most of what we all fish for offshore.
As a beginning angler I fished for mako sharks often, but eventually saw that I was in the same area as marlin and tuna, and I quickly switched gears. While slow trolling two live mackerel for mako sharks one day off the East End of Catalina, I had a marlin come up and eat one of the baits. That fish caused a devastating backlash on my reel and as quickly as that fish broke off, the other reel got bit by another marlin and the same thing happened. Double operator error, but the switch had been flipped and I was hooked on marlin fishing. It would be a long time until I fished for mako sharks again.
I have tried the drift and chum method of fishing for sharks, and for me it was not enjoyable. I do wholeheartedly agree that the drift/chum method accounts for the bulk of all the larger model makos. If you are a trophy hunter looking for super sized makos, then I recommend finding the break and life and setting up a drift with buckets of chum. Some boats do not drift well, and sitting sideways to the swell and rolling your guts out is not my idea of fun. Furthermore, I find that I end up dealing with another problem, blue sharks. Blue sharks are not truly edible, and simply put, are a huge waste of time. They roll up on wire leaders, wrecking them, and can swarm around the chum slick creating havoc. Some guys do real well chumming for makos, but I am not one of them.
I fish mako sharks for sport, and for me that means trolling. Slow as the boat will go with a full spread of baits and jigs keeps me feeling like I am fishing hard. 30# tackle works just fine, as there most likely will not be any reason to use anything heavier. For the excitement factor I like to skip strips of bait on the surface, sometimes with a skirt over the bait. A mako will tail up to the bait and eat it, sometimes taking what seems like an eternity to actually get hooked. This part of mako fishing is the most exciting part for me. Small to medium Rapalas with single hooks also work well, as does a deep diving shark jig called a “Bait-O-Matic.” With these deep diving jigs you will most likely not see the mako coming, removing some of the thrill factor associated with these exciting biters.
Once you have a mako shark up and interested in your spread, hooking one becomes the real challenge. These sharks have a mouth so filled with teeth, that if a bait that is too large is used you will often have a mako that just has the bait stuck in it’s teeth, and the hook is not in the fish at all. For that reason, I started using small, strip baits.
Almost too many teeth to fit a bait into the mouth.
Keep the boat at trolling speed (dead slow idle, slow as the boat will go) and enjoy the show. The shark may switch from one skip bait to another, then back again to the original bait. Mako sharks will jump on top of the bait, smack it with it’s head or tail, and sometimes do things that will make you think it knows it has a crowd to please.
I like cheap hooks that are not made in a way that suppresses corrosion, and not too big of a hook. A small strip bait with a small hook can easily pass the mouth full of teeth, and makes it possible to hook the shark. For strip baits I use either mackerel, sardine or barracuda, and fillet the bait like you would fillet a fish to eat it, but I include the tail when I finish the cut. I trim the “slab” and experiment with it in the water. I do not want it to spin, but rather skip or swim. This is not hard to do, but you just can’t get lazy and leave out a bait that spins. It will cause tangles and that bait will not get any attention when a mako does come into the spread. Sometimes a bait rigging needle and some floss do the trick when trying to get a strip bait to swim, other times its not necessary.
Once the mako is hooked, clear the other lines quickly. Makos are famous for their jumps and acrobatics when hooked, and if the other lines are not quickly cleared, you may end up with the same mako tangled in several lines. Maneuver the boat away from the shark, so it has room to put on the show.
This is what makes mako shark fishing so fun!
More than one angler has stopped the boat and watched as the frantic mako jumped in his boat to join him. That kinda takes the fun out of it I would think. Sharks are not mindless robots like they’ve been made out to be, and will tire after expelling all their energy. Only at this point is it safe to bring the mako close to the boat to either gaff or release it.
With the mako tired I put the boat in gear and tack ahead slowly, so the fish can be led to the aft corner with the leader, just like you do with marlin. With gloves on, grab the wire leader but do not take wraps. Wire leader can dig in or grab gloves, and won’t slide off like mono leader does. I drop the leader back in the water and not on the deck so I don’t get tangled if the fish takes off for another run. If the shark is very tired and totally docile, I will cut the leader as close as I can get to the hook and still feel safe. For those that want the hook out of the shark, I recommend a tail rope. Lead the shark up next to the boat and place a rope around it’s tail while another crew member holds the leader. The mate with the leader will have to be at the front of the cockpit so the tail of the shark is near the transom. Again, the boat is in gear, idling ahead. I feel this is safer, because the guy with the tail rope in his hand can control the tired mako. Safety first at all times here guys.
If you choose to take the mako, a simple gaff shot at the gills and a quick hoist into the boat works fine. I like to leave the gaff in the shark, and pin it into a corner to control it. For bigger models, I use a flying gaff. Tie a dock line from the starboard cleat to the port cleat, across the transom. Run it through the bitter end look of the flying gaff rope so you can slide from port to starboard without having to retie. Sink the flying gaff into the gill area and stand by. Once the fish has calmed you can sink your fixed gaff (again, into the gill area) to control the fish at the side of the boat. Then, attach a tail rope. For bigger sharks I like to make sure they are dead before bringing them aboard. You can decide how to dispel the shark, but make sure you have multiple options. Simply dragging the shark backwards by the tail rope is safe and easy.
Even really hardcore mako guys will rarely kill more than one per year. They are good to eat, but are another species with its numbers in sharp decline. If its attention you are after, you’ll get much more praise from the masses (especially on the internet) if you brag about a clean release. There seems no escape from the ridicule, as big makos are seen as breeders, and if you kill a small one you may be labeled as a “baby killer”. If you choose to take one for food, keep it to yourself.
Mako sharks are more aggressive, plentiful and easier to find than most of the other offshore exotics we have here is So Cal waters. For that reason, they are a great way for a beginner to learn the ropes of offshore fishing. The really big ones are a different story, but most of what you’ll hook while trolling are nothing but lots of fun. With a group of novice anglers on the boat, bored silly with no offshore action, a simple switch of the gears to slow trolling for makos can make the day a success. Fishing is supposed to be fun, and mako sharks are one of our most exciting and fun fish to catch. Just be responsible, safe, and use common sense and you and your crew will come home with stories to tell and a smiles all around.