CATCHING THAT ELUSIVE MAKO
"THE NATURE OF THE BEAST"
by Captain Harvey Yenkinson
Around the beginning of June off southern New Jersey as the water warms into the mid 60's, the blue sharks which have already arrived are being joined by their cousins the makos. Common wisdom is that the makos favorite water temp is 66 degrees, but they tolerate water on boat sides of this temp if the bait in the area (mostly bluefish) is to their liking. Makos, one of four warm blooded sharks, follow the warm currents produced by the changing seasons from their winter grounds in the southern warmer waters, up off the coast of New Jersey. The food rich upwellings that are found at the fathom lines and lumps provide bait sources that attract both tunas and sharks. Wrecks like the Misty Blue (26885, 42641), 28 mile Wreck (26825, 42803), Jacob Jones (26921, 42578 (bow) 26895, 42544 (stern), and Triple Wreck areas (26925, 42470), (just to name a few) are know havens of makos as they traverse the course of the twenty fathom line. The lumps offshore like the East (26937, 42655), Middle (26945, 42670), and Northeast lump (26955, 42685) as well as the Cigar (26825, 42737), 19 fathom lump (26850, 42475), Massey's canyon (26880, 42355), Hot Dog (26812, 42225), etc. are all lumps that have the added advantage of having the upwelling effect and sloping walls that create a bait rich environment.
While makos, blues, and threshers, like the upwellings to hunt in, interestingly it is the tiger sharks that like to inhabit the depressions noted on the bathymetric charts, and tend to be caught on the bottom baits. I have caught some large tigers using bait like flounder carcasses on a rig just off the bottom as we drifted over the numerous depressions in the ocean floor between the 20 and 30 fathom lines. A good chart like 12B produced by Capts Jim and Bill Shuda will show you these spots clearly.
Basically any good inshore tuna spot is also a good mako spot. It is not unusual at all to see massive schools of young bluefin working their way up the coast making sounds like a waterfall as they cruise by breaking the surface. The presence of turtles and ocean sunfish also signify you have found the correct waters to shark fish. A wise fisherman uses all the knowledge he can get in picking his area to fish. Many factors like past experience or information from other captains or reliable bait shops are helpful. Water temp charts like those of Roff's have helped me in the past. A helpful hint is to utilize a water temp report overlayed on a chart to find an area of a water temp break coinciding with a good area of change in water depths! Keep in mind too that you want your drift to be over as many bottom changes as you can, passing a wreck perhaps if possible.
Another tip I can give you is when planning your trip, after you have picked out your area, is to make a tentative starting point based on the direction and speed of the wind. Plug this number in your loran/gps, and upon arriving at your destination but before beginning to fish, drift for a few minutes and let your loran/gps figure the direction and speed of your drift. At this time you can make an adjustment in your starting point to cover the best possible area.
Many years, makos are far and few between as a result of a depletion in their numbers from mismanagement of commercial fisheries and their slow reproductive rate. The summer of 1999 however, was a great year for mako fishing as many fish in the 100-200 pound size class were caught and a fair number over this weight were also landed. Makos are known to travel in loosely knit packs as they make their way up the 20 fathom curve to our waters. Generally makos will be cruising above the thermocline, the depth of which can be found by turning the gain up on your fish finder until this line is visible. You want your baits deployed at different depths from the surface to just below the thermocline, matching the length of line below your float, and amount of barrel type weights added, to the speed of your drift. Don't assume because you have 50 feet of line below your float, that that bait is down 50 feet! With no weight and a 2-3 knot drift, that bait is probably just below the surface. Experience will guide you to the proper amount of weight and length of line to deploy below your float.
A good fisherman or hunter knows that the more he can learn about his target species the more apt he is to be successful. Makos are highly intelligent creatures as well and have the biggest brain to body weight ratio of all the sharks. Sharks, like most marine creatures, have excellent vision, in contrast to some reports of sharks as having poor eyesight. Makos also have the added advantage of having a pointed snout which allows them to see better with binocular vision in a forward direction, in contrast to say blue sharks which have eyes more on the sides of their head and can't see directly in front of them when in close proximity to their prey. Nature has evolved a nictating membrane that covers the eyes of most sharks as they feed, probably due to this lack of frontal visual sight. Studies have shown mako sharks however, will not utilize this nictitating membrane to cover their eyes when feeding if they do not feel injury is likely from their prey. One trick I like to use is to paint my 10/0 offset shark hooks with a flat black paint (after I have sharpened them) to reduce their visibility. Another trick is to bury the hook as much as you can inside the bait and as far back in the bait as you can.
When you retrieve a bait to check it if it hasn't been hit in an hour (which you should do) and you see it has rows of bite marks on it, your bait has been in a sharks mouth and he/she didn't like it. If the shark had it in its mouth, than you know visually it was okay, but chances are he felt the metal of the hook. Also when feeding on a smaller bait, makos will often mouth the bait, and cruise on by if the texture, smell, or electical field does not appeal to it. As always, allow ample time for a shark to come back to give the bait a second chance before reeling it in and let him run with it for 15 seconds or more before you set the hook, giving him a chance to get the bait fully in his mouth. While all sharks utilize smell to find food sources, sharks utilize electrical fields to different degrees. Studies with makos seem to indicate that electrical fields are less important to them then to the blue sharks that often use the weak electical fields of squid to hunt for them at night. Makos are highly visual hunters, their electroreceptive sense being a low priority, using sound like the frequency given off by a struggling fish, and smell, to bring them in close enough to use their visual hunting skills.
The best possible bait for makos is a small live bluefish around 5 pounds. Often these can be caught inshore trolling with some small spoons or the like, and kept in a live well for the trip out to the sharking grounds.
Everyone knows of the great speed attained by makos as they accelerate with their caudal peduncle tail (like a tuna) to speeds around 50 mph. Makos often use an interesting hunting technique to obtain food by swimming deep under a larger prey like a swordfish or marlin, and accelerating up from the depths to bite the tail off the larger fish, their incredible speed taking them clean out of the water, explaining the "jumping" well known to this species.
Another interesting fact about sharks is their fear of one another, in particular the fear small makos, blue sharks, (and most other fish) have of the larger makos. When you are shark fishing and catching alot of blue sharks and some small makos, and the bite seems to die off, one of several possibilites exist. You could have drifted out of a productive area or the sharks may have lost interest due to a loss of continuity of your chum slick. Sometimes just a change in weather or a tide change can also decrease their feeding as well. But interestingly, often the smaller sharks will vacate the area when a big mako is on the prowl! So don't necessarily lose heart when the smaller sharks suddenly leave your baits alone, your prize mako maybe eyeballing your baits!
Most shark fisherman will use chum to attract sharks. There are various types like bunker, mackerel, bluefish, or other home made varieties. Various ingredients have been used like cat food, dog food, and blood meal just to name a few. A good chum slick will drift for miles gradually settling to the bottom. As makos are not as plentiful as they once were, it is in your interest to utilize your chum slick to the best advantage that you can. You want to make sure the chum you use is as fresh as possible and although all chum stinks, you really don't want chum that smells rancid. Everyone seems to have their own favorite chum, adding ingredients to the mixture sometime, but just plain cans of bunker or mackerel seem to work fine. I think it is in your interest to use as much chum as you can afford, often deploying two chum buckets at the same time. One trick I learned a number of years ago is to use a milk carton supported by styrofoam, into which you can set the chum bucket and tie it to your boat.
The advantage of this is that you can achieve a good chum dispersal rate plus the added advantage of being able to untie the chum, chase a large shark down, and then retie to the chum buckets without losing your chum slick. Don't forget to hit the save button on your loran or gps, so you can find your buckets again, and don't forget to account for the drift you were on. Attaching a red flag on top of a 3 foot pole will help you find them in rough seas.
One other note about chum slicks is that in order for a slick to work you need to drift! Sitting in the middle of your own chum slick on a flat calm day is seldom effective. Our most productive days have been on rather rough days, when we might drift 10 miles or more during the course of the day. Of course don't venture out on a rough day unless your boat is big enough to handle it, and your crew has the stomach to spend hours on a drift. On a flat day, you might try anchoring up current of a wreck or you can slow troll (2-3 Knots) with your chum buckets deployed, rigging your baits so they troll like offshore fishing.
Keeping all these facts in mind should allow you to have the best shot at having a succesful mako fishing trip. Pete Barrett has written a very informative book on shark fishing also. Utilize all the knowledge you can gather to increase your chances of capturing one of these beautiful