People often ask me what type of fishing I find most exciting. My standard answer is, "It's all good!" (and I really believe that). But if you press me, I'll admit that for sheer thrill factor, one fishing adventure stands apart from the rest… fly fishing for mako sharks.
I make a point to visit my shark fishing buddies Conway Bowman and Dave Trimble (www.bowmanbluewater.com) in San Diego as often as I can to refill the angling adrenaline tank. The waters off San Diego are one of the world's prime breeding areas for mako sharks, and the best season is between Memorial Day and a few weeks after Labor Day.
Mako shark fishing isn't a terribly technical deal. You motor offshore, and set up a chum slick (with something as simple as a burlap sack filled with a tuna carcass), drift with the wind and currents, and wait. Sometimes it takes hours, sometimes the sharks show up in minutes, like you rang the dinner bell. Sometimes you see them coming, short fins slicing the surface of the waves… sometimes, you yawn and look over the side of the boat, and a 300-pound killer shark is just suddenly there.
Your first glimpse of a mako impresses upon you just how perfect an oceanic predator this species is. Mako's have powerful, streamlined bodies. Their gnarled rows of jagged teeth are equally adept at slicing on the move, then latching onto stunned prey and shredding it apart.
But the signature appeal of the mako shark is that it is one of fastest fish in the ocean (the sailfish is by most accounts the fastest), capable of speed bursts of up to 60 miles per hour. Mako's are also jumpers, able to leap twice their body length above the water surface.
Now, to put what a mako shark pulling on your reel feels like in perspective: Trout will max out at around 9 mph, and the "lightning run" of a bonefish tops the speedometer at about 26 mph. To be clearer, imagine hooking a 200-pound mako is like tying your line to an NFL wide receiver… only the shark covers the hundred-yard distance of a football field three times faster than the receiver, then jumps over the crossbar of the goal posts.
Of course, there's also a danger element involved with fishing mako sharks. Because they jump, you want to hook them (you use foot-long orange flies and 14-16-weight rods) as the fish is swimming away from the boat, so they don't jump in with you. And releasing the fish can be a little tricky. Interestingly through all their years of guiding for thousands of mako sharks, Bowman and Trimble have managed to release every one, and keep all their fingers in the process.
If you're looking for the ultimate angling thrill ride, this is it. It isn't for everyone (especially not for those prone to sea sickness)… but once you feel the pull of a mako shark, and watch it jump with line screaming off your reel, your fishing world will change. Trust me.
Kirk Deeter is an editor-at-large with Field & Stream magazine, and the editor-in-chief of Angling Trade. He is the co-author of four books, most recently the Little Red Book of Fly Fishing.
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