Big game fishing

Landing a monster shark requires monster preparation.

Matt Malowski hauls in a brown shark he caught while fishing in the Martha's Vineyard Surfcasters Association shark tourney in August 2016. — Phil Cronin

You would be hard-pressed to find an Island angler who can’t quote at least a couple of lines from the blockbuster movie filmed on the Vineyard, “Jaws.”

Although hooking a great white is entirely off the table (see how that worked out for Quint), there are sharks that cruise along our shorelines that are fair game.

Blue sharks, threshers, porbeagle, and shortfin mako — all are tantalizing possibilities that can be caught without having to scour the deep seas with a boat. 

I am admittedly biased, considering the fact that I do not have regular access to a fishing boat, but the concept of sending a massive bunker fish chunk or full mackerel fillet out beyond the rolling shorebreak seems more enticing to me than chumming along on a boat (maybe that’s just me).

Shark fishing isn’t for the faint of heart or inexperienced fisherman, especially fishing from shore. But when you first see the knifepoint tip of a thresher tail cut out above the surf, I can almost guarantee you will be hooked.

Arguably the most essential element to successfully and safely landing a shark is preparedness. Just as with targeting any fish, hunting for sharks requires a unique set of equipment tailored to your particular environment and end goal. In this case, you’ll need some big honking hooks and super-heavy line and wire.

Shark rigs are widely varying, based on who you talk to, but one generally accepted piece of knowledge is that the leader material connecting your main line to your rig should be just as long, if not longer than, the shark. 

The leader allows for shock absorption from the shark’s powerful jerking, and also creates abrasion resistance. Aside from having razor-sharp teeth, a shark’s skin is like heavy-grit sandpaper that will no doubt come in contact with your leader as it swims away from shore with your hook in its mouth (normal braid wouldn’t stand a chance).

Start with 65- to 100-pound braid for your main line, then get either as simple or as complex as you want with your rig setup. Reels can hold much more braided line than monofilament, which is advantageous when a shark will certainly try to swim away from what’s tugging at it. Braid also has a much higher breaking strength than mono, and it does not stretch, making for a powerful hookset. Make sure your mono leader is connected to your rig with crimps attached to heavy-duty swivels. 

Place a fairly heavy pyramid weight (a six-ounce will do) on a sliding swivel in between both crimps, then stick some steel wire at the end with a big old circle hook.

Some shark fishermen find creating shark rigs as entertaining and fulfilling as tying flies, but if you want to skip all the brouhaha, Coop’s Bait and Tackle has good rigs available for even the most discerning of anglers.

Some say sharks can be found day and night, but conventional wisdom goes that sharks are most active along the shorelines nearest to sunset and sunrise (go figure).

Cast out some large bait, then wait for the action. Leave your bail open, with your fingers pinching your line to feel for any play. 

When heading out to Wasque or Norton Point for some shark fishing, the more the merrier. Once that puppy has your line, it’s a test of strength and endurance. Having a couple of buddies around to hold and reel is necessary when a shark could take over an hour to land, and it’s a lot more fun.

As soon as you see your shark in the shallows, approach it carefully. If possible, work to release your shark in the water as much as possible. Sharks are delicate when out of the water because they can be injured by their own body weight, so try to handle the animal as little as possible. Do not use a fishing gaff, but be ready with a pair of long-handled pliers, wire cutters, a hook remover pole, and a bolt cutter if necessary.

Another tactic I have heard of is pulling the shark onto a soft wet towel, so that you can easily pull it back into the water when releasing it.

You should give yourself about two minutes at most to remove the hook and get the shark back in the water. At this point, the shark will be exhausted, but still may thrash around a good bit. Use your dehooker to secure the hook, and use pliers to pull the barbless circle hook out the way it went in. If you are struggling to remove your hook, don’t keep pushing it — use your wire cutters or bolt cutters to cut the hook, and remove it section by section. If all else fails, cut the leader as close to the hook as possible. Also, make sure you aren’t using a rust-resistant or stainless hook. If a hook is left in the shark’s mouth, it should be able to rust out (this is the absolute last resort when releasing a shark).

Once the hook is out, grab the corners of the towel and drag the shark back into the water. 

Sharks are often in shock and exhausted after being out of the water after a long fight, so you may need to push them through the surf until they regain their bearings.

The process I have described is just one of many ways to land and release a shark, but one definite suggestion would be to go out with someone who has caught a shark before, in order to ensure everyone’s safety, including the shark’s.


Lucas Thors was born and raised on the Vineyard, and is always looking for new experiences on Island waters.