Summertime means shark time, and threshers are a favorite target of private boaters. They range in large numbers along our coast and are often caught within a half-dozen miles of shoreline in water from 40 to 120 feet deep. The really big threshers (to over 300 pounds) however are typically caught 3 to 20 miles offshore where they feed along major current breaks and upwelling spots.
T-sharks cover great distances when they get the urge to travel, yet picking a good place to fish for them isn’t difficult. They forage in areas with concentrations of baitballs such as anchovies and sardines. They have a particular taste for mackerel. Follow the baitfish and you’ll stand a good chance of finding threshers. Some of the most common areas are off of La Jolla, Santa Monica Bay and the Santa Barbara Channel.
Two favored methods for thresher fishing are trolling and drifting. Slow-trolling with diving plugs (think size 18 to 22 Rapala lures in mackerel patterns) and large weighted bait hoods with mackerel pinned inside is most common offshore for very large T-sharks. Trolling with smaller lures is also effective inshore for the small to medium size threshers.
Drifting with baits is the more common method inshore. How to rig for drifting is a topic for lively debate. Some folks want to use a winch and a telephone pole. Personally, I like to see people use a 6 to 7 foot medium-action rod and a conventional reel (like a 6 to 7-foot, 50-pound rated custom Vague Rod from Hook, Line & Sinker fishing center in Santa Barbara) with 65 or 80 pound braided line, a heavy chafe-leader, and a single large bait hook. This is true sportfishing, and that class of rig allows for plenty of sport while giving the angler a reasonable chance of boating an angry shark.
The size of the hook is determined by the type and size of the bait. With an eight-inch mackerel I use a 6/0 to 7/0 hook and I nose, tail, or belly hook the mackerel (try all three hooking methods). With a sardine or very large anchovy I’ll use a 2/0 to 3/0 hook. No weight is required unless there is considerable wind and the drift is so quick that a livelined bait stays right on the surface. Then I’ll use a sliding sinker on the main line above the leader so I can keep baits several feet under the surface. On a very calm day it helps to tie an inflated balloon near the base of the leader to keep the bait high in the water. Take the reel out of gear and set the clicker.
Shark fishing is a fun combination of frenzied activity, great patience and ongoing bait catching work. Aboard my charterboat, I have one or two people constantly working Sabiki bait rigs to catch small mackerel, sardines or smelt. Threshers will eat anchovies or sardines ganged up on a hook, but when we can jig up some 6 to 8 inch mackerel we have the perfect baits.
A powerful tail-whack is usually the first indication of interest from a thresher checking out your bait. That zips the clicker on the trolling reel and gets everyone’s attention. A hook will often stick in the tail and you are in for a long hard fight because you can’t turn that critter. More often however the shark will whack the bait, then turn around and take the bait in its mouth and swim off with the reel’s clicker complaining loudly. That is when you set the hook… very hard. Now hang on tight because you just lit the fuse on a big stick of dynamite!