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To catch a predator - Targeting sharks

December 19, 2019
To catch a predator - Targeting sharks

Our coastal seas are teeming with sharks but very few fishers see them as a sport fish. Paul Walker looks at our most common species and how we can target them.

No fish commands more respect and fear from the general public than the shark.Just mention that name and even the non-fisher will give their full attention.

We are fascinated with sharks mainly because of the possible threat they pose and the damage they can inflict on our bodies. In essence they frighten the hell out of us, especially when we enter their world, because there they rule supreme.

Sharks have been with us for a long time. In fact they go back some 420 million years and in those prehistoric times there were some absolute monsters.

Prehistoric giants

Megalodon weighed in at some 100 tons, was about 20 metres long, like a large whale or small submarine, with teeth - imagine running into that.

Sharks’ olfactory senses can detect one part blood per million parts of water so it’s no wonder they keep turning up in the berley trail or find your bait. The lateral line along the side of their streamlined bodies can detect the slightest movement in the water. They are absolutely the ultimate feeding machines.

Everyone has a fear of 'JAWS'

Most sharks are cold blooded but there are some exceptions. Makos, common threshers and great whites all have higher blood temperatures. These species have made some of the best game-fishing sharks in the past but the great white is now protected in most waters. Both the great white and the mako have the ability to do short bursts of speeds up to 50km/h.

They have developed over the millennia into approximately 470 species but only a small percentage of that number live in our waters and of those there are only a handful that fishos in northern waters need to be concerned with.

Prepare for battle

Sharks are extremely tough adversaries so if you’re going to take them on you had better go well prepared, not only with your gear but also personal stamina. Most sharks are dour fighters and if it’s of any size you’re in for a long, slow, hard battle.

Getting the fish to the boat is one thing, safely releasing it is completely another. If you keep the boat moving slowly forward a better option is to enjoy the fight then release the shark at the boat by cutting the leader as close to the hook as possible.  

Gear for the job

If you’re looking to target sharks for the first time, it’s a good idea to do it with someone who has some experience in chasing these monsters.

Sharks can be dangerous – for very obvious reasons – and you need to know what you’re doing, especially once you’ve brought them boatside or into the shallows if land-based fishing. You’ll be chasing big heavy fish and more than likely using big baits so, naturally, you’ll want heavier gear.

Most shark anglers will use a 24kg overhead setup as a minimum with a solid reel such as a Shimano TLD 50.

It would be good insurance to step up to a 37kg setup with a 50-wide overhead reel such as a Shimano Tiagra, Fin Nor Santiago or Penn International.

Use a minimum of 37kg mono and a long wire trace – big sharks can make short work of nylon leaders.

For the hooks, it’s absolutely vital to use quality circle hooks that will make releasing easier. Circle hooks tend to stay in the corner of the mouth and are unlikely to be swallowed by the shark. Use a hook size of between 10/0 and 12/0.

To attach the hook to the wire trace, the line must be crimped. Crimps and crimping pliers can be bought at any good tackle store. It would be wise to carry long-nosed pliers and good quality gloves to aid in releasing sharks.

Most shark fishos will use as light a sinker as they can get away with. Depending on depths and current at where you’re fishing, around 8oz would be a good starting point.
To make it easier, there are pre-prepared wire traces available at most tackle stores.

Basic shark rig

Bronze Whaler

As the name suggests the upper portion of these sharks is a bronze/brown with whitish underside. They have a blunt nose and quite small teeth for their size. This shark is well known in the northern harbours over the summer period as the big females come into the shallow waters to birth.

Bronzies are regarded as dangerous in Aussie and the tropics but not so much here.


In our colder waters bronze whalers are relatively easily caught in harbour channels with big dead baits. The key to getting the interests of bronzies is to use heaps of berley. Bronzies are strong and reasonably good fighters. They grow to about three metres and more than 200kg.

If you want to stretch your arms and gear, they’re worthy opponents and you won’t have to travel too far to find them. In the summer, our harbours are full of them.


One of the strangest looking fish in the world, there are nine known species, each with slightly different head shapes.

The inner Hauraki Gulf fills with thousands of small hammers about a meter long over summer. In the outer Gulf you may well come across much larger hammers up to and over 200kg swimming very slowly on the surface.

There was a famous photo in the NZ Herald taken years ago from a small plane over a surf carnival at Red Beach where competitors had swum right over a school of large hammerheads and didn’t even know they were there. The competitors may have swum a little faster if they had known what they had for company.


If you throw a big bait at hammerheads, most times they will spook off so they can be very frustrating to hookup. The usual whole fish baits can be enough to tempt them and they are also very keen on squid.

When and if you do hook into one, you’re in for a long, hard battle as these tireless fighters don’t give up easily.m Use extreme caution with these big fish, they will give you a serious working over at the boat.

Thresher Shark

There is no mistaking these guys as the upper tail lobe is equal to the length of its body. These sharks use this huge tail as a club to stun prey before eating it and many a crew member has been knocked out by a lash of this tail when this shark has been brought to the boat. These guys are double dangerous with both teeth and tail to watch out for.

Coloured dark grey/green top side to a sort of mottled white underside, there are three species of thresher, the pelagic, common and bigeye.

There are three species of thresher sharks


Threshers will take livebaits or floating deadbaits and love to whack trolled baits with that tail. Consequently many threshers get hooked in the tail and if this happens you’re in for a long, tough fight.

New Zealand has some of the world’s largest threshers, growing up to  six metres in length. However these bigger threshers are deepwater models and the shallow water threshers tend to be smaller.
Threshers are known to jump like the mako when hooked although not quite as well.

Blue Shark

Blues are long slender sharks with a long nose and long pectoral fins. They feature a brilliant mid blue back.

Blues are a beautiful looking shark but are known to be a bit dopey.


You will generally need to be fishing out wide where the game fish are to run into a blue. They will feed on just about any type of bait but unfortunately do not fight well so can be taken on lighter line, say 10 to 15kg.

The bigger ones can grow up to 2.5 metres and weigh more than 180kg so these may need 24kg gear. They are reasonably common in New Zealand and smaller ones can sometimes be spotted closer in during the summer.


To the fisher or casual observer this pointy-nosed torpedo has to be one of the most stunning sharks of all. An immensely powerful body with blue/black upper and whitish grey underbelly, it has long sets of inward facing rakish teeth and the most evil jet black eyes.

There is an old fishing saying that looking into the eye of a mako is like looking into the black pits of hell.


Hooked up, these sharks can be dangerous. Many a fisho has been caught out with the mako’s habit of swimming towards the boat after being hooked, giving the mistaken opinion that these sharks are soft and easy.  Makos will chew on boats, propellers or anything else they can find while eyeballing you with that black eye.

The most dangerous aspect of the mako is its ability to jump and boy can they jump! Makos have been recorded jumping as high as six metres in the air. There have been many recorded instances where they have actually jumped into boats, completely destroying everything onboard.

Makos will regularly hit trolled lures or trolled baits during summer. Livebaits and deadbaits will often be hit by makos too. The smaller ones are superb fun on light tackle.  Make sure they’re fully played out before you bring them to the boat or you could be asking for trouble.

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