My preferred method for sharking involves wading the flats and actively hunting the fish. No chum is involved and the flies I use are surprisingly small. Often when people think about shark flies they imagine foot-long patterns that are flopped (not cast) behind a moving boat when a fish is spotted in the chum lane. The flies I’ve had most success with, however, are standard bait-fish streamers no more than 4 inches in length usually tied on a 4/0 or 6/0 hook. This is important because I want to be able to cast the fly up to 90ft or so on my favoured #10 weight outfit. Speed of delivery is also crucial if you want to intercept a cruising shark at the correct depth (I’ve found that they can be reluctant to move up or down in the water column). I keep my leader set-up very simple; 18 inches of wire with a crimped loop at each end, the fly attaches with a split ring and the other end is loop-to-looped with 8 foot of 50lb nylon. I’ve never had a shark ‘spin up’ the line on the flats, so the abrasion resistance (or lack of) of the leader is not really an issue.
Shark exude body language on the flats, this to me makes them fascinating to fish for. Often you will see ‘slow cruisers’. These tend to be going somewhere, often in a dead straight line. It is rare for these fish to take a fly, they’ll simply ignore it completely or they’ll turn slightly to follow for a meter or so before continuing on their way. A hunting shark tends to have more ‘bristle’ about it. The fins are held slightly more prominently and it swims at a faster pace, often slightly higher in the water (depending on the depth). It will also make sharper turns as it traverses the flat looking for prey. A shark in this mood will detect the fisher’s presence way before you see it, and will come and ‘check you out’. For someone new to the flats this can be a little unnerving, especially if it’s a big shark, however it often leads to the best shot at the fish. I make my cast so as to present the fly maybe a meter of so in front of the shark once it has sunk to the correct depth. I then proceed with slow(ish), long strips with distinct pauses between them. Ripping the fly at top speed has never been that successful for me – I find it results in lots of follows but not many takes.
I’ve found that the best time to find hunting sharks is in the last two hours of a flooding tide, if this coincides with the hours before sunset then the better the chances of a hook-up. Once the tide turns it’s my experience that the bigger shark disappear very fast, I assume this is because getting cut-off and stranded presents a significant danger to bulky fish on a shallow flat.
Before I cast at a shark I have a plan as to where I’m going to land it. If there’s nothing but water for a mile in every direction then I simply won’t make the shot. Dealing with unhooking a shark whilst still knee deep is a recipe for a trip to the hospital to get stitched back up (or worse). I’ll therefore look to beach the fish on a sandbar or the shoreline. Once the bulk of a larger shark is supported by the sand it obviously can’t move, i.e. turn, anywhere near as fast as it can in water. This makes un-hooking much safer in that it’s easy to jump out of the way if the shark kicks. In this respect I’d rather unhook a big shark than a little one – the smaller ones can still whip about on dry land. It is essential to fish fully barbless, I crush the barbs on my hooks before I even start to tie the fly. Every shark I’ve caught to date on the fly has been hooked on the outer edge of their mouths and more often than not in the scissors. Thankfully this makes the recovery of the fly fairly straight forward, although often the tying is pretty tatty afterwards (I think my record is four shark on the same fly, but it’s usually one before retirement).
One last word of caution. Very, very occasionally a shark, usually a big one, will pay you more interest than you’re comfortable with. Most times slapping the rod down above the shark and making a loud splashy step towards it (yes, towards ☺) will scare it off (no predators are used to being attacked by their prey, I once spooked a 150lb shark with my 4 inch fly which I’d slightly overcast and pulled into the fish – that made a big commotion as it left the flat at a rate of knots). If the slap and the step don’t work then it’s time to give the fish a close up sniff of your reel – bash it on the nose. I’ve only ever got to this stage twice, both times the shark accelerated past the fly that I’d put in front of them, so clearly they had other intentions. Exciting stuff though.
I think I might tie some shark flies this weekend, plus some bass fishing from the shore in Dorset. Have a great weekend whatever your plans.