Each summer as the offshore waters of Bass Strait begin to warm, the baitfish population increases. The baitfish are followed by the smaller predators such as barracouta and arrow squid. Right behind these are the big predators, such as bronze whalers, blues, threshers and my own favourite, the mako shark.
While most Bass Strait makos are around 20-50kg and provide good sport and great eating, a smattering of bigger fish ranging from 80-300kg are hooked each year. These are the sharks that get your blood pumping with excitement, and trepidation, as you try to anticipate the next move of a fish with a very bad attitude.
Designed as a fast-moving hunting machine, the mako has a lot of things going for it aside from sleek good looks. The thickset body is all muscle and is pushed along by a broad tail that creates massive power and propulsion. The mako’s pointy nose and narrow head cut through the water with little resistance. The whole outfit is stabilised by the huge caudal keels at the base of the tail.
The mako’s jet black eyes make it look especially mean, and this is topped off by a set of evil looking teeth. They are one of the few sharks in the world that always have teeth showing, even when their mouth is shut.
The mako’s dental work is made up of several rows of long dagger-like teeth that are designed for grabbing and holding prey, rather than cutting. This is because a mako’s diet is consists of fast-moving but soft-fleshed food such as fish and squid.
To successfully target mako sharks you need to understand their behaviour and lifestyle. Unlike most other species of sharks that spend large portions of their life in the bottom half of the water column, makos spend a fair proportion of their time hunting in the top half, because this is where their prey lives.
Sharks are sharks and will turn up wherever they feel like it, although most makos tend to like the cleaner ocean waters. To reach these waters safely, you will need a boat of 5.5m or bigger. Good launching ramps are located at Stony Point, Rhyll and Newhaven.
One of the key factors in finding any predatory species is to look for areas where there is a decent food source for them. For Victorian makos this usually comes in the form of squid or barracouta.
Key areas to start looking are where the bottom falls quickly into deeper water, such as out from Woolamai and over the Flinders Bank. These spots lie at either end of Phillip Island. Take a look at your GPS and you will see what I mean.
Shallow water is another option and can be a great place to find numbers of makos, especially in February and March. Try looking in 20-40m between Kilcunda and Inverloch.
Then you have the deeper areas. Although Bass Strait doesn’t get really deep, the 60-70m line is a top place to find a mako, especially a bigger one. Out here the bottom is fairly featureless, but it provides a good hunting ground and produces many sharks each season.
If you are fortunate enough to fish the west coast, off places like Port Fairy and Portland, then you also have the option of fishing out along the edge of the Continental Shelf. This is another great place to find bigger makos, with lots more of 100kg, as well as some frightening monsters – although I would suggest getting some practise on the smaller ones first.
The key to attracting sharks is without doubt good berley. By this I mean it needs to be made of fresh fish, and, importantly, it pays to know what is in it.
When targeting mako sharks it is best to have a berley that is very fine but oily, which will spread a long way across the surface and sink very slowly through the water column,
Here in Victoria, I use a lot of fish such as barracouta and salmon, both of which are common in these waters. To this I add extra oily species, such as pilchards and tuna, wherever possible. Most of this is finely minced and frozen into blocks that can be placed in onion bags to let out a constant, fine trail as they thaw. This is added to by actually punching fish pieces through the berley pot. I believe the constant noise of this also helps to attract sharks.
To boost the trail it also pays to have a 5L bottle of good quality tuna oil with pin holes in it hanging over the side of the boat. This is a great help in letting you know where your trail is going, and this oil slick alone can attract plenty of sharks.
In the deeper water, a cube trail of cut pilchards can also be successful in dragging a hungry mako from the bottom.
Most importantly, make sure you keep the trail going all day long. Too many people forget about the berley when a fish is hooked, and the trail is broken. This is the time to get serious about berleying, as it’s common to have another fish or two arrive while you are fighting the first.
When it all comes down to it, you can use any bait you wish, however my favourites are whole striped tuna, and strips of bluefin or yellowfin tuna. These are oily and appeal to makos.
Other great baits for Victorian makos include live or dead arrow squid, as well as barracouta, especially when it is fresh. If you need tougher bait, I often put out big bait like a whole Australian salmon – quite often the smaller makos will leave them alone.
With all larger baits such as whole striped tuna or squid, I tend to favour twin hook rigs. Often a mako will hit the bottom or middle of the bait, so I like the idea of the second hook to pin the fish.
Smaller baits are often placed on single hook rigs, either pinned through the end of the bait or placed lower in the bait then stitched in tight.
Hooks and traces for makos obviously depend on the bait and tackle being used. It is pretty pointless using big heavy wire and 12/0 hooks on light tackle, as you will struggle to set the hook. Conversely, small light gauge hooks can be straightened on heavier 24kg tackle if the pressure is really put on.
As for trace lengths, a good option is to use a 400lb wind on leader and a shorter wire trace of 3m. This may still sound long, but it is quickly used up when a 2m mako gets the trace wrapped around its fat body once or twice. The wind on leader system and shorter trace is also easier for tracing in trailerboats
Because makos are more of a surface shark, we find good success running a big bait out the back, 100-150m from the boat. The idea of the large bait is that smaller 20-50kg makos will swim past it, but any big banger that is a bit shy and holding back from the boat will find it irresistible.
Closer to the boat, about 25-50m back, we run a smaller bait such as a fillet of tuna, small salmon or a slimy mackerel. These baits are held up with the aid of a balloon, which is attached at the top of the trace.
Finally, we also have bait straight under the boat, which is run off a downrigger a few meters from the bottom. If you don’t have a downrigger, then a simple break away rig attaching the sinkers via light monofilament or rubber bands will work. This bait is generally a smaller one that has a single hook in it and has often proved deadly, taking several sharks in a single day while others didn’t get touched
If you have enough outfits it also pays to have another trace rigged with a bait on it and kept in the esky. This can quickly be attached to an outfit if a shark decides to swim past the baits to the back of the boat.
Makos do make great eating, so if you plan to keep the fish, you will need to gaff it. A solid fixed head gaff will do for small makos (20-30kg) if you slip it into their gills and up into the head. On bigger fish you will need one or two flying gaffs – and prepare for battle. Again, put the first gaff into the shark’s head. Then try to get a tail rope onto it and get its tail out of the water.
Finally, if your crew has one mako in the boat to eat, please think about letting the rest go, as it is a fishery we need to look after. Rolling up at a boat ramp with six dead sharks definitely doesn’t make you a legend.
There is no size limit for makos, but an angler may only keep one per day, landed whole or as a carcase. You cannot use more than 10L of berley, and you cannot use mammal blood for berley.
GEAR FOR MAKOS
6-8kg outfit (Shimano TLD 15 reel and snapper style rod).
10kg outfit (Shimano Tyrnos 20 or Tiagra 20 reel and T-Curve 8-10kg rod)
15kg outfit (Shimano Tiagra 30W reel and T-Curve 15kg fully-rollered rod)
24kg outfit (Shimano Tiagra 50W and T-Curve 24kg fully-rollered rod)