OVER the years I’ve written several articles on fishing for sharks in Southern Queensland. I regularly get asked about the kind of rig used so I’ve decided to explain it in greater detail.
There are large numbers of sharks in Moreton Bay and they can also be caught in all the creeks, rivers and canals that feed into it. The Nerang River system and most other estuaries, bays and canals up and down the coast have healthy populations of noahs also. They can be found just about anywhere there is saltwater and even some places there isn’t. Most anglers encounter them by chance while targeting other species, so few are landed. Sharks are probably responsible for more ‘the one that got away’ stories than any other species.
If you want to target sharks, having an appropriate rig will go a long way towards a satisfying final result. Let me tell you about the components and the rig I use.
The downside of conventional (J pattern) hooks is that you never know where they are going to ‘set’ or penetrate the flesh of the target species. When fishing for sharks, circle pattern hooks are a better option when used correctly because they’ll more often than not find purchase in the corner of the mouth. This makes hook removal easier, which is a big plus. When you’re dealing with a strong shark, possessing razor sharp dentures, you want to spend as little time as possible mucking around with the business end.
Hooks that set further in the mouth or throat are best just cut off and left because it’s too dangerous to try to remove them. Leaving the hook in the shark may not be the best scenario for him, but losing a finger, hand or your life isn’t healthy for you either.
You need to follow a few simple rules to ensure that your circle hooks work well. When the shark grabs the bait it must be allowed to run so that the angle of tension on the line is from behind the shark. As the tension on the line increases when you use the drag, the shark is forced to turn its head slightly. As the angle between the shark and the line increases the point of the hook will penetrate the flesh, usually in the corner of the mouth.
You must remember not to strike the rod when fishing with circle hooks, as this is likely to jerk the bait out of the shark’s mouth without allowing the hook to do its job. When the shark runs with the bait, just push the lever up to engage the drag (assuming you’re using a lever drag reel or a Baitrunner style reel) and allow the line to come tight. Once you have a good tension, with the shark taking line, you can gently raise the rod into a fighting curve.
There are several hooks on the market that are called circle hooks, however few of them are ‘true’ circles. Most are only semi-circles and many are slightly offset, which is not a characteristic of a true circle hook. The one I mainly use is not a true circle hook either but it works just as well. The Gamakatsu Octopus Circle has been my hook of choice for many years and it’s great for line classes up to 10kg. If you want to fish heavier, I recommend their Big Bait Circle, a heavier duty hook.
Other brands on the market are also good and you can try a few until you find one you are happy with. Some other brands of circle hooks include VMC, Mustad, Gladiator, Owner and Daichii, and there are possibly a few other hook manufacturers who make them also. I’ve never had a problem with the Gamakatsus and have taken some big fish and sharks on them, including two world records, so I have a lot of faith in them. I normally use 8/0 Octopus circle hooks and I also produce a light tackle shark rig with them under my brand name ‘Master Baiter Custom Tackle’.
Whichever style of circle hook you use, make sure it’s razor sharp.
You’ll need to rig your hooks on wire to avoid being bitten off by the sharks’ razor sharp teeth. Bear in mind though, that whenever metal and saltwater mix you get electrolysis, which is a bit like a small electric pulse. Sharks have very sensitive receptors in their head called ‘ampullae of Lorenzini’ that can detect these pulses, and these fish will regularly shy away or reject baits rigged on uncoated wire.
Using nylon covered wire greatly reduces this effect and, as a result, sharks are much more likely to take the bait. Plastic or nylon-coated 49-strand wire is reasonably flexible and can be bent easily. This allows the hooks to be snelled straight onto the wire, which eliminates the need for crimping and also makes a stronger connection with less effort. I usually use around a metre of 135lb nylon-coated wire in my rig, with two hooks, snelled around 15cm apart (distance varies depending on the bait). I crimp a small loop in the other end so that the snap on the leader can be attached. Circle hooks also work better with this stiff connection to the wire, which is a bonus.
The next part of the rig is important to reduce the chafing on the main line caused by the ‘dermal dentacles’, or sandpaper-like skin of the shark. The leader is usually thick monofilament, 80lb to 100lb for 3kg to 4kg line, 200lb for 6kg to 10kg line and 300lb for 15kg to 24kg line. The leaders I use and also make commercially are called wind-on-leaders, so called because the connection between leader and main line can be wound through the rod tip and onto the reel. Instead of having a swivel to join it to the main line, the leader has a spliced Dacron loop. This allows a loop-to-loop connection between the double in the main line and the leader. Making wind-on-leaders is not that hard once you learn how, but they are a little time consuming.
You’ll be able to retrieve the wind-on-leader onto the reel until the snap swivel connecting the leader and the wire trace is at the rod tip. You’ll only have the short wire leader out the tip, which allows a shark to be brought close for tagging, netting or gaffing. When the shark is at close quarters you can often put a little more pressure on the shark by locking the leader between your thumb and the foregrip of the rod. My wind-on-leaders are 3m long, which keeps my rig within the regulations of the International Game Fish Association. You must never touch the Dacron part of the leader, as it relies on tension to grip the leader material.
The double in your main line can be done in a number of ways. In light line to 15kg you can use a spider hitch or a bimini twist but in heavier line a plait is the best. The bimini twist is a better option than the spider hitch as it has a much higher breaking strain. It takes a little longer to learn but it’s definitely worth it if you’re serious about having your rig as strong as possible.
If you’re fishing under IGFA rule with line classes up to 10kg, and have a 1m wire leader and 3m wind-on-leader, your double can be up to 1.5m long if you wish. This will keep you well within the maximum combined length of 6.1m for leader and double. If you’re fishing under sportfishing rules or using line heavier than 10kg, consult the rules of your relevant angling body.
This rig has worked well for me over the many years I have been chasing sharks, and I use the same rig for livebaiting pelagics – except that instead of the wire I use 80lb monofilament. If all your connections are done properly you’ll have a very sound rig. I highly recommend it for line classes up to 15kg, which is plenty heavy enough for chasing sharks in the bay. I have never fished heavier than 8kg line in the southern end of the bay and have lost very few sharks. The light line is a lot of fun to fish with, especially 4kg, and with this rig the hooks will set firmly almost every time.
Sharks are plentiful in Moreton Bay and most other waters, so rig up, float a few baits into a tuna oil slick and hang on!
Geoff Wilson’s Complete Book of Fishing Knots & Rigs
Wind-on leader – page 28-29
Simple snell – page 8
Bimini twist – page 34 (page 33 in 2000 edition)
1) Circle hooks usually set in the corner of the mouth, which makes hook removal easier.
2) The small spots on a shark’s head are sensitive receptors called ‘ampullae of Lorenzini’.
3) Wind-on leaders allow you to put a little more pressure on in the closing stages of the fight.