Ever since I was about ten years old I’d wanted to go shark fishing. I read and re-read my copy of ‘Shark Fishing in British Waters’ by Trevor Housby, and hoped one day I’d be able to put the theory into practice with a battle against a blue, porbeagle, thresher or mako.

This summer, I had already made two bookings on a charter boat to fish the Celtic Deep. This area of sea, forty miles offshore between Wales and Ireland, has become a real hotspot for shark fishing, possibly the best the UK has to offer right now. Disappointingly, both bookings had been cancelled. Firstly due to weather – which is to be expected 50% of the time for a journey that far offshore. Then engine trouble was the cause, which is just bad luck. Despite my inexperience, I decided to go it alone and have a DIY attempt at a shark, from our own private boat. The skipper wasn’t keen on a trip so far out in the open ocean – which would take several hours in any case – so we opted for a slightly experimental location nearer to shore.

Due to other commitments, it was well after midday before we killed the boat engine at our chosen mark six miles offshore, in approximately 160 ft of water. The sea was glassy calm, a rarity at this spot, that we had carefully selected to allow several hours of drift without collision with any landmass. Maybe it was too close inshore to find blue sharks, but porbeagles were a possibility. Either way, you’ll never know unless you try. The skipper dangled an orange onion sack of rubby dubby over the side, and tied it fast. I’d spent the morning making this attractant by putting a dozen or so mackerel through a meat mincer and mixing the resultant fishy mush with bran, sardine oil and a handful of sharp sand. I was quite happy with the blend; having never seen any rubby dubby before ‘in the flesh’ I was confident that it looked like it was supposed to. A light oily slick issued forth from the onion sack, flowing downtide, just as the theory predicted.

I was using two mackerel as bait: one whole, one flappered [tail and backbone removed]. Both were set on a 10/0 hook attached to a strong wire biting trace and a longer wire rubbing trace. (All terminal tackle from Rok Max). I set party-balloon floats to suspend the baits at sixty feet and forty feet respectively, and let the balloons drift away from the boat. I was aiming for roughly sixty yards, and thirty yards, but I’m not great at calculating distance.

Fulmar bob about in the slick among the two floats

We waited. Several fulmar, attracted by the sardine oil, sat in the slick. I had heard that these seabirds peck and burst the balloons, but thankfully they took no notice of them. To enhance the attractiveness of the oil slick, every twenty minutes or so, I gave a squirt of sardine oil from a smaller bottle. 

After an hour of no action, the skipper took the bag out of its protective plastic bucket and gave it a shake to release more of the fishy goodness. We leaned over the port side to admire the slick. “There’s a shark!” I yelled as a six-foot finned shape approached the boat underwater then turned away. “Er….no. It’s a dolphin”, I corrected. The solitary animal made a few loops around the boat before disappearing. A while later a pod of seven or so dolphins came down the slick lane to inspect the boat. This time I caught them on video (which I can’t post on WordPress, so here’s a screen capture)

Common dolphin, Delphinus delphis

I used the boat’s spare rod to try feathering for any mackerel attracted to the rubby-dubby slick, although this just gave me one specimen. I switched to dragging a mackerel bait along the bottom, hoping for a tope. This resulted in a snapped trace when I took my eye of the rod for a few minutes. Not sure what happened there. Presumably a fish took the bait and snapped the light – and possible degraded – 30lb line I was using. A while later, the tope-bait hooked a lesser spotted dogfish, or – as we are shark fishing – let’s call it by the name naturalists are trying to push for Scyliorhinus canicula:  the small-spotted catshark.

Technically a shark

Two hours after the baits were set, the reel connected to the 60-ft bait went “zzzzzzzzzzzz” for about three seconds – I thought it was a fulmar flying into the line so ignored it – but later, on retrieving the bait – I found it had been bitten clean in half. Even if I had recognised the run, I couldn’t have reacted in time, and leaving the bait out to give the fish a second chance was the right thing to do.

A closer inspection of the mackerel’s skin revealed the jagged tooth-marks of the predator: a small shark? or a tope? There’s no real way of telling.

Tell-tale toothmarks

After just three hours of fishing the wind was picking up, and we decided to call it a day. Despite the lack of any real action, the time had flown by. The wind had created quite a swell and the run for the shelter of the Haven was bumpy.

With a bag of rubby-dubby remaining, we anchored up in a bay where we had caught mackerel before. Putting the onion sack right on the seabed this time, I hoped a tope might investigate. Nothing here either, not even a dogfish which was surprising.

A final stop-off at a favoured reef to replenish the mackerel bait only resulted in pollack. Maybe I could use a pollack-based rubby-dubby and/or hook-bait next time? Another approach would be to fish closer to the shore, and deeper to specifically target porbeagles. There’s plenty of room for experimentation. Looking forward to a period of calm weather and the next attempt.

Total Catch:

  • 1 Mackerel
  • 1 Lesser Spotted Dogfish
  • 4 Pollack