The day is finally here. Previous attempts to get on a birthday shark-fishing charter were thwarted by the unholy trinity of COVID, bad weather and engine trouble.
Dressed head-to-toe in borrowed offshore sailing gear, my father and I arrive at Neyland Marina, just before 7a.m. The skipper and first mate are all set to go. A quick safety briefing and we’re off, heading for the open ocean.
The shark fishing mark is some thirty to forty miles offshore; halfway to Ireland. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, so I pick a comfortable spot in the cabin and get some shut eye. A couple of hours later, the skipper kills the engine; we’ve arrived at his chosen GPS location.
The skipper attaches the bag of shark-attracting rubby-dubby to the bow-rail whilst the first mate prepares the rods and bait. Fresh mackerel has been hard to come by this year, so we’ve brought along a few kg of mackerel from Tesco. It works just as well as fresh I’m told. A whole mackerel, semi-flappered (i.e. a few inches cut up along the backbone from tail-to-head) is hooked through the head onto a large circle-hook on a two-foot long bite-trace of strong wire. This in turn is connected to a longer rubbing-trace to prevent the shark’s skin cutting through the line if it rolls in the line.
The rod and reel are serious pieces of kit. I’ve always liked Shimano tackle.
The baits will be suspended from 45 to 60 feet deep using party balloons on zip sliders wedged onto the main line. My father blows up the balloons to the size of a galia melon, and the mackerel are lowered to the depths to entice the sharks.
And now we wait….
I didn’t have to wait long.
My reel screams into life, then goes quiet. Has the shark dropped the bait? I pick up the rod, slowly wind till I feel resistance, then lean into the fish to set the hook. The battle is on. Pump and wind. Pump and wind. Let it run. Pump and wind. My left arm immediately feels my lack of gym-time over the last year. Gradually I drag the fish closer to the boat. A blue shark of around 50lb the skipper estimates. It has wrapped itself in the rubbing trace, so now it feels like a dead weight. These days, sharks are normally released at the side of the boat, but as this was my first and the shark wasn’t too big to handle, it was lifted on board for a few photos. The fish was swiftly released to grow bigger.
We re-bait and settle down to wait. Hours pass. The first mate sets up a rod with baited feathers to bob along the bottom hoping to pick up a whiting or haddock. A small pod of common dolphins investigate the boat before disappearing.
My father investigates a possible bite. Nothing on the line. A fin breaks the surface next to the balloon float. It has the distinctive form and colour of a porbeagle. Oddly, the shark ignores the bait but plays with balloon. The skipper shakes the rubby-dubby bag, and drops a bait just below the boat. This shark is in a picky feeding mood. I can see him twenty feet below the surface. This is a big fish. Maybe 200lb estimates the experienced skipper. It takes the bait. I put on the butt pad and take the rod. It feels like I’m being pulled along by a car. Disaster. A clip fails and the fish escapes. Such is fishing.
The bottom-fishing rod indicates a bite. The first mate very sportingly lets me bring in the catch. A hundred meters of winding results in a tiny grey gurnard.
Time’s up! There were a few tentative bites, but one shark was all for me today. I’ve waited a long time for this. A great, memorable day out.
- 1 Blue Shark
- 1 Grey Gurnard