It's summertime and it's hot, so that must mean that it's time to go sharkin' in New
England. August and September are prime months to fish for sharks in the Gulf of Maine.
There are several species of shark that summer in these waters and make themselves
available to the offshore angler. Common blue sharks, porbeagles, rare threshers and the
prized mako round out the list of the most sought after species.
Where to Go
By taking the suggestion of Captain Jim Hinkley who holds the State of Maine record for mako
shark (680 lbs.), we decided to venture 30 miles offshore to the Fingers area of
Jeffreys ledge. Mark Roberston out of Kittery captained the seaworthy Rip Runner, a
21 Robalo cuddy cabin with a 150 Mercury for the trip. His setup handled the one
hour trip due east from Portsmouth in moderate chop with ease.
After topping off the 100 gallon fuel tank our first stop was in our own backyard
at the 2KR buoy to load up on live mackerel. Luckily the bait cooperated this morning and
after a few minutes we had our live well full. Mark pulled up the Fingers coordinates
(43'06.402, 70'04.558) on his Loran unit. I did the same on my handheld GPS and we headed
100 degrees due east towards Jeffreys Ledge. Both nav units worked flawlessly and it
was comforting to have a backup on board. As nice as electronic nav plotters are, I found
it easier to follow the compass on a long trip like this and to refer to the electronics
for corrections over time.
Having a temperature sensor and plotter on your fish finder is instrumental when shark
fishing. I found that it definitely boosts your confidence knowing that you are fishing
good water and not wasting time in unproductive areas. On the way towards the Fingers we
watched the temperature plot steadily climb from the fifties into the mid sixties, a good
sign indeed. In addition, watching and theorizing on water temperature and how it affects
fishing is a fine way to pass the one hour ride.
X Marks the Spot
The nav instruments indicated that we were approaching
our spot. It was good to hear a change of pitch in the monotonous whine of the engine. We
throttled back but did not stop the boat as expected. I took the helm and Mark began
dribbling fish oil off the transom - the beginnings of our chum slick. The sounder still
read 400of water, but as we traveled the bottom slowly came up to 310', 240,
then eventually 160. We were on the ledge. A bucket of mackerel heads and innards
are strewn over the transom, remnants of last Sundays mackerel fishing excursion. Im
now glad that I saved them. After about 1/3 of a mile of Power Chumming we
finally stop the boat and begin our drift.
The previous day a road trip was made from Portsmouth up interstate 95 to Saco Bay
Tackle for two buckets of chum. For fifteen dollars you can buy a five gallon bucket of
frozen ground up herring which is perfect for offshore fishing. Instead of rigging up milk
crates and bungee cords, Mark has a great device made by Cannon for dispersing chum into
the water. It is basically a tough nylon/rubber cylindrical bag the size of a five gallon
bucket with many large holes in it. You place the bag over the mouth of the bucket of
chum, transfer the frozen block into the bag, and over the side she goes, tied off of
course. The wave action disperses thawed pieces of herring as you drift creating the
Our tackle consists of a Penn Senator 114 HLW (6/0) with a matching 6' 6/0 rod spooled
with 80lb. Dacron, and a 5.5' Penn Tuna Stick with Penn 45 GLS Lever
Drag Reel (4/0) spooled with 50 lb Dacron. The rods are dual purpose and are used
for both shark and bottom fishing. The terminal tackle for sharks consists of a #12/0
hook, 12 of #12 single strand wire and 15 of 200 lb. test Ande
monofiliment. The mono serves two purposes in our case: it provides shock absorption
because the Dacron does not stretch, and it adds some additional distance between the
shark and the Dacron which has low abrasion resistance. All of this is tied to a heavy
duty snap swivel which is tied to the running line. A 16oz. bank sinker is attached to the
snap with a thick rubber band, and finally a balloon is tied on the Dacron which
determines the depth of your bait. We set out two lines with live mackerel on each, one at
50' off the transom and 30 down, and one at 100' out and 60 down. If we had
another rig we could have put a line down near the bottom which could have enticed a
Waiting it Out
Once the chum slick is established and your lines are
set it becomes a waiting game. But dont think it's nap time. At the beginning of our drift
we were visited by a pod of porpoise. They are such beautiful and elegant creatures as
they glide through the water. They circled the boat in their curious ways checking out our
every move. The water was alive with them. I was concerned that they may become interested
in our baits, and at times it seemed they were diving directly under and circling our
offerings, but it was false concern.
Pilot, minke and humpback whales appeared off each quarter all day long. The area of
the Fingers at Jeffreys ledge is alive with marine life!
The chum slick is going, the depth is right,
temperature looks good, no toothy takers yet; let's kill some time by jigging for cod.
Moments later, Mark pulls a 15lb codfish up to the transom, get the gaff! Theres
always something to do.
Suddenly, theres a commotion at the closest balloon, we've got visitors.
Theres a small blue shark trying to eat the balloon, which just happens to be
red - Pop! What a dopey fish! Mark straps on a standup rod harness and takes the rod
out of the holder. A larger blue swims by the transom toward the baits. What handsome and graceful creatures they are. They have beautiful
blue backs with white undersides and long pectoral fins. I feel we are just awkward land
creatures invading their peaceful domain. Aliens.
Within seconds the rod goes off. Dacron empties from
the spool with the clicker sounding like a machine gun! Mark engages the reel and sets the
hook. Immediately the shark sounds. The rod is bent straight down over the transom and the
reel's drag is giving up line. After a short battle with the stout rod bent like a
thin willow branch, the line unexpectedly goes slack. The powerful animal had twisted and
rolled up 12 of wire leader all the way to the 200 lb. test mono and cut
through it. They've got tough skin alright. Further inspection showed the shock line as
thick as a Qtip swab was frayed as if it was common sewing thread.
Hey, it's their turf.
We put in a couple of more hours of drifting, chumming, jigging up cod and pollock and
watching whales with little activity on the shark front. We even set out a line for
bluefish which gave up a strike but was missed.One of those days. The tuna guys anchored
not far off were having a slow day as well. Chock it up to the weather being just to nice.
It's Always Good Fishing
With trip number one of shark season in the books, we headed back to port on a 279
degree heading. An hour later we whiz by our old friend 2KR and feel the warm wind from
land once again. If you have the boat and the equipment, offshore shark fishing in New
England is a great way to spend an entire day on the high seas. Leave your busy life back
on the mainland and relax with the swells, even if it is only for a few hours.
Here are some resources for shark fishing in New England:
Guide to New England Sharks
Saco Bay Tackle
The Apex Predators Program
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