Targeting Sharks from a Kayak Offshore
Cornwall is renowned for shark fishing. South coast ports such as Penzance, Falmouth and Looe are home to numerous charter boats who offer shark fishing trips, predominantly catching Blue Sharks and occasionally Porbeagles. We see good numbers of Blue Sharks around the Cornwall coastline but they are found far offshore, however the Porbeagle Shark will venture closer to land. I had set myself a target.... to catch one of these sharks from my kayak!
Targeting sharks from a small craft is not for the light-hearted nor the inexperienced. I will be the first to say it is dangerous and there needs to be much thought and preparation to ensure safety whilst targeting these big and powerful fish.
I have caught many Blue Sharks from charter boats and private boats over the last few years, including a stunning Blue of 167lb aboard Robin 'Chippy' Chapman's Bite Adventures out of Penzance in May this year. I am fairly well experienced in handling these fish and I am well aware of dangers these fish pose. Sharp teeth, abrasive skin, powerful muscular body and an unpredictable nature are just a few things to consider when handling these fish. On the small confines of a kayak the risk factor is escalated.
I was well equipped with the fishing gear and tackle. So it was just a case of putting myself where the fish are and putting the time and effort in to catch one. Targeting these fish often involves covering a fair amount of distance on the water and fishing offshore. This in itself requires a particular set of conditions to be done with relative safety. Calm water, low winds and favourable tidal conditions are needed for drift fishing for many hours whilst covering many miles. I am lucky if i see such conditions that coincide with a day off work more than 5 times a year. Drift fishing far offshore is not easy and is quite daunting. A full understanding of local tidal conditions and offshore tidal deviations is required. Conditions can change very quickly and when you are faced with a long journey back to shore you need to be in a position to get back to safety quickly. My Hobie Revolution 16 is the perfect tool for offshore fishing and i have complete confidence in travelling over long distances on it, even in less than ideal conditions.
Safety is paramount whilst kayak fishing and none more so than when you are offshore. If things go wrong you need to be confident in self rescue or be well equipped to communicate with rescue services. I am well equipped with suitable cold water clothing in the form of a drysuit, personal floatation in the form of a buoyancy aid, navigation devices including a GPS chart plotter to track my location and a magnetic compass as a back-up, communication devices in the form of a VHF radio and mobile phone, amongst several smaller pieces of safety equipment including bandages and plasters.
Even as someone who is confident on the water, with experience in fishing for and handling sharks and a fair few distance offshore trips under my belt, i was still apprehensive about the target i had set myself. That apprehension shoots adrenaline through my veins like nothing else and the very thought of catching a large shark from the kayak at the edge of my comfort levels excites me greatly! The angler inside of me was overriding the side of me questioning the whole thing.
A last minute change of plans late one night saw me frantically getting my gear ready and after a few hours sleep i was setting up in the dark on a cold December morning at the launch mark, ready to hit the water at first light. The water conditions were near perfect.
A long wait...
Kayak set up and loaded, i pushed off the beach at first light and headed out to the mark. The plan was to catch some fresh bait, chum the water and drift with the tide and hopefully attract the attention of a shark. Luckily bait was plentiful with dense Mackerel shoals showing on the fish finder. I soon had plenty for bait and some for chopping up for extra chum. There were a few nice sized Herring amongst them too which was a bonus.
The hook was baited, the rig lowered into the water and the wait began. I was using a Quantum Cabo Spinning/Popping Rod coupled with a Quantum Cabo 120 fixed spool loaded with over 400 yards of heavy braid. This is a set up capable of handling powerful big game pelagic fish.
6 hours and several miles later i had a bite! Adrenaline surged the heart rate up massively as i tightened the line to the fish and let the circle hook find its hold. The rod bent over and the fish was on..... I had actually hooked a shark!!
The shark surged off and braid peeled from the reel at a rate of knots. I was in full concentration mode and was soon being towed around by the shark. This was a powerful fish and for the first 5 minutes of the fight it did as it wished, charging around putting in a few good runs and generally refusing to entertain my attempts at testing it towards the kayak.
I tried my best to keep the rod tip towards the bow so that i wouldn't be at too much risk of being tipped sidewards but the shark was changing direction at the flick of a switch and ripping the rod all over the place. A local charter boat, Bluefin Charters, was fishing nearby and the skipper Sam came over to get some photos of the action and keep an eye on me as i played the fish. Much laughter was coming from the boats direction as i was pulled around by the shark. At one point i was being towed at nearly 3 knots! The next 10 minutes saw me gaining 10ft of line and then the shark take it back with a few flicks of the tail. It eventually stayed near the kayak and dogged around beneath it. The leader came up and i managed to grab it and pull the fish to the kayak. From the blue depths appeared a pointy face full of sharp teeth.... it was a Porbeagle Shark!
It didn't like the idea of being near the kayak and with a massive swipe of its tail it dived back down ripping braid from the reel with incredible power! I now knew what i was dealing with and nervous excitement raced through me. This was awesome!
The fish was tiring and i was able to keep it on a short leash until it was next ready to come towards the surface. I grabbed the leader and pulled the shark back to the kayak. This time it wasn't going anywhere. Hand firmly on the biting trace and a big toothy mouth looking at me from the water. Mission Kayak Porbeagle was well and truly accomplished!
Wow.... just wow! Sam on Bluefin managed to get some fantastic photos of this magical moment.
I composed myself and then attempted to pull the shark over my lap. I soon realised that it was just too heavy to pull onto the kayak so it stayed in the water!
We got a few photos of it in the water before it was time to unhook and release the fish.
Thankfully the circle hook had done its job with a perfect lip hook-up in the corner of the mouth which made for easy unhooking using a T-bar. It was a fantastic moment seeing the fish swam off strongly and i breathed a sigh of relief!
I had caught my first Porbeagle Shark.... from my kayak! I was over the moon and all the preparation and effort had paid off. Sam and myself estimated the fish at 80lbs although the weight of it didn't really matter. In fact a Porbeagle of this size is not big for the species, which can grow to over 500lbs! One of that size might just be a bit much for the kayak but who knows when one may take the bait. I was more than happy with my catch. I managed to get most of the action on video too...
A big thanks to Sam on Bluefin Charters for getting some great photos for me and keeping an eye on me whilst playing/handling the shark. Thanks were said and he headed off to continue fishing. My mission was accomplished and as the light was beginning to fade i set about heading back in as i had a fair way to go and wanted to be back ashore before dark. I smiled all the way and as the kayak touched the beach my journey was complete.
That was my last fish for 2017 and what a fish it was. I have had an excellent year of fishing from both the kayak and the boat, with plenty of great fish, several new PBs and many species, but i think this just may be my favourite catch from the kayak to date..... Bring on 2018!
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