Shark fishing has long been a recreational activity along the Queensland Coast. From the fifties when Bob Dyer was catching record Tigers off Cape Moreton, to the current crop of pier/land-based enthusiasts, all manner of species and weights have been achieved. Thankfully, catch and release fishing has caught on in the past couple of decades, meaning more and more sharks are being released (and hopefully tagged) to fight for another meal elsewhere. Further, the introduction of legislation by Queensland Fisheries has meant that it’s now illegal to be in possession of any shark or ray over 1.5 metres. Although this was introduced primarily to stop illegal finning, it is also a great way to bestow a catch and release mentality upon the next generation, and to incentivise recreational fishers to contribute to science via tagging programs. Enough sharks are already killed via the government’s Shark Control Program, so it’s paramount that these keystone predators have their allies.
A good starting place is the creeks and rivers that line our coastline. Juvenile Bull Whalers are in plague proportions during the warmer months. If it’s Jack/Barra weather, it’s also shark weather. Although they’re more active at night, floating a livie under a float can often yield day time catches. Enjoy an epic fight on light gear, with aerobatics a common occurrence. For the larger river models up to six foot, wire traces will be a must. The odd adult Bull will also enter these systems, so if you find yourself getting smoked on heavy estuary gear, you’ve probably come across Mum.
If you’re wanting some variety in terms of species, then the piers are definitely the next step. Shorncliffe, Woody Pointy, Urangan, Palm Cove are all structures that I’ve fished, and that have produced. Bigger baits, such as whole mullet/mackerel/tuna are a better option. Species will include Bulls, Hammers, Long-Nosed Whalers, Duskies, and even the odd Tiger Shark if you’re lucky. Expect sizes to be mostly in the mid-range, between 6 and ten foot.
The third and final stage is land-based fishing the desolate beaches that line our Coast. First and foremost, be sure to fish areas that are not known for recreational swimming. This means finding a stretch that’s deserted, and often hard to access. Owning a four wheel drive will also be a must. Sharks generally avoid humans, so having no one within cooey of you is a great start. Find beaches with definite structure near the shore, like drop offs. Avoid reefy areas where the substrate is rough – you’ll lose your tackle via bust offs as soon as you get a run. This is no good for you or the shark. The Fraser Coast is a popular stretch, as are the Islands off Brisbane. Both of these areas are free from Crocs and Stingers, too, making them a safer alternative to the north. Many great catches have come from these parts.
This all depends on the size of the fish you’re chasing. For the pups, 20lb mainline connected to fifty pound wire trace will be more than sufficient. A 3/0 hook pinned in the shoulder of a live Poddy or Gar will be more than enticing to a hungry bull on a balmy night. Biddies/Sprat are also great up north, but seem to be somewhat unappealing in the south of the state. Fish the main channel of the systems, with the smaller water often yielding better results. Expect vermin as by-catch, with the odd big Estuary Cod thrown in.
The piers often fish better during the day. Again, low water is often a prime time for runs in these waters. You will need to up the size of your tackle significantly. Reels such as the TLD 25 or equivalent are a good choice, as well as a decent 15-24kg stand up rod. Roller guides can come into play, especially for when your catch is in close and underneath. Have a plan in place to ensure the quickest and safest release strategy for the shark. Use circle hooks (Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp 12/0 or equivalent), and have a decent pair of bolt cutters, in case extricating the hooks via a de-hooker becomes impossible. Your hook’s only worth a few bucks, so it’s best to cut it in half and free it from the shark’s mouth. Either walk the shark to shore and tag/release it from there, or bring it alongside and cut through the hook, which should be in the corner of its mouth.
For the beaches, your tackle will need to withstand the toughest of tasks. A Tiagra 80 (or equivalent) on a 37kg stand up rod is a great start. You want your drag pressure at strike to be roughly 10kg if fishing 37kg gear with 100lb mono. Remember, as the spool empties, the drag pressure increases, so avoid going to sunset if you’re getting spooled at a rapid rate. This is a common mistake to make, and often results in a busted mainline. Monofilament is always my choice of mainline, as braid is too susceptible to abrasion, as well as having no stretch.
No roller guides are needed, as your fish will be straight out from you, rather than underneath. I will say, though, that I prefer a shorter rod around the 5-6 foot range, as this allows you to put more grunt into the retrieve. 600Lb 49 Strand Cable or Piano Wire of at least 8 metres is a must, as well as larger Circle Hooks (Mustad 20/0 or equivalent). Torpedo swivels are also the go. Match Sleeves to the diameter of your trace, and invest in a good quality Swaging Tool. Be sure not to offset your circles, as this could result in gut hook ups, which isn’t great for the shark. I like to sharpen them with a bastard file, and often line them with lanolin for extra lubrication. You can also use the bigger J pattern hooks(7731D’s), but these can sometimes be injurious to the shark, so it’s best to stick with circles.
You’ll most certainly need a heavy duty gimbal. A kidney harness is also a mainstay for most big game fishers. I generally fish without one, so I can say with certainty that they aren’t essential. When I was a young fella and could only afford the bare essentials, a kidney harness was out of the question. I never really bothered to follow up and get one, and still haven’t. I believe that this makes the fight go quicker for me, as there’s no rest option throughout the fight.
You’ll need to devise an anchoring system, especially when fishing off beaches with strong sweeps/currents. This is more often the case, and if you don’t weigh down your bait, it will be back on the beach before you are. Also, fishing the bottom is the best way to entice the larger sharks. Tigers and whalers are far less wary of baits that are presented this way. I’ve seen this countless times with my own eyes whilst spearing the blue water. Most of these sharks’ prey items are hunted at depth, so by fishing the bottom, you’re essentially matching reality. You should also be fastidious with your bait presentation, especially when fishing for more cautious fish like Tigers. The bigger the fish, the more cautious they’ll be. There’s a reason the drum lines rarely snare Tigers over 5 metres, and it’s not due to population.
In terms of tying your trace to your mainline, some like to use a Bimini Twist. Although this is an excellent knot, and one which I used initially, I have since discovered that the humble six twist uni knot is just as suitable. Be sure to apply lanolin to your knots to avoid line damage when tightening them.
Kayaking your baits out is probably the easiest way to get them over the drop off. You can also use a powered inflatable. If you’re alone, and are running baits in highly turbulent water, you should always wear a life jacket. Not doing this nearly cost me my life many moons ago. Also, I’m always sure to be croc-wise and on the lookout for box jellies when fishing the north, and I always wear longs, no matter how hot it is. Using a powered inflatable to run baits is not only fun, but also great preparation for crossing bars/reading water when using a trailer boat. Most transoms on smaller
inflatables won’t be rated to much over 10hp, so you will need to learn how to negotiate the surf zone safely, as you’ll be too under-gunned to stay on the back of a single wave for your entire journey back to shore.
The most important factor is time, regardless of size. Certain species are more tolerant to longer pit stops than others, but the general rule is to get the tag in, the tape stretched, and the shark back swimming as swiftly as you can. Also, be aware that being jumpy and making sudden movements will do nothing to help you, and the shark will know that you’re green. Take control, be assertive, and it will all go smoothly. This takes time to master, but it’s something to always bear in mind.
Pup Bull Whalers up to 20kg, though often feisty, are easily handled by placing one hand around the peduncle (tail wrist), and one over the shark’s back, around the gill area. For the slightly bigger models, you can comfort lift them under the belly. You can also use their gills as finger slots (this will not harm them in any way), and therefore carry them vertically (head up) back into the water.
For the sharks up to six foot, lifting them will probably be more difficult. Instead, grab them around the tail wrist region, and slowly usher them into the shallows. Try and keep them submerged if you can. Expect the shark to protest and banana back and forth, so apply a bit of give when needed. I personally never use tail ropes on sharks, no matter how big they are. It’s not a necessary element, and can actually harm bigger fish by placing lots of stretching pressure on their peduncle (tail wrist). You should place your dominant hand under the lower caudal fin – palm facing up, and the other over the upper caudal – palm facing down. From there, it’s simply hold on until you get the shark into shallow water. This allows you a certain amount of give, too, and makes you far more connected to the shark. It’s easier for everyone.
For the bigger fish over ten foot, leadering is just as crucial as wrangling. Once you see the leader coming towards you, grab it and guide it shoreward. You’ll feel the shark shake its head in bursts, so you’ll need to provide a little bit of give until it calms down. It will eventually follow the path of least resistance, which will be towards you and the shallows. Once the belly touches sand, run to its rear and handle as explained above. Be aware of waves that may knock you off your feet. If you are dealing with a shore break, it may be necessary to take the shark into very skinny water. Certain species will cope with this far better than others. Hammerheads are the least resistant, and should be released with urgency. Bulls and Duskies, and most other requiems, are medium on the scale, with Tigers and Lemons being the most resilient. Still, they should all be very quick pit stops, regardless of species. If, when releasing a fish, it’s reluctant to come out of tonic, often a small pinch/wiggle of its upper caudal whilst propelling it forward will kick it back into drive. Also, when releasing a fish at night in very sharky/croc waters, always place the shark between yourself and the big blue.
All in all land based sharking is pretty safe. Like I said above, if you’re fishing the north, your main concern will be Crocs and Jellies. Fishing these desolate grounds means there’s a greater chance of encountering these deadlies, so make sure you’re suitably prepared, and don’t let the heat make you slacken off with protective clothing. Get to know the waters, and during the wet season, if there’s a greater presence of lice, and that coincides with onshore winds, this will often mean a greater chance of Irukandji/Fleckeri in the area. As for crocs, it’s their job to make you unaware of their presence, so always be vigilant, and sharpen your ground ‘n pound.
The most common ailment when tagging in any area will come via infection, specifically from the shark’s skin. We call this shark rash. This is another reason I always wear longs. A stinger suit is too soft, and a shark’s skin will grate it to shreds. Thick jeans and/or thick trackie dacks do the trick. Flannelette shirts are nice and tough for the torso/arms. If you’re not using gloves, keep an eye on the inside of your wrists, as the rash often gets in there, same with the tops of your feet. If you do get rashed, it’s no big deal, as long as you put some antiseptic on it. This is vital, especially in the tropics. If you come into contact with a shark’s teeth, pack up camp and get some oral antibiotics, no matter how small the damage. I nearly lost part of my arm from a very superficial wound on my thumb that got infected. Their teeth might look nice and pearly, but be assured that they are laden with filthy bacteria.
All other precautions should be taken when going to remote areas. Be especially familiar with first aid, particularly snake bites, as you can get some big Taipans close to the dunes at night. Also, carry enough water, and let people know exactly where you will be camping. An epirb is also a good idea. Often, during thunderstorms, sharks will become braver. Similar to Jacks, they seem to be somewhat attuned to changes in barometric pressure. If you’re soaking a bait during this time, you’ll more than likely get some interest. Do not bring a fish in during the heavy lightning phase – your rod will serve as a massive conductor. Let the fish play for a while – it will still be there once it clears.
Firstly, call the local universities and see if they have any shark programs happening. If their scientists do not, then contact Fisheries and ask for a sample pack, as well as an applicator. You’ll be doing your bit for research, and the scientists will be eternally grateful. I’ve lost count of the amount of Whalers and Tigers I’ve tagged that were subsequently re-caught and killed on the Government’s drum-lines months/years later (one is in these pics). The drum-lines are there for the protection of humans, and they do work to a large degree, but it still stings to hear one of your sharks have tanked in such a way. Even if this does happen, though, the scientists will grab a heap of invaluable info from the data, like growth rates and migratory patterns, so there’s the consolation that the shark’s death wasn’t totally in vain. Scientists are often majorly under-funded, so it’s important that we do our bit to help.
Sharks are an anachronism for a reason; they’re a special animal that commands respect. Northern Australia has the deadliest (and most beautiful) coastline on the planet, and yet these animals still reign supreme amidst the vast array of highly adept predators. That alone is worthy of note. Once you’ve been around them enough, and have watched countless characters disappear behind the waves after a quick catch up, you won’t just be concerned about their welfare, you’ll want to be a part of it.
May the smell of ammonia be upon you.
Tackle Land appreciates Aaron’s efforts in bringing his personal shark fishing experiences and techniques forward for us to all read and hopefully pick up a few pointers.
Aaron has a true passion for these awesome creatures as you can tell by this article, we also believe that sharks play a significant role in our ecosystem. So for those that already chase these brutes, consider going that one step further and start tagging them.
Again a huge thanks to Aaron for sharing his time so we all can benefit and stay a bit safer in our waterways!
Maintain the Passion!