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June 03, 2013

Majestic Maine's First-Class Sharking

Offshore fishing for massive blue sharks and threshers off historic Bath, Maine

[Be sure to click through all the images in the gallery above.]

The folks at Maine tourism could not have written a better script: Spotless sky over a still, serene sea; finback and minke whales surfacing, blowing, gliding; sharks darting through the chum; potential state-record blue shark on fly; not one but two thresher sharks — estimated at 165 and 360 pounds.

About the only thing missing that August day was a mako. But let’s not get greedy. To top it all off, for the first hour or so, all the fish came to my boat. As the saying goes: I’d rather be lucky than good.

However, last summer, I had both fortune and skill working for me. I had come to Bath, Maine, to target sharks and striped bass with Capt. Dave Pecci of Obsession Sportfishing Charters (207-841-1444; obsessioncharters.com), and an assortment of industry friends from Southport Boats, Seaguar, Navico, and L.L. Bean. This outdoor playground at the country’s northeastern tip combines visual majesty, seafaring history, and a healthy dose of offshore and inshore action.

Second Wind
But the trip didn’t start out all textbook and perfect. The outboard on Pecci’s boat died, so he borrowed his friend John Fitzpatrick’s 23 Seacraft. Then the crew on our second boat, a Southport 29 CC, found thick fog on their trip to our berth at the Kennebec Tavern & Marina.

That goes to show you that even seemingly dark clouds eventually part. Our second day dawned with sudden gusto.

After shooting some photos of the new Southport, our group of nine anglers in the two boats settled down for the offshore trip. Our captains hammered the throttles — though as you might expect, the single-outboard 23 quickly fell behind. Still, the 18-mile run from the mouth of the Kennebec River took minimal time, and soon Pecci had set up a drift offshore from a commercial bluefin tuna fleet in 450 feet of water.

Although we were over a spot Pecci called the Elbow off Murray Hole — where the bottom rises from 450 to 360 feet — he added that the sharks react more to tide lines and current rips than structure. “I’d also like the temperature to increase a couple of degrees,” he said, reporting that the gauge read 65.5. “That would concentrate the sharks more.”

Thankfully we needed no warming trend. Pecci put a block of chum into a lidded milk-crate container and tied it off the transom. He cut slits into a jug of fish oil and hung that off another cleat. He also cut some mackerel chunks to periodically toss into the scent trail.

“Usually it takes about an hour or 90 minutes for these sharks to come in,” he said confidently. Sixty minutes later, we spotted the first flyby — a blue shark that nosed around the chum block.

Program Prep
Pecci had armed us with a pair of 30-pound-class, ­conventional stand-up outfits spooled with 100-pound PowerPro braid. He doubled about 10 feet of line with a Bimini twist tied to a snap swivel. To that, he attached six feet of 200-pound mono, “something I can get a grip on,” he says.

To the mono, he tied a snap swivel that clasped a 10-inch section of 100-pound stainless leader haywired to a 7/0 J-hook. Pecci deliberately makes somewhat loose haywire connections so that their breaking strength averages about 70 pounds. “When I’m handling the shark up close to the boat, I want them to fail,” he says.

Pecci pinned a whole, dead Atlantic (Boston) mackerel to the hook, threading it up through the bottom jaw and out the top of the head. He tied a balloon onto one rig about 30 feet above the bait. He suspended the second mackerel just a few feet below the second balloon, just deep enough to deter the shearwaters, and then drifted the baits 20 to 30 yards behind the boat.

Pecci also rigged a pitch bait on a spinning rod, spooled with 50-pound braid. Mac McKeever, an avid fly fisherman and public-relations rep with nearby L.L. Bean in Freeport, Maine, hauled out a 6-foot-9-inch, 14-weight fly rod and a chum fly.