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July 30, 2012

Three Favorite Sharks

The lowdown on three popular shark species in three popular fisheries


Shark: Threshers
Hot Spot: New England


For the thrill of a lifetime, drift your way to a thresher

Of all species of sharks, the common thresher (Alopias vulpinus) might be the most beautiful and amazing for any angler to catch. Just listen to the words of Capt. Bill Brown (www.billfishcharter.com; 860‑741‑3301) of Watch Hill, Rhode Island.

“That big tail gives them tremendous thrust, and their jumping ability often leaves anglers’ mouths open in sheer awe. Seeing what looks like a 20-foot alien flying through the air leaves a mental image that will last a lifetime. Makos are known for their aerial abilities, but the sheer bulk and length of a leaping thresher is almost incomprehensible.”

Chasing the Thresher
Brown knows threshers. For 37 years, he’s been pursuing these graceful beauties around the famed waters of New England, painstakingly recording every detail of every catch in a logbook. Not many captains are more knowledgeable.

Threshers generally begin moving from Montauk Point to Block Island around the second week of June, Brown says, and then up to Martha’s Vineyard by the second week of July. By early August, they’ve progressed to the outer reaches of Massachusetts Bay and into the Gulf of Maine. Then the fish turn south on a reverse course, making it back to Montauk by early November.

Brown follows their movements like clockwork. “They travel in loose, aggregate schools, from four or five to a few dozen, spaced out over a couple of miles,” he says. “Whether it’s migratory movement, temperature parameters or simply following baitfish, they seem to show near the same places year after year.”

While working the 20- to 30-fathom curves, the most important factor for finding threshers is the presence of bait, says Brown, though he also watches closely for underwater structure and temperature breaks. When he finds a good break, his attention shifts to his fish finder, which he scans for thermoclines at least 40 to 50 feet down.

With ideal conditions like this, Brown prepares for a drift, often stopping a mile away from the intended drift zone, assessing the effects of wind and tidal flow.

Fighting the Thresher
Brown prefers a four-rod pattern, and he stages baits with appropriate lead at various depths depending on thermocline location and speed of drift, methodically chumming all the while.

He positions bluefish or false albacore fillets, butterflied bluefish or mackerel or a “sandwich of fresh squid and a fillet” on three Penn 50 VSWs, often adding colorful plastic skirts or plastic squid strips as visual attractors. On his fourth rod, a Penn 70 VSW, Brown drifts a live bluefish.

These outfits are spooled with 80- to 130-pound braid with 100-yard top shots of 80- or 100-pound mono, and Brown’s leaders are built with 8 to 10 feet of 600-pound-test longline mono (which is more abrasion-resistant than regular mono), six feet of No. 19 SS wire and a 10/0 Mustad 7699 hook.

When a fish is hooked, an angler is in for a real struggle, as a thresher’s fighting ability rivals that of any billfish or tuna, according to Brown. Because of this, “it’s imperative that you get over the fish [with the boat] to apply maximum pressure,” he says. Don’t even try fighting them from a dead boat.

And, yes, during the course of battle, these incredible animals will sometimes completely clear the water. When they do, simply be amazed.