Hot Spot: Southern California
Find makos both large and small in west coast canyons
Two of the world’s coolest shark species spend much time in the waters around the famed Channel Islands off the Southern California coast. One you can fish for; the other you cannot.
And that’s OK — because while the great white shark has been protected in California for nearly 20 years, its smaller cousin, the shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus), ranks as one the ocean’s top predators and best adversaries on rod‑and‑reel.
And why wouldn’t they? Makos grow to an impressive size. They have a nasty disposition. They are sleek and incredibly fast. And when hooked, they’re the stuff of legend.
Sharks of All Sizes
Makos are present year-round off Southern California, but things peak from May through October, says Capt. Mike Schmidt (www.sharkus.com/charters; 805‑444‑2777), who runs the Squalus, a 40-foot Luhrs, out of Channel Islands Harbor. The optimum time is July and August, and while the typical mako you’re likely to encounter will run 100 pounds or less, huge females upwards of 1,000 pounds also migrate into these waters during the warm months.
One look at a Google satellite map reveals why: It’s a playground of underwater structure and canyons, the kind on which pelagic food chains thrive.
The continental shelf drops off precipitously. Redondo Canyon lies just off the Cali coast, and huge makos are regularly caught there. But fishermen also fire up the engines and target seamounts and drop-offs in the 1,500- to 5,000-foot range well offshore.
“There’s often a lot of traveling required,” says Schmidt. “Makos swim upwards of 40 miles a day, constantly looking for food. Therefore, we have to hunt them too. You have to be able to read the water and sea life when looking for makos.”
That means watching closely for weed lines, color changes and current rips — all of which might indicate sea-surface temperature changes. It also means monitoring SST charts prior to a trip, such as those at www.terrafin.com.
Big makos are generally encountered in temps of 58 to 68 degrees. The warmer the water becomes, the smaller the makos get. But if the water gets too cool, pesky blue sharks become more prevalent, requiring sight-casting techniques should a mako arrive.
Gear of All Sizes
As in most forms of sharking, chumming is the name of the game with the mako. Once Schmidt finds an area to his liking, he begins a rigorous chumming operation with mackerel and tuna, which includes chunking, power chumming and the use of a barrel system. On any given day, he’ll go through 200 to 300 pounds of chum.
“When we’re done laying a slick,” says Schmidt, “it’s as wide as a freeway.”
Three 80-pound outfits are generally deployed into this slick at staggered depths and distances from the boat. Tuna heads are used, as are whole tunas, whole mackerels, strips and large squids rigged on 7/0 to 14/0 hooks, depending on bait size.
Finally, a mako arrives. If it’s a large shark, it’ll almost always be by itself. But if it’s a smaller fish, it may well have a friend.
In cases like this, Schmidt has gotten into the habit of sight-casting a shotgun rig to makos less than 200 pounds. He uses a Penn 16S two-speed, spooled with 50-pound braid beneath a 100-pound mono top shot and four feet of wire.
“You need the right bait too,” he adds. “You can’t throw a big tuna at an 80-pounder. A lot of times we’ll just take a squid head and put it out there. The fish will jump on it.”
Then the fun begins. “Of course, nothing beats catching a monster,” says Schmidt, “but these smaller fish jump so much more on the lighter gear. It’s really the way to go.”