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March 14, 2013

Invasion Force

Each spring, an invasion force charges the coast of Southern California brandishing rapiers and murderous ­intentions. They’re not pirates. They’re thresher sharks, descending on Pacific shores to slash, feed and, in some instances, bear young.
The common thresher grows the heaviest of the three thresher species, which also include bigeye and pelagic. California’s state record is 575 pounds. GEOFF WILSON

Spring is a time of plenty. Shoals of anchovies and sardines mill in the rich waters as warming temperatures attract migrants, including threshers sharks — some adults exceeding 300 pounds. The California state record is 575 pounds. “There’s evidence that female threshers come in to spawn,” says Milton Love, Ph.D., a professor of marine biology at the California State University at Santa Barbara, who theorizes about the reasons.

The Southern California Bight, a coastal crescent formed by Point Conception to the north and Point Loma to the south, is relatively void of other large predators. “That makes it safe for the females to come in and pup,” says Love.

Water temperature is also a key component. “Threshers start showing up in April and May when the water temperature climbs to the mid-60s,” he says. Yet, once the water reaches the high 60s or low 70s, the big threshers leave, though some believe the pups hang out for two or three years or more.

The upper lobe of a thresher’s tail — comprising 50 percent of its overall body length — serves two purposes, first as a long, menacing arm to corral baitfish into a dense “meatball” as the shark spirals around a nervous school. The tail then transforms into a deadly whip as the thresher cleaves the compacted school into pieces, circling back to gorge at its leisure.

A thresher can stage a spectacular fight with uncanny speeds and leaps that leave it hanging in midair, a phenomenon known as butterflying. Threshers have it all, and you can fish for them with just about any kind of boat, including kayaks, using a variety of techniques. Let’s look at some.


’Yak Attack

Coastal kayak fishing enjoys immense popularity in Southern California, and threshers offer these anglers a thrilling shot at big-game-style fishing. “I once had a thresher tow me five miles up the coast,” explains longtime kayak angler Jeff Krieger of Simi Valley. “I fought the fish for two hours before he broke off at color.” Krieger had a while to think about that thresher’s size during the return paddle. “It was around 350 pounds,” he estimates.

Krieger fishes for threshers from his Ocean Kayak Prowler Trident 15, targeting areas from Malibu up to Santa Barbara. An important part of his success is a network of kayak buddies that helps him zero in on the bite. “The network is important for kayakers,” he says, “because you can’t just start the engine and run if the bite’s 10 miles away.”

Depths ranging from just 20 feet at the edge of the kelp or surf line to depths of 120 feet or more are within range for Krieger and his kayak. “I use a fish finder on the kayak to find bait concentrations,” he says. Threshers don’t mind green water, and this is where Krieger says he often finds bait schools and, consequently, the sharks. “In these bait-rich areas, you might see the tail slaps or threshers crashing on bait at the surface,” he explains.

To find concentrations of threshers, Krieger trolls with a diving plug such as a Rapala CD-14 Mag in a sardine or mackerel pattern, paddling steadily to keep the lure effectively swimming. “I look at the rod tip,” he says, “and if it’s pulsating nicely, that tells me the lure is working well.”


Switching to whole or slabbed mackerel works well once you draw a thresher close with a hookless lure like a Rapala or Shark Killer with a mack pinned on via a modified snap.



One of the major problems with such lures is that the threshers often foul-hook themselves when tail-swatting the offering. So once a concentration of threshers is found, kayak anglers such as Krieger will switch to natural baits.