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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.

Bait and Switch

Hoofe and his occasional fishing buddy Dave Elm, ­production manager for Santa Ana-based AFTCO, also use a bait-and-switch technique when they find fish feeding near the surface. They troll a hookless lure such as a pink Lead Masters’ Shark Killer (formerly Bait-O-Matic) with a mackerel pinned under the skirt or a black-and-purple Rapala CD-18 Mag at 3 knots about 75 yards back. At the same time, they troll a couple of skipbaits (with hooks) on the surface about 25 yards back. The goal is to attract the interest of a thresher with a hookless lure, and once that happens, the trolling stops and a crew member starts retrieving the lure.

“The thresher will keep attacking as you reel it closer to the boat,” Elm explains. “If the water is clear, you can actually watch the thresher follow the lure. Once the thresher’s within 25 yards, we let the lure sink away and hope the shark eats the skipbait as it drifts downward.” The skipbait can be either a whole dead mackerel hooked through the lower jaw and out through the nose or a mackerel slab hooked in through the skin side and out through the meat side.

“This type of fishing is very interactive,” says Hoofe. “When the fishing is hot, it’s not unusual to have a number of threshers attack the lures and baits in a single day of fishing.”
Now that’s an invasion force we can all welcome.


Snag-and-Drag Fiasco

Given the thresher’s penchant for attacking prey with a whack of its tail, a disproportionate number of fish are foul-hooked in the upper lobe of the caudal fin. Some anglers aim to foul-hook threshers by trolling plugs with multiple treble hooks — a dubious technique known as snag-and-drag. Not only does this violate angling ethics, snag-and-drag results in a high mortality rate. In many instances, the fish ­suffocates from being pulled backward in a protracted struggle. Yet even if the fish is released alive, 25 percent to 30 percent of the fish die later, according to an archival tagging study by the Oceanside-based nonprofit Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research (pier​.org). Finally, from a purely fun point of view, anglers who tail-snag have no opportunity to enjoy the thresher’s spectacular aerial displays. A foul-hooked fish doesn’t jump. As thresher angler and IGFA representative Paul Hoofe puts it, “Once you hook a thresher in the mouth, you’ll never want to tail-hook one again.”



Thresher Tackle

Tackle used for thresher fishing by Dave Elm and Paul Hoofe varies depending on the size of the fish they expect to hook.

Reels, Rods and Line

• For 50- to 150-pound threshers, Elm likes 20- to 30-pound-test monofilament loaded on a reel such as a Penn International 30 or Shimano Tiagra 30A with a 7-foot medium-action rod like a Calstar Grafighter 700L with AFTCO Lightweight Roller Guides.

• For 150- to 350-pound threshers, Hoofe prefers 50-pound mono on a Penn International 50 mounted to a Calstar 655XH 6½-foot rod.

• For targeting pups on ultralight lines (2- to 8-pound-test), Hoofe likes a Penn Squall 30LD or Shimano TLD 5 on a 6-foot light-action rod with AFTCO Lightweight Roller Guides.

• Terminal Tackle

•  Hoofe insists on using a non-offset circle hook such as an Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp L2004EL Sea Guard Circle (in sizes 4/0 to 8/0, matched to the size of the bait) to all but eliminate foul-hooking.

• The leader setup used by Elm and Hoofe for threshers includes 10 to 12 feet of 80- to 125-pound mono connected to the main line with a barrel swivel. Then, 14 to 18 inches of single-strand, 100-pound-test, coffee-colored wire is connected via a barrel swivel using haywire twists for the swivel and hook.