All around WA and particularly heading north of Geraldton, a lot of fishers know the frustration of losing prized hooked fish to sharks.
While sharks might have 400 million years on us regarding perfecting hunting fish in the ocean, losing high volumes of high value species to shark bite-off is avoidable.
Recfishwest has reached out to many experienced fishing experts, charter operators and top sportfishers who have great tips below on how to best limit if not avoid shark bite-off – and profanity-riddled fishing trips.
1) Avoid areas known to be shark hot-spots
“Don’t waste your time and gear going to a spot you know to have been bad for shark-bite off previously. Sharks are opportunistic feeders and will learn where it’s likely to grab an easy feed. For this reason, it is always a wise idea to fish a fair distance away from boat ramps. Sharks attuned to the sound of outboard motors have also been observed following boats out from boat ramps.” – Steve Riley, Owner of Exmouth Tackle & Camping
2) Know how to spot sharks on sounders
“It is a wise idea to do a mock drift over your fishing spot first to see if sharks are in the area. Sharks also appear differently to fish on a sounder, in that they do not have gas-filled swim bladders and will generally appear as a continuous solid or even wavy line on sounders, rather than the curved, arch-like shape that show up on the sounder screen generally indicating scale fish.” – Eddie Lawler, Owner of Peak Sportfishing Exmouth
“The main difference between sharks and fish is sharks don’t have that arched ‘boomerang’ appearance on your head unit. Another factor is unlike bottom dwelling fish that generally live close to the ocean’s substrate, sharks are generally higher in the water column and must ‘continually swim to live’ so to speak,” – Chris Tanti, Simrad and Richter pro-teamer
Check out the sounder images below to see how sharks will appear on most devices.
3) Turn your sounder and engine off when fishing your spot
“Sharks have been known to sense the sonar activity from sounders and a running engine can also bring them in knowing fishers will start dropping a line. One crucial step to avoiding sharks is stealth. If you are confident in the reliability of your engine, switch it off at each spot along with your sounder. If your engine can be tricky to start, avoid turning it off and simply move spots frequently.” – Tackle World Exmouth
4) Be selective about the ground you fish
Steer clear of good-looking structure close to shore that is commonly fished, as sharks know hooked fish are easy targets at these locations. While this kind of structure can look mouth-watering to anglers on sounders and often holds fish, sharks learn that these spots frequently see lines dropped down, leading to hooked fish and easy meals.
“The further away you travel from shore, the less likely it is you will come across sharks. I catch 99 per cent of my demersals off flat ground and most fishers don’t realise that bigger fish frequently sit under ledges only half a metre high. I don’t bother fishing big lumps or structure because it is almost always covered in sharks. I’ll fish mud, sand or rubble where fish will still gather but sharks don’t tend to,” – Josh Bruynzeel, On Strike Charters Exmouth
5) Keep moving fishing spots
One of the simplest, yet most effective tips. It is widely known that once sharks move in on your spot, it’s only going to get worse. “Don’t leave a bite to find a bite,” may be an old fishing adage that holds water – but if you’ve been successful in getting a couple of fish on the boat, it is worth considering moving spots before the sharks join the party.
“If you have a favourite ‘honey hole’ and suddenly lose a nice fish to a shark there – I’d highly recommend picking up and motoring (with haste) to another spot to protect that cohort of fish,” – Chris Tanti, professional sportfisher and skipper of Broome Billfish Charters
6) Try drifting rather than anchoring
While anchoring up can keep you locked on to your preferred spots, drifting helps you cover more ground and the sound of anchors grabbing on to structure is also known to bring in sharks.
7) Keep your fishing depths to a minimum
The deeper the water being fished, the more time you spend fighting the fish in order to bring it up to the surface. Try targeting demersals in the shallowest depths possible where they are known to roam. Catching coral trout in 10-15m of water will always have a better success rate of avoiding sharks than targeting them in depths of 40-50m.
8) Use one hook on bottom-fishing rigs, not two
You might think that using two hooks on a paternoster-style bottom-fishing rig means double the chances in landing a fish – in reality, the moment you get a double hook-up your odds of being sharked increase significantly.
A double hook-up means you would have both fish pulling in different directions and slowing each other down, which puts out a wider distress signal that acts as a beacon for sharks and it also means you’re going to have a much slower retrieval rate. All seasoned fishers in the northern regions of WA strongly recommend using one hook per bottom-fishing rig as this does not decrease your odds of a hook-up, makes it easier to bring the fish up and greatly reduces your odds of shark bite-off. All shark repellent technology (located below) also works best with single-hook setups.
9) Put your boat into gear once hooking a fish
“For bottom fishing – especially deep dropping in places like Exmouth where sharks can be a real problem – I like to click the boat into gear once the fish is clear of the bottom as the sharks have learnt to follow the boat. This brings the catenary of the fish up on a larger angle. Once the fishes swim bladder expands and it starts to come up quickly, I usually try to get on top of the fish as quickly as possible. You can also throw diversions at the sharks such as bait if you have any.” – Chris Tanti, professional sportfisher and skipper of Broome Billfish Charters
10) Put your reel in free-spool if fish is being chased by a shark
It is a natural reaction to try and ‘skull drag’ fish into the boat when they are being chased down by attempting to reel it in as quickly as possible. In reality, you are tipping the odds back in the shark’s favour. Sharks have 20-50m rapid bursts of speed, then fatigue quickly. Let the fish’s speed and endurance work in your favour. Once your fish is in the clear and also starts experiencing fatigue, chase it down in your boat – then get it in quickly.
11) Use lures, not baits
Sure, bait and burley work well in attracting the fish to your hook, but those scents are picked up even more acutely by sharks. Lures, jigs and soft plastics are always better options in avoiding shark bite-off and oily baits such as mulies and burley will rapidly bring sharks into the area. Live-baits will also attract sharks close by.
12) Avoid catch-and-release fishing
If you have just spent a considerable amount of time pulling a demersal fish to the surface, it will be exhausted and if there are sharks in the area, it is highly unlikely that it will make it back to the bottom without being picked off. If you want to release a fish and improve its chances of avoiding awaiting jaws, swim the fish alongside the boat a fair distance away from where it was landed until it starts to kick.
13) Hold your rod and troll lures closer to the boat
If you hook a fish when trolling, you want to react as quickly as possible and create the smallest window of opportunity for sharks. Keeping a hand on the rod when trolling means anglers can react faster and prevent the fish taking more line, reducing the fight time. Also, rather than trolling lures 30-50m from the back of your boat, try 15-20m instead as this will not decrease your odds of a hook-up while reducing the distance of the fish to the boat.
14) Clean your fish on land rather than at sea
Don’t discard your filleted fish back into the waters around your preferred fishing spots as this will only help accumulate more sharks in that area. Cleaning your fish on land for composting ensures sharks do not start gathering at popular fishing spots commonly frequented by boats.
15) Consider using shark deterrent devices
Shark deterrents do not stop sharks entering a fishing area, but they do provide more time for anglers to land their fish, which is crucial. Check out the shark repellent devices currently on the market below including their price, video demonstrations, how they work and reviews.