Drift-Fishing for Makos: Bluewater Bruisers
Thursday, July 07, 2005
By Jack Innis
Photo by: Photo by C&M Fallows/Seapics.com
Brad De La Cruz with a nice 690-lb. mako caught during the 2004 Mako
My Night Tournament. It was the largest mako caught off California in 2004.
Photo by: Photo courtesy of Steve Quinlan
Jeffrey Vinquist poses with his 305-lb. mako he caught aboard
Exterminator 12 miles off Marina Del Rey.
Photo by: Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Vinquist
While fishing is a sport that emphasizes patience, those drift-fishing mako
sharks normally do better if they act a little antsy.
At least that's the word that comes down the pipe from legendary mako
hunter, Keith Poe. Poe is somewhat of an authority on makos. He has spent
the past 12 years obsessed with hunting the speedy predators. He's been
featured on several outdoor television shows, conducted mako-hunting
seminars and been the catalyst for a public awareness campaign that may help
keep the sharks from being fished to the brink of extinction.
In doing so, Poe estimates he has personally caught, tagged and released
more than 2,000 makos. His largest tipped the scales at more than 1,000 lbs.
The international Game Fish Association lists a 1,222-lb. fish, taken by
Luke Sweeney off the Massachusetts coastline in 2001, as the largest mako on
Catching makos is simple, Poe claims. But simple can be deceiving: Shooting
nine under par at Augusta is simple if you're Tiger Woods. Hitting a
three-run homer on an 0/2 slider away is simple if you're Barry Bonds.
Regardless of whether these feats are simple or merely made to look simple,
Poe is forthcoming about the "what, how, when, where and why" (something
Woods and Bonds are not).
No amount of reading can substitute for on-the-water experience, but a basic
understanding of mako behavior will likely translate into on-water success.
"I always tell everyone, don't just pack up your boat and run offshore to a
bank," Poe said. "Instead, spend time doing advance research, much the same
as prior to an albacore trip. Most fishermen run up to the banks, throw out
a bucket of chum and sit and hope for the best."
Unlike rock cod, pelagic sharks do not sit and wait for a meal. They spend
their entire lives in continuous movement in search of prey. These mobile
predators don't waste energy by hunting in the wrong places. Makos are
usually found in a specific temperature range where there is an ample food
supply. The optimum conditions are 70-degree surface temperature, lots of
bait (preferably mackerel) and a good current (1-3 knots) parallel to the
"Look on your way out," he said. "Hunt for bioluminescence (water that glows
when disturbed, also called phosphorescence) on your way out. When you see
bioluminescence, that's where all your life is. That's where your bait is.
If you fish the temperature breaks and become aware of bioluminescence, you'll
quadruple the effects of your efforts on the water."
But wait! Doesn't it have to be dark to see bioluminescence? "You betcha,"
Poe said. "That's when you should be mako fishing!"
"We've recently received results from sonic tracking by David Holtz from the
National Oceanic and Aerospace Administration. The sonic tracking shows that
makos are two-thirds more active by night than by day."
Poe believes makos' huge eyes give them an advantage at night, when their
superior eyesight allows them to sneak up on prey. "They often go down
during the day, then run in the thermoclines at night when the bait can't
see them coming as easy," he said.
Beyond studying temperature breaks and looking for bait schools and
bioluminescence on the way out, Poe strongly believes in having a plan of
action - or four plans to be more precise. Before leaving the dock,
pre-select at least four different spots that best meet the optimum water
conditions. Upon reaching the first spot, use your fishfinder to locate a
school of baitfish. If fishing during the day, look for signs of birds and
jumpers. Then determine the direction and strength of the drift. Move your
boat about a mile upstream so that your chum slick will pass directly over
the spot. But don't end the hunt right there.
"If after an hour there is no activity, move on to the next spot on your
list," Poe said. "This is why you pre-selected four spots - you're
quadrupling your odds of success."
Drift fishing for makos is all about chumming and Poe has boiled down his
years of experience with chum into a few easily digestible dictums. He
recommends chumming with new Fishall Chum. Dump two square buckets of
Fishall into a lidded 5-gallon bucket with 40 1-inch holes drilled into the
sides. "I call this choke chumming, and top that off by using a 1-gallon
dispenser of Menhaden Fish Oil in the fully open position."
Since even the best oil slick only distributes its smell along the boat's
drift path, Poe also hangs a Mako Magnet over the side. A Mako Magnet is an
acoustic device that transmits a sound similar to that of a wounded
baitfish. According to company literature, the sound transmits 360 degrees
in a 1-mile plus radius from the boat. It is so effective in attracting
makos that the manufacturer suggests the $350 machine be caged, lest it be
Although expensive, Mako Magnets are used extensively by the scientific
community as a way of saving time and fuel. "Scientists know that makos have
incredibly sensitive hearing and pressure-wave perception," Poe explained.
"These low frequency sounds really attract them."
If there is a science behind finding makos, there's an art in catching them.
That art is to expect to catch a small mako but be prepared to tangle with a
behemoth. "Generally, most anglers are going to catch small fish," Poe said.
"But it depends on what you want. If you want a trophy fish, pick larger
bait and head out to colder waters. Use huge baits and wait for your big
fish. If you see a smaller fish come up on your line, pull your big bait
away from it and drop back a smaller bait. Enjoy mako fishing for what it
is. Ninety-nine percent of the time you're going to catch a 40- to 60-lb.
Rigging for such a fight is not as daunting a task as it might seem at first
blush. For the fish that most casual anglers are going to encounter, 20-lb.
test with a 5-foot, 60- to 100-lb. single-strand wire leader is more than
enough, Poe said.
"I recommend using an 8/0 non-offset wide-gap thin-wire circle hook. Those
seem to work pretty well for most of our small makos. Actually, sardines
work fine for bait too. Flyline the bait with the reel out of gear and the
clicker on. When the clicker starts screaming, count to three and put the
reel in gear." Then it's game on! Or is it?
While fishing lore brims with stories of insane mako fights, once in a while
anglers will complain that the fish gave up without much of a struggle. Poe
has seen it happen.
"Sometimes a mako will not fight very hard," Poe said. "That may be due to a
number of things. One, it's already been chasing bait around the boat for
quite a while. By the time it comes moseying up and grabs your bait, it has
nothing left in its gas tank. The best way to avoid a tired mako is to throw
your bait out a little farther and attach a chemical light to it. That way,
it will be among the first baits attacked by the fish."
Another possible reason for a light fight is that the fish is gut hooked.
"Makos are smarter than other fish. If it's hooked in the wrong place, it
may know that a struggle could be fatal." Poe suggests using a light drag to
give the fish the opportunity to jump more.
But anglers should always be extremely wary when fishing makos. These top
predators are maniacs of the deep.
"Don't get lulled into believing that landing even a small mako is easy. All
of them have the same attitude and temperament. They're very unpredictable
and you don't know where they're going to land" Poe said.
Personal horror stories include one 7-footer that attempted to tail-walk
right over the transom of Poe's 24-foot Skipjack. "It was swimming as fast
as it could - but in mid-air - and it was everything I could do to
physically push the shark out of the boat."
Poe recalls another nightmarish battle with an estimated 700-lb. mako that
occurred two years ago at the 172 Bank. "When I set the hook, the fish began
cartwheeling and tumbling across the surface of the water toward the boat so
fast, I didn't even have time to get the rod out of the holder. It was going
crazy. I ran up onto the flybridge to escape, but by the time I got there
the fish was already airborne above the flybridge, over the bow. I actually
cut my hand trying to escape and had to give up that fight before I bled
out. The shark won that one."
Poe has come to the personal realization that makos do not purposefully jump
out of the water for specific reasons. He believes the speedsters merely run
out of real estate.
"One of the reasons they jump more at night than at day is because they don't
see where the water ends and the air begins," Poe went on. "During the
daytime when the sun's out, there seems to be a mirror effect [as seen from
underwater] at the ocean's surface. At night, the fish don't have that and
they're just running out of water, freaking out because something isn't
right. I don't think they jump. I think they just run out of water and their
momentum carries them into the air. I don't think they jump at all."
Once a shark is brought to leader, it should be handled with caution and
released carefully. Poe has spent much of the last decade furthering mankind's
knowledge about these magnificent predators and has built a public awareness
campaign that strongly recommends releasing the fish, especially small
"The guidelines I feel we should follow are that no fish under 6-feet be
killed, no females be killed and that anglers take only one fish per
season," Poe said. "The rest should be tagged."
The key to a clean release begins with the mako's initial run. Do not let
the shark take a prolonged initial run or it may swallow the hook and become
injured during the fight. Anglers can also help ensure a clean hookset (in
the jaw) by not putting more than 100 feet of line off the back of the boat.
Releasing a thrashing mako requires the utmost care - not just for the
angler's safety. "You have to be extremely careful when you use the release
stick that you're not pushing it down their throat," he explained. His
favorite tool is a Burns Saltwater Outfitter Release Stick.
"You need to go in sideways. Otherwise, you'll damage their gills. Scripps
Institution of Oceanography scientists who have been on my boat many times
tell me that the fish is not going to survive with even minimal damage to
the gills. Remember, that if you are going to go out and catch makos, there
is no room for error and the job should be done right the first time."
Poe's personal wish for the mako fishery is to get more recreational anglers
involved with tagging, acquire more scientific data and persuade legislators
to take a more active role in protecting the species. But without science,
it's hard to argue for change.
Since 1983 when the DFG initiated its volunteer pelagic shark-tagging
program, 21,000 shortfin makos have been tagged and released. Unfortunately,
there are only a handful of active taggers on the West Coast and most of
them tag only a few sharks per year. To date, less than 100 makos have been
recaptured. Moreover, most recaptures occurred within 30 days and within 50
miles of the initial site of the original capture.
"Recreational anglers offer an important link between scientist and policy
makers," Poe said. "There is a pressing need for more fishermen to get
involved. Pick up the phone and call (562) 590-4801 to get a free tagging
kit, contact me at (310) 371-4401 or visit my Web site www.sharktagger.com.
The future of our resource depends on it."