Any angler likes to catch big fish, but how would you like to catch a fish that is bigger than you?

How about a fish where “matching the hatch” means placing a bluefish or other family-meal-size fish at the end of your 12/0 hook. It’s a hook about the size of your fist.

And the leaders? No need to try to fool them with fluorocarbon, we need brute strength — metal cable, 300 pounds strong.

When you are going after the largest predator in the ocean, you need to think big, because these fish can top the scales at 500 pounds and measure up to 10 feet long.

Seeing a 3-pound brook trout sip your fly off the surface has its thrills, but trying to reel in a 500-pound freight train can be a lot fun, too.

“The first time I hooked a shark, I had never felt anything like it,” said Dave Johnson of Pritnear Heaven Charters. Captain Johnson has fished for sharks in Maine since 1993. He also created and directs the Downeast Maine Shark Tournament, which is entering its seventh year. “It’s exciting. It’s unlike any other type of fishing. When you hook up, you start to think: Is this big, or is it enormous?”

The Gulf of Maine is an ecologically diverse and fertile fishing ground, and each summer brings an assorted array of fish off of Maine’s shores. Along with the bluefish, stripers, tuna and other migratory fish that come to the gulf, large sharks make their way up the East Coast, coming to feast in Maine’s waters on mackerel, herring, bluefish and just about anything else with fins.

Blue sharks, shortfin makos, threshers and porbeagle sharks all call Maine their home in the summer. All are voracious feeders, and they all can be found not that far offshore.

“The first time I went out, I hired a captain to run my boat,” said Johnson. Johnson says there are several captains in the area who target sharks, and it’s a good idea to fish with one before heading out on your own.

It can shorten the learning curve significantly, and with the equipment that’s needed, getting rigged up properly can be an investment.

Because of the tremendous power of these fish and their rows of sharp teeth, you need to have the right equipment. It can get expensive, but you can get started for a reasonable amount of money, or even convert some of your codfishing equipment.

“Penn 50s are what I use for reels and they cost $500 to $600, but you can get away with a Penn Senator 9/0 reel, which is about $150. You can also purchase a rod and reel outfit for under $300,” said Johnson. Eighty-pound monofilament is the line of choice for either reel.

Once you have your rod set up, you need to make sure you use the right type of terminal tackle. Johnson uses Mustad #7731 hooks, size 12/0. He attaches these to a 285-pound test, single-strand wire leader using a haywire twist. Johnson makes these rigs himself with a haywire twist tool, but you can purchase similar rigs all set up at tackle shops or online.

Johnson uses a relatively short 5-foot leader, since he uses what is called a wind-on cable. This cable is an extension of the leader, 25 feet in length, 275-pound strength, with a 165-pound snap swivel. The advantage of the wind-on cable is that you can reel it through your rod guides (as long as they are roller guides!) right onto the reel, giving you more control of the fish.

This is important when you get ready to release the fish.

Having 25 to 30 feet of leader is important because not only can a shark’s teeth cut a line, but its rough skin can fray a line quickly as well. Once sharks are hooked, they tend to thrash, twist and bite, and your line can rub against the shark’s body. Long leaders and cables ensure you stay connected to the shark.

Where to fish is another area where an experienced captain can help you, but generally, Johnson looks for temperature differences in the surface currents of 3 degrees or more.

He subscribes to a weather service that gives him detailed satellite views of temperatures. If he can’t find the proper temperature difference, he heads for areas that are 400 to 600 feet deep with an uneven bottom.

Once there, he sets up his drift so he will pass over the area, sets out two lines and starts chumming. Line lengths and depths of the baits vary, but he sets one line 50 to 100 feet out at a depth of 50 feet, and another 200 feet out and 100 feet down.

Once a shark is hooked, the fun begins. A fighting belt is a necessity, one with a kidney harness makes an hourlong fight more comfortable.

When the fish is tired, it is brought to the boat (the wind-on cable helps here), and the leader is carefully cut as close as a foot away from the shark’s mouth.

“Never bring a green fish to the boat, and when you handle the leader, always keep the fish’s head and leader ahead of you, so if the fish decides to run, the leader won’t cut you,” says Johnson. “And never wrap the leader around your hand.”

Once the shark is released, the line is re-rigged, and set out again, in hopes of finding the answer to the eternal shark question: Is this one big, or is it enormous?

Mark Latti is the former public information officer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, a Registered Maine Guide and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association. He can be reached at:

[email protected]


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