Some advice on battling a trophy mako

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by Captain Tom King


Some fish experts believe the short fin mako is one of the fastest fish in the ocean; capable of speeds over 50 mph. A mako will out jump any marlin by a considerable margin. No belly to the water, marlin style jumps for a big mako. When big makos go airborne they are totally reckless jumpers. A mako will go 20 feet or more into the air somersaulting and spinning and landing anyway and anywhere. Unfortunately they sometimes land on boats. There are plenty of mako disaster stories from around the world; including wrecked cockpits, injuries, fatalities, and a plethora of gaffing fiascoes. This fish is unusual, and I believe it should be fought differently.


On Aug 25, 2002, Ron Wilson caught this hooked mako in the air while we were fishing in Mass. Bay
During the 2002 season we hooked up on 5 makos, released 4 at boatside.This one broke off after 5 jumps.


Most fishermen bungle makos away on their first encounters. They fight them as if it were a tuna on the line. Other mako fishermen may disagree but this method works for Capt. Jon Perette and me, you just need a little patience.


Use a moving boat during the battle.
Keep the mako away from the boat
Don’t let them get ahead of the stern
Just stay attached to the mako until it tires.
Gaff or harpoon dart all makos behind the dorsal fin; and not in the head area.
Note: If a mako breaks loose; don’t give up, get another bait back in the water, leave the engine running and watch the bait . It may very well return and retake another bait. – Tom
Capt. Jon Perette in Photo


If you fish in less than 500 feet of water, and have any angling skills; use fifty pound standup gear with a min. of 500 yds. of 50lb. test line; an 18 foot double line, a 16 foot wire leader; and the drag set at 15 pounds. That is all you need. It won’t make any difference how big the mako is, you can’t reel fast enough to fight it anyway, so 50 lb. gear is sufficient . Your task is to stay attached, remember that, “Stay attached” If you are a real tackle buster, or a gorilla, you may have to go to 80 lb. gear. but don’t rush the mako to the boat. All heavier gear does is increase the chances of your bringing it to the boat quicker and loosing it at boatside – or worse, having it jump into the boat.


In my opinion a 12-15 inch long strip of bluefish about 2 1/2 inches wide at the top, tapering to a point, is the best bait for a mako. I would rather use it than live bait. Put the single hook at the top of the strip bait and make sure the hook point is exposed for a good hook set in the corner of the jaw. . Don’t hide the hook; only go through the bait once with the hook point. (We hook the fish quickly rather than let it get gut hooked, but most sharkers will let it swim off and swallow the bait to reduce the jumping.)


If you are blind fishing and unexpectedly hook up on a mako, move the boat immediately. You must be able to maneuver the boat to avoid the mako stripping your reel, running under the boat , attacking it, or jumping into it.. Get the loran or GPS numbers and release the floating chum device with a suitable marker attached so you can find it again.


If you see a mako in the water; lower the bait, and as soon the mako takes the bait, move away with the boat as you pull the hook into the mako. (We don’t gut hook makos, as many other anglers do. They feel a gut hooked mako won’t jump as much and is quicker to tire.)
Do not yank, whip, snap or jerk the line to hook the mako. Leave that for professional freshwater bass fishermen, and tuna and marlin anglers. A steady strong pull with the rod while reeling will usually result in the mako being hooked in the corner of the jaw and will usually put the teeth on the hook shank.


Avoid very sharp hook points, as they won’t slide into the corner of the jaw and then bite in. A very sharp hook may in fact bite quickly into an area that won’t withstand a prolonged jumping battle.

A mako may bite itself loose but with a properly set drag, using 50 lb. test line, the mako can’t break the line by pulling. A spinning jumping mako may wrap up all the wire. When they feel the wire and galvanic current caused by the dissimilar metals on the wire leader in the water they can really go berserk. Just stay cool and exercise line control.


A mako should be fought differently than other fish. This is not tuna fishing! A tuna fisherman’s mentality is “The longer the fight the greater chance of losing the fish , therefore getting it to the boat quickly is a good idea.”


The object is not to muscle a mako back to the boat and gaff it, as you would a tuna.. That is a sure way of losing one or getting somebody injured, or worse. You want to keep it away from the boat and “stay attached” until it is tired out. A mako is to fast for an angler to directly fight, as you would most fish. So you just exercise line control. Put the line on the reel, keeping it level, and when the mako runs let it rip off smoothly. The mono closer to the reel spindle is packed rather tightly from the pressure of the line. When you get a blistering run below half spool it will sound like an electrical short circuit in the reel.

When baited out of the cockpit, and jaw hooked, with the boat moving away, you can expect most makos to bolt about 50 to 100 feet turn up and go somersaulting high into the air. Keep moving away with the boat. If on the first jump the mako lands with its head pointing toward the boat and it bolts for a second jump …. Well you get the picture.


(Friends of mine John Ford and Rick Colvin from Scituate MA , while fishing on John’s “Reel Point” had a mako land in the cockpit on the second jump)


Keep moving away you want to get them at least 75 yds. from the boat. Pay attention. Psyche yourself down, and don’t get intimidated no matter how big it is. Don’t wear yourself down by getting excited.


Your task as angler is to stay attached, exercise line control, and if the mako settles down, keep a steady strain on the fish. No short pumping and reeling and forcing the mako back to the boat. No macho heroics. In my estimation women anglers make better mako fishers. Women are used to getting things done incrementally, over time. That’s how they handle us men. A man wants a quick macho solution. A lively mako hauled to the boat, or allowed to come to the boat will give you a quick solution at boatside or in the cockpit.


If your boat is stationary, a mako can swim so much faster than you can reel that they can be 50 yds. away and have 300 yds. off the reel with big line loops in the water. It would not be unusual for an angler to have the rod pointed down the line, and the mako skyrocket out of the water so far left or right of where the line enters the water that an inexperienced angler thinks it’s another mako.


Don’t sit dead in the water. You must be able to maneuver the boat to avoid the mako stripping your reel, running under the boat , attacking it, or jumping onto it. Some hooked makos will come right to the boat; you must move the boat away from them.


Other than biting itself loose or fraying the line, there is only one thing out there on the open ocean a mako can cut itself loose on, and that is your boat.


(or if you are really unlucky your released chumming device.)

look for characteristics that identify the shark.
This is an excellent example of the flared out body section just before the tail which is characteristic of whites, makos, salmon sharks, and porbeagles.


The pointed snout, and high flying acrobatics identify this shark as a mako


If you could see the bottom side of this mako it would appear snow white.


The mako may crash back into the water , bolt and go airborne again and again. This rattles a lot of anglers, but I like it because it means less work for the angler to wear down the fish.

When the fight settles down (if it ever does, keep the mako off the stern quarter at least 75 yards. That way if it charges the boat from a distance you can usually deflect the mako with the prop blast as you make a run for it. They are much faster than the boat and you need the prop blast to confuse and deflect them. Don’t let a mako get ahead of the stern, unless you are on light gear and must go after one to prevent losing all your line. If the angler hauls the mako too close to the boat the operator should tell the angler he is going to move off with the boat stripping the line off the reel until the mako is safely away from the boat.


The practice of bowing to a jumping fish is not necessary with a mako. Bowing means lowering the rod tip to put slack in the line. That may be alright with a belly to the water marlin jump but with a somersaulting twisting mako it may result in the mako landing on the leader and line and getting wrapped up.


We slowly change the direction of the boat so that the mako has to work to swim; while still keeping it off the stern. In other words we are not dragging the mako along with the boat. That’s how you revive a fish. A mako will play that game all day. We make the fish work against the bent rod.


Work on them horizontally. Don’t let them get down under the boat. If you let one get close to the boat and it is down deep; the mako may run up to the surface with such incredible speed that dragging the line loop up through the water will pull the rod tip down. The unsuspecting angler, who thinks the mako is still down deep or going deeper , will be caught totally off guard when the mako skyrockets out of the water a few feet away. If you are the angler and feel the mako is too close to the boat or trying to get under it; have the operator move the boat away slowly. Slowly! Lower the rod tip and let the line run off the reel against the drag.


This is like no other fish you have ever fought. A hooked mako may at any time decide to turn and attack your boat. We had one break off on a spinning rod and come back to the boat to be taken on conventional 50 lb. test standup gear. Makos have seriously injured people in the cockpit and done a lot of damage to boats. Makos can leap 20 feet into the air and have hit the sides of fly bridges. They won’t have any trouble getting over the side of your boat if they are so inclined. The mako may make a half dozen sensational somersaulting repetitive jumps during a fight, and yet some will not jump at all, or worse wait till they are alongside the boat.


We are now releasing makos unless we are in a tournament. Tests by marine biologists show makos and particularly blue sharks fought to exhaustion will recover after release. When cutting a mako loose don’t let your hand get ahead of the mako’s snout. In one motion, as you slide the cutters down the wire, move the wire towards the mako’s tail and make the cut quickly.



Below, a mako is being cut loose, not on the wire, but on the hook, by a pair of bolt cutters.
Photo by: Christopher S. Moore, NOAA; Commanding Officer, NOAA Ship DAVID STARR


Boating a mako
If you decide to boat one; the angler should assume the gaffing operation is going to be a total disaster. (A reasonable assumption, believe me.) The angler should be in a position to let the mako run off without breaking the line or injuring the wireman. If you are a confident angler you can unclip the harness from the reel as the mako comes to the gaff so you can better maneuver the rod if something goes wrong. The angler must pay attention to the fish, the boat operator, and the gaffer. Any of those 3 can sever the line when the fish is next to the boat. One big advantage to being the angler is you don’t have to wire the mako to the gaff, or sink the gaff into the mako, -the most dangerous aspect of sport fishing. Anglers should make sure the wire leader is always free of the wireman and gaffer, and not laying over a rod eye.

Just so you get the message about how dangerous it can get with a big fish alongside.
By Angus Phillips


Sunday, July 21, 2002; Page D03


When Capt. Billy Verbanas, a well-known Delaware offshore fishing captain at Indian River Inlet, was yanked from his charter boat into 7,000 feet of water by a mako shark and drowned 12 days ago, it called to mind a similar incident off North Carolina in 1994 when billfishing mate Chris Bowie of Lisbon, Md., was pulled overboard by a blue marlin and dragged under, never to be seen again.


Both were skilled professionals who died in the most dangerous phase of big-game fishing, wiring a fish at the end of a fight to bring it close enough to either gaff it and bring it aboard or release it.


Excerpt from the article-“But the fish instead leaped and gave a mighty tug that plucked Verbanas, a strapping, 41-year-old father of six, off the boat and into the water before he could utter a sound. ”


Tom here: That’s why I have always stressed wearing the mako down, and gaffing them behind the dorsal. If they have any fight left they can be a major problem at boatside. A rearward gaffed or darted mako is less likely to be able to jump since you are pulling the tail section up and therefore the head section will tilt down and away from you.

We get the mako to the boat after it is worn down. We try to dart it well behind the first dorsal in the flattened out section just before the tail, just ahead of the teeny weenie second dorsal fin We drive the dart down with
such a violent force it may come out the other side. (dart shafts are about 18-22 inches long and only an enormous mako would be thicker in that area.) Try to drive the dart dead center; use the teeny second dorsal for reference. If you are lucky you might sever the backbone with the dart on the way through.


Don’t think in terms of driving the dart into the fish; THINK ABOUT DRIVING RIGHT THROUGH THE MAKO AND OUT THE OTHER SIDE. That way the dart will pull up flat against the bottom section and cannot under any circumstances pull out. With that attitude, even if you don’t get through you will have it well into the fish. Unfortunately, most tournaments follow IGFA rules and don’t allow harpoon darting of fish.


Have at least 300 feet of handline attached to the dart. Six hundred feet is better for really big makos or if you misjudged a makos ability to still kick your ass because it was not sufficiently worn down during the battle.


However you rig your dart to the shaft, make sure when you point it downward it can’t fall off the shank. This happens if you don’t think it through. There are many ways to rig a dart and shaft setup. Some just drive the dart in and quickly pull the pole out.


Others have the pole attached to the dart line in such a way that the pole pulls free but is still on the handline and is allowed to slide down the line to the fish. Some like that method because if they can’t get a clean shot they can throw the pole and dart into the fish. ( Try to hit the fish in back of the first dorsal.) If the pole is thrown and attached to the dart handline, make sure you have enough slack (about two feet of line to allow the shaft to pull out of the fish,) so that the shaft of the harpoon pole can pull free and not stay in the fish along with the dart. If the pole doesn’t pull free the shaft may open a hole that would allow the dart to come out of the fish.


Before putting the dart line into a basket or other suitable container, keep about two feet of line out before filing the basket. Having a spliced loop in the end of he handline has some advantages. This will allow you to pull free some line from the bottom of the handline pile if you need to cleat it off, of attach more line from another basket, or connect to a large floating ball. Some people neatly coil the dart handline into a basket – we just flake it back and forth and fill the basket.


Don’t be in a rush to grab the dart line if the fish bolts and you lose control of the dart line, and the line is flying out of the basket. The angler should be able to slow the fish within the dart handline length for you to safely grab the dart hand line. That’s why I like at least 300 feet in the basket.


Don’t haul the fish back using both the dart handline and anglers hook together. The tension on the anglers wire might cut through the dart line if they get crossed or wrapped. Since you gaffed or darted the mako behind the dorsal, you want to bring the mako back tail first with the dart line and not headfirst via the angler. As you move ahead slowly in and out of gear, haul back with the dart line and have the angler just pick up his line slack as the mako comes back, tail first. Then have a tail rope cleated off and ready .


If you use a fly gaff separately or in conjunction with a harpoon dart; fly gaff all worn down makos behind the dorsal fin. Makos gaffed in the gill area may jump and swing into the boat. When fly gaffing keep the rope length as short as practical. Get a lot of the gaff hook into the mako by pulling up as hard as you can, and be prepared for all hell to break loose; and watch out for the gaff head snapping back into the cockpit. A fly gaff hook that comes lose can hit you in the throat or eye; be aware and pay attention.
A straight handle gaff with an attached rope, or a harpoon dart are safer than a fly gaff.


I was told by a father and son how they lost a mako. The flygaff hook came out, snapped back into the cockpit and imbedded itself in the back of the son’s leg.
Off to the hospital.
Tie or splice the line to the fly gaff or straight gaff hook, don’t use one of those cute quick snaps. Makos can undo them, and in the case of a fly gaff, the hook may fall out and sink.
When the makos tail is roped and out of the water, don’t think it’s all over. Especially if you are in a small, low freeboard boat. Keep moving along at idle. Otherwise a big tail roped mako can back into the boat; by using its well developed rigid pectoral fins as it swings its head side to side, further lowering the boat freeboard as it backs in. A terrifying, and totally unexpected occurrence. Keep the tail rope from the cleat to the fish as short as practical. Put two tail ropes on the mako and leave the rod and reel and fly gaff attached until you think you have it under control.


Makos can go into a coma and rebound several hours later. If you are dragging the mako around backwards to drown it while it is in this coma state your in for a big surprise when it comes alive hours later. Sometimes, four hours later! To avoid someone getting bitten in the cockpit, try to get a bucket to fit over the makos head and tie the bucket handle to the tail.


Many fishermen use a shotgun blast straight down on top of the head between the eyes to kill a mako. Personally I don’t use that method, I figure a loaded gun in rolling seas with a wet deck is just another hazard, so I put up with the sometimes violent resurrections. Anticipate this and tie them down well. Driving a knife or harpoon shank straight down on the top of the head between the eyes will sever the brain and calm them down.


Once you have caught a big mako you will always be looking into the water for another. So get your first one! And never stop looking for another! When you get to appreciate them, you might just want to take a picture and cut them loose. – Tom