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When most people think of sharks, they think of big teeth and scary movies. When an avid fisherman thinks of sharks, he thinks of all the possibilities and species to catch. One popular species is the thresher shark. While they are occasionally spotted in shallow water, they much prefer the open ocean. They get their name for their unusually long, thresher-like tail which can sometimes be longer than their whole body. They use this tail as a weapon to stun prey. The largest of the three known species of thresher sharks, the common thresher, can reach a length of up to 6.1 meters (20 feet) and weigh over 500 kilograms (1100 pounds). They all primarily feed on schooling fish, such as bluefish, juvenile tuna, and mackerel, as well as squid and cuttlefish. Seabirds and crustaceans are also occasionally eaten.
Thresher sharks are solitary and prefer to be by themselves. They are one of the few shark species known to jump fully out of the water, much like dolphins, and this is called breaching. They are not a direct threat to humans, although some divers have been hit with their extremely long tails. They are considered as a prize game fish in the United States, South Africa, and Mexico. It takes some serious effort to successfully catch these fish, no thanks in part to their method of hunting. Since threshers first attack their prey with their tails, many are known to get foul hooked by anglers. You need to handle these fish with care, paying close attention to that tail end.
Thresher sharks can be very different from the usual mindless eating machine cliché that most sharks have. Most of their diet consists of small bait fish, and so an angler should try to mimic this. These sharks can be incredibly picky eaters, and with their small mouths often prefer to eat their prey whole instead of chewing or biting it. Most anglers targeting threshers will choose live bait, with sardines and mackerel being the most popular choices. While most fish are usually caught on this, a good number of sharks are also caught on dead baits. It is often useful to use baits that are different than the other anglers in an area. If everyone is using live mackerel, try using a dead fish, or even other species such as smelt or croaker. Always try using multiple different baits to see what the sharks in your area are biting on and you will start to see much more success. Since they can be picky eaters, a great tip is to use a leader that is made of low-visibility material such as fluorocarbon. Hooks should be circle hooks to avoid tail hooking fish, which is fairly common using other types of hooks. Most thresher sharks are caught in the morning hours, a few hours after sunrise. If you only have a few hours to fish, the better choice is always first thing in the morning. For most of these fish, a 40 pound line should be more than adequate, and a good quality line that is abrasion resistant will reduce lost catches. If you are fishing from a pier, it is important to be patient and once a fish is hooked, good etiquette for the other anglers to reel their lines in to allow you to follow the fish around and tire it out.
Fishing for thresher sharks can be a great experience and they actually make good table fare. With a little bit of knowledge and preparation, targeting and catching sharks can become highly addictive and add a little variety to any fisherman’s season.