Fly fishing for mako sharks is bananas: The sharks are fast (45 mph for a top speed), large (50 to 300lb regularly), and they jump multiple times when hooked. As a former elementary school shark nerd, it’s something I’ve wanted to try for a long time. And when I was in San Diego with friends two weeks ago, I booked a full day with Dave Trimble of On the Fly Charters.
Dave is an expert in the Mako game, having learned as the understudy of Conway Bowman, the pioneer of this fishery in southern California and a fishing celebrity with multiple books and TV shows to his name. While November isn’t the best time to try for Makos, I wanted to give it a shot, and was convinced that, worst case, I would throw flies at a blue shark. Blues are common sharks in southern California waters, and a common cold-water shark around the world, and as a crazy, shark-obsessed kid growing up, they were one of my favorites.
The day started at Dana Point Marina, where Dave collected his chum, I bought a day’s license and a sandwich, and we headed out into the ocean on Conway Bowman’s Triton 24 foot bay boat (borrowed because Dave’s boat was in the shop). To me, a Florida bay-style boat is a funny boat to fish for makos with miles offshore, but Conway and Dave have both been using this boat for many years, and boated thousands of makos from it.
After heading out several miles into water deeper than I was expecting (600 fathoms – approaching a mile deep), we put out chum, and waited. After a couple hours of waiting with nothing to show for it, we headed to a seamount farther inshore. On the way there, we found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of common porpoise, leaping from the water, riding along in front of the boat. Dave slowed the boat down, and we cruised in the massive pod, watching these small 60lb dolphin throw themselves from the water again and again.
After watching the show, we began chumming again, and as before, nothing turned up.
Moving for the third and final time, we headed even closer inshore, chumming hard and waiting harder. Finally, a shape emerged from the inky depths – a pelagic stingray. He swam around the boat, eyed us and the chum, and turned away, again disappearing into 600 fathoms of blue.
With the sun setting, and having said prayers to all the major deities, a shark finally showed in the slick. It was a blue shark in the 20″ range, newly born, and it approached cautiously. I was excited – finally a goddamn shark! While we weren’t going to cast a fly to this puppy, Dave did try to coax him closer for a photo, using a whole bonita. Unfortunately this shark didn’t have the attitude of his larger kin, and the bonita, as big as the shark pup, sent him fleeing back into the depths.
And that was my experience fly fishing for mako sharks in California. Dave was a great guide, good company, and did everything he could to get a shark to show up. I learned the details of the shark game, how to set the hook (totally different than tarpon or bass), and how to figure out where the sharks will be at a given time. It’s big game hunting, and I’ll be back to try it again.