10 Steps To A Man Eater

1. Find 'Em - Lucky for shark anglers, sharks aren't usually too hard to find. There are over 370 species of sharks roaming the waters from the polar oceans to tropical seas and from the deepest canyons to just beyond the surf line. In fact, these fish are so prevalent that most fishermen don't go looking for sharks instead they let the sharks find them. Throw out a bucket of chum almost anywhere in the world's oceans and it won't be long before sharks arrive. However, to find the biggest sharks, anglers look for the bait that these fish like most. Contrary to popular mythology, sharks aren't feeding machines that swim around the ocean eating everything in site. In fact, according to Dr. Samuel Gruber at the University of Miami (www.miami.edu/sharklab), sharks may only feed once or twice a week and when they are full they will not eat again until they are hungry. On top of that, Gruber's research with lemon sharks shows that larger sharks eat less than small ones. So, to find big sharks, anglers must understand the patterns that these fish follow and the areas where they feed. Chris Deaver, author of the Shark Fishing Handbook (www.tx-sharkfishing.com), recommends fishing 24-hour stretches for big sharks. "Once you figure out the fish¿s feeding pattern, then you can catch them again and again," he says.Al Ristori
2. Chum 'Em - In order to attract the biggest, most prized species of shark, anglers go to great lengths to deploy the most attractive combinations of chopped up bait fish called chum. Captain Robert Trosset, a member of Team Quizno's on ESPN's Madfin Shark Series (www.quiznosmadfin.com), starts each shark fishing trip by first fishing for his chum. "I like to use fresh barracuda because that¿s what sharks like to eat the most," he says. Trosset will also catch king mackerel, ladyfish, jacks and bonita. He butterflies each fish so that the fillets dangle from the carcass. Then he skewers the fish through their gills with a wire diver's stringer and hangs them over the side of the boat. Every few minutes, he'll slice off some chunks of the fillets and toss them in the slick. Captain Mark Sampson (www.bigsharks.com), a shark skipper based out of Ocean City, Maryland, will visit the fish cleaning table at his marina each evening to gather the ingredients for the next day's chum. "That's the best way to get the freshest bait that the sharks are mostly likely feeding on," he explains. Mark will take the leftovers home and grind them up in a meat grinder to prepare his concoction of chum. "It's got to be fresh," he says, "because the sharks can tell."Ric Burnley
3. Spread 'Em - From the East Coast to the West Coast, offshore to inshore, shark anglers follow one rule when setting out their baits: keep it simple. Captain Mark Sampson, Director of the Ocean City Shark Tournament, (www.ocsharktournament.com) is the exception to the rule. Like his colleagues, Sampson's basic spread consists of one bait set 50 yards from boat and a few feet under a bobber, another bait at 30 yards from the boat and 30 feet under a bobber and a final bait hangs right beside the boat just under the water. But that's not all, Sampson also uses a kite to dangle two more baits 50 and 75 yards from the boat. For Sampson, it doesn't matter if the bait is a live bluefish or a dead mackerel, as long as it is slapping on the surface it will draw in the sharks. And watching a big shark explode on the surface and attack the kite bait is a sight his anglers don't soon forget. "Not only is the kite effective," he says, "but it is so much fun."Ric Burnley
4. Rig It Right - A shark rig must survive the fish's razor sharp teeth and rock-hard body. To accomplish this, most shark hunters use a two-part leader. The first section of bite leader consists of wire - from #9 single-strand for smaller sharks to 480-pound cable for sea monsters. The second section of leader is made up of monofilament from 150- to 400-pound test that keeps the fish from breaking the line with its powerful body. The two sections are equal in length and just longer than the sharks that will be targeted. Join the two halves with an appropriate sized barrel swivel and clip the leader to the mainline with a snap swivel. One area that sharkers disagree is on using circle hooks or J-hooks. Ocean City shark master Mark Sampson (www.bigsharks.com) has done his own research on the topic and discovered that Mustad 39960D non-offset circles in sizes 13/0 to 16/0 do the least damage to the fish. "We smash the barbs on our hooks to make it easier to release the sharks," he says, "and if the fish is deep hooked, we just cut the leader and let the hook rust out." On the other hand, Madfin Shark Tournament competitor Captain Robert Trosset (www.h2okeywest.com/spindrift-fishing.htm) uses J-hooks because in South Florida's clear water, he can see every shark that he hooks and is able to drive the J-hook deep into the fish's jaw.Outdoor Life Online Editor
5. Tackle - One thing all pro sharkers agree on is using enough gun for the game. Captain Mark Sampson explains, "When we're targeting sharks offshore we use 50 and 80 pound class tackle because we never know what we're going to run into." Sampson has devoted a whole chapter in his book "Modern Shark Fishing," to choosing the right tackle for these powerful fish. Some skippers prefer braided line for a more solid hooksets and more responsive fight. Madfin Shark Series competitor, Captain Robert Trosset says, "You can feel every move the shark makes and you can get the fish in faster for a healthier release." Other skippers prefer the forgiving stretch of monofilament to absorb the shark's sudden turns and explosive thrusts while the nylon line shrugs off knicks and chaffs.Outdoor Life Online Editor
6. Go Light - Big sharks are becoming a favorite target for light-tackle anglers. Captain Robert Trosset likes to throw big Rebel swimming plugs at sharks that are cruising across the Key West flats. To ward off the shark's teeth, he attaches an 18-inch length of #9 wire to his plugs with a haywire twist. West Coast shark skipper Captain Conway Bowman (www.bowmanbluewater.com) targets big mako sharks with big Deceiver flies. To make his fly leaders tooth proof, he starts with 3 feet of 58-pound stainless steel single-strand wire with one end twisted to his fly and the other end attached to a 50-pound tuna ring. The ring is tied to 3 feet of 25-pound mono that is then connected to 3 feet of 40-pound mono with a standard blood knot. The 40-pound butt section is tied to Bowman's 12-weight floating fly line with an Albright special. Whether throwing plugs or tossing flies, both skippers prefer bright colored baits in orange and red or lime green. For these guys, "light" tackle may be a misnomer- these sharks require some sturdy equipment. Trosset uses a FinNor Quantum spinning reel that holds 250 yards of 15-pound test giving even the biggest sharks plenty of running room. After extensive field-testing, Bowman has settled on an 8-foot, 6-inch Scott HP15 fly rod. "It casts well and has tremendous lifting power," he says, "and I haven't broken one, which is amazing."Ruben Perez
7. Setting Up - Whether anglers anchor up or drift, the key to catching sharks is getting the chum to cross as much productive water as possible. When laying out their gameplan for the day, Sharkers consider how their chum slick will be affected by current speed, wind direction, and bottom geography. "The ideal conditions would have the wind blowing against the current to slow the boat's drift," says Captain Robert Trosset. The toughest part about using chum is waiting for the fish to come to the fishermen. West Coast fly guide Captain Conway Bowman waits a minimum of two hours before he even thinks about moving. "You got to get into the headspace to be patient," he says, "the payoff can be awesome." The downside to changing location is that the crew has to re-establish the chum slick and start the waiting game again. Larry Melo and the crew of Waterbury caught the 399-pound thresher that won them the Oak Bluff's Monster Shark Tournament (www.bbgfc.com) 15 minutes after making a move. "We were catching too many bluesharks so we pulled up and moved to the end of our slick." This tactic allowed the team to get away from the ineligible blue sharks and stay in their chum slick.Al Ristori
8. Hooking and Fighting - Sharks have all the qualities of a great gamefish. Not only are they aggressive and big, but they put on a great fight - often jumping out of the water and going on reel-smoking runs. And, like many other great gamefish, dealing with sharks can be dangerous for the angler and the crew. That's why shark hunters are meticulous with their tackle and have a game plan laid out well in advance of hooking a big shark. Before each trip, Larry Melo sets his drags and marks the lever drag of each reel with a grease pencil to indicate gradients in drag pressure. This allows the angler to adjust the drag through the fight and counter the shark's every move. "If the drag is too tight, the anglers will get yanked around and pulled to his knees," Melo says, "too loose and he'll never get the fish in." Hooking a shark isn't usually too hard, in fact anglers looking to release fish have to crank the line tight as soon as the shark bites to lodge the hook in the shark's mouth and keep it out of his stomach. Unlike many gamefish that have predictable patterns to their fight, each shark acts differently on the line. "Just like people, each shark has a personality," Melo says, "some are meaner than others."Al Ristori
9. Releasing - Surprisingly enough, most shark anglers release the sharks that they catch. Not only because the fish are often too dangerous to handle in the boat, but because these anglers feel a respect for their equal on the food chain. So sharkers take great care that the fish is returned to fight another day. Captain Robert Trosset gets has refined his technique in Madfin Shark Tournaments where competitors get extra points for removing the hook before letting the shark go. To get the shark under control, first the angler leads the fish along side of the boat. Then, his partner grabs the tail with a rope and pulls the fish straight. "You've got to keep the fish tight or he'll swing around and bite the hell out of you," Trosset warns. Of course the 24-foot Andros center console that Trosset uses in shark tournaments has length increments marked on its side. For anglers who haven't gone to this length with their own boats, Trosset has another trick for measuring big sharks. Take a 10-foot length of 300-pound mono and tie a small carbineer on one end and a float on the other. With the shark next to the boat, clip the carbineer onto the leader and let it slide down to the corner of the fish's mouth. Let the other end of the line stream in the current along side the fish. For the most accurate measurement, cut the line at the fish's tail and measure it on the boat. Then, use a pistol-grip de-hooker to grab the hook and work it out of the fish's mouth. Finally, loosen the tailrope and let the shark swim away. Everyone leaves the fight unharmed.Al Ristori
10. Landing - Most sharkers try to keep the anglers in the boat and the sharks in the water, but some situations require a crew to bring a man-eater onboard. To win the 2008 Oak Bluff's Monster Shark Tournament, Larry Melo and his crew on the Waterbury had to bring a 499-pound thresher into their boat. Luckily, Melo and his buddies had plenty of experience landing big sharks in their home waters off Cape Cod. "I keep a flying gaff, a tailrope, and two fixed gaffs on each side of the boat," he says. To keep all the ropes coiled and secure, Melo wraps them with painter's tape. "That way the rope stays untangled until the fish pulls and breaks the tape," he explains. Melo also arms each member of his crew with a pair of dikes, a knife and leather gloves. To land a big shark, Melo first positions his 28-foot Carolina Classic so that the leader man can direct the fish along the stern of the boat to the gaff man who is waiting with the head of the flying gaff already in the water. As the fish crosses the hook, the gaff man lifts hard and drives the barbed point into the fish's belly just behind it¿s dorsal fin. Once the hook on the flying gaff is released, the crew can pull the fish to the boat with the rope. Next, Melo comes off the bridge to loop another rope around the fish's tail. Then, with both ropes secured to stern cleats, he drags the fish for 20 miles to be sure it's dead. "It's all about being safe," Melo says, "these are very dangerous animals."Al Ristori

Are you ready to hook into a monster or do you just think that you are?