At the shark end
David Profumo battles the weather for an impressive catch
‘It’s awesome and pretty, with a cerulean back and impressive pectorals’
IT’S 8am and White Water is steaming out of Pembroke Dock into a lumpy Force 4 en route to some secret sharkfishing grounds. This is Bill’s bright idea of birthday fun and he serves me a flask of Icelandic chilli tea that would have Capt Haddock turning green around the gills.
Our boat partners are writer and pike guru David Wolsoncroftdodds plus his pal Tim Westcott, who have together helped pioneer catching sharks on fly tackle. This is a real walk on the wild side as their specialist gear involves 14-weight rods (or punchier), RIO Leviathan lines, 400lb wire leaders and home-tied tube flies a foot long. Tim is too modest to say it, but last May, he subdued a record Cornish porbeagle shark weighing 380lb. Thirty miles offshore, our affable and expert skipper Dan cuts the engines and we begin to drift.
British sportsmen have chased sharks since Victorian times— the redoubtable F. G. Aflalo landed sizeable blues (‘quite enough to demoralise your top joint’)—and they are still mostly caught on conventional bait tackle.
David and Tim are kindly kitting us out with customised outfits and, meanwhile, Dan mashes up a barrel of rubby-dubby—a noisome amalgam of guts, bran and oil, which sends ahead an enticing ‘chum slick’ that acts as a sharky
amuse-gueule. This is a far cry from the Houghton Club.
In Spain, it is tiburon azul and, in Poland, zarlacz blekitny— the blue shark (Prionace glauca) is probably the world’s most ubiquitous shark species, a cosmopolitan migrant that visits our waters between June and October. Most of its tribe has dull colouration, but this gracefully tapered creature sports an indigo back, counter shading to a crisp white underbelly. Wide-eyed and apparently smiling, its appearance seems elegant rather than thuggish —a shiny-suited razor boy from postwar Brighton, perhaps. In fact, this alpha predator is so uncannily well engineered (its propulsion system being six times more efficient than many submarines) that the US Navy once experimented with neural implants to train it for use in warfare.
Bluedogs eat mackerel, herring and each other. They stalk swimming seabirds and, during the mating process, male blues bite their inamorata so hard on the shoulder that they’ve evolved with extra-tough, armoured skin.
Part of the group known as requiem sharks (fall overboard and it’s Goodnight, Vienna), they are, in fact, just occasional maneaters, although once the scourge of whalers and the subject of many a maritime vendetta. Tens of millions are still killed worldwide annually for their fins and liver oil, but British anglers now release all theirs. The days are gone when Papa Hemingway liked to finish off his catches with a machine gun.
‘The gulls have taken off,’ announces Tim, as we work our flies ahead of the boat. The formidable 10/0 hooks are tipped with a ‘last’ of mackerel flesh; when you feel a take, you let the fish turn and then strip-strike, smartly. Those birds have sensed the blues approaching and, before long, Tim is fighting his first shark of the day. Even in the ‘smaller’ sizes, they are powerful opponents, with a top speed of 25mph, and will give you a thorough half-hour workout.
Everyone else hooks up and, eventually, I too manage to boat my first one—at about 60lb, it’s a respectable enough start, but apparently nothing remarkable. It is, however, both awesome and pretty, with a cerulean back and impressive pectorals. Dan wrestles it into position for a trophy shot, then it’s slipped back over the side.
The next few hours became a blur of activity, because the sport was incomparably thrilling and almost continual. Attracted by the chum, blues cruised around the boat and, at times, you could actually sight-fish for them. I heard a noise like a waste-disposal unit and there was a shark munching on the port propeller.
More than once, we had three on simultaneously, although the onboard protocol when someone is running a fish has to be strict. Big blues need to be landed through the lateral ‘tuna door’ and, if you fall overboard, you just might join the food chain— Bill would be all right, however, as, out of professional courtesy, sharks don’t attack lawyers.
Our haul of 40 was topped by Tim’s outstanding 150.2lb male, but the birthday boy boated two bluedogs over the magic 100lb ‘ton’ mark, which was, I grudgingly concede, a considerable achievement (mind you, he used to crew on a Tasmanian long-liner and wears rubby-dubby as aftershave). In a feeble attempt to demoralise my top joint, he now claims to be at least twice the fisherman I am—which is just a load of zarlacz blekitny. For ‘White Water’ availability, visit www.whitewatercharters. co.uk. Fly-fishing for sharks can be arranged by telephoning David Wolsoncroft-dodds on 01840 938763 or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org
All at sea? David Profumo with Dan, the skipper of White Water, holding a 60lb blue shark