At the shark end

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - David Pro­fumo caught his first fish at the age of five and, off the water, he’s a nov­el­ist and bi­og­ra­pher. He lives up a glen in Perthshire David Pro­fumo

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. Fly-fish­ing for sharks can be ar­ranged by tele­phon­ing David Wol­son­croft-dodds on 01840 938763 or email­ing him at david@fly­fish­for­

All at sea? David Pro­fumo with Dan, the skip­per of White Water, hold­ing a 60lb blue shark

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