Editor’s Note: This story is a continuation from Conway Bowman‘s Mako Sharks On The Fly – No Boundaries Part 1
Big fish means big tackle! For mako sharks you’ll need the biggest, strongest fly gear. I start with a 12 wt fast action fly rod. All fly rod companies produce these rods for targeting tarpon, tuna and marlin. These rods cast easily but have a very strong butt section for fighting heavy fish in deeper water.
It’s the same for fly reels. Big game fly reels with large arbors that can hold over 450-yards of backing are standard equipment for mako sharks. You might be saying “450-yards of backing”? Why so much”?
I’ve seen mako sharks burn 300-yards of backing off of a fly reel in a single run so, 450-yards gives me some insurance when I’m chasing down a 400-pound mako swimming 40 mph headed for Hawaii!
Trust me, load up at least 450-yards of backing, you won’t regret it!
Types of backing
I find the best backing for the mako game is HI Vis yellow 30# Dacron. It’s easy on the fingers and is less expensive than braid. The Hi Vis yellow also helps when fighting makos in tough lighting conditions such as afternoon glare or overcast days.
I use a floating line for all my mako rigs. They keep the fly in the upper part of the water column and are easy to see when hooked up to a shark. Big game floating tapers also help turn over big flies and poppers when making a cast. Because the cast is less than 40-feet, I cut about 30-feet of running line off the back end of the fly line. This gives me room for a few more yards of backing.
Knots and Mono Leaders
My knots and leaders are very basic. The key is creating a strong leader with as few knots as possible. My leader’s length depends on the size of the mako I’m targeting. If I’m going for smaller makos ( 40 to 200-pounds) I’ll use a six to eight foot piece of straight 40# mono. This leader is connected to the fly line using an Albright knot coated with UV sense. The UV sense helps seal the knot and prevents it from coming apart during a long fight. If I’m targeting larger makos ( 300-pounds and over) I use a 10-foot leader of 60# mono. I don’t fish IGFA leaders.
Steel leaders are a must when targeting makos on the fly. I have found the best steel leader material is 120 to 140# single strand stainless steel. It works better then multiple strand wire where a wire crimp is needed to make any connections. With single strand, a haywire twist is needed to connect your fly to the steel leader and the leader to the mono tippet. The haywire twist is simple to do and is by far the strongest way to connect flies and leaders to steel leaders.
The fly rod used when mako shark fishing is more of a fish fighting tool rather than a casting tool. Fly rods in the 12 to 15 wt range is what I recommend. These rods easily cast a large fly and have enough lifting power to fight a mako shark from deep water. For larger makos, I have one piece custom rods built by John White at Dana Landing on Mission bay. These custom rods are 7 ½ ft to 8-feet in length and can cast a fly to 30-feet quickly and accurately. They are great fish fighting tools especially for makos in to 200 to 400-pound range.
The Fly Reel
There are a couple factors to consider when choosing a fly reel for big saltwater gamefish like mako sharks. First, how strong is the drag system and second, what is the line retrieval.
The drag system must be able to apply at least 18-pounds of drag pressure at its maximum setting. Most fly reels used in the salt water these days are designed to apply up to 20-pounds of drag pressure. The reason you want a reels to have this amount of drag pressure is to be able to apply maximum pressure on the fish when it is swimming away from the boat and during the final moments of the fight. You want to be able to” lock down” on the mako and hold it at the boat so you can get a quick release. If the drag is to light (not enough drag pressure) you will never get the mako to the boat. Even smaller makos are exceptionally strong fighters so being able to break their “will” during a fight is very important.
The rate at which the fly line can be retrieved depends on the size of the reel’s arbor. The larger the arbor the more line you can retrieve in one revolution of the fly feel spool. I recommend using the largest arbor reel as possible. Many fly reel companies make reels with large arbors specifically for big saltwater gamefish like mako, tuna and marlin.
The flies I use for mako sharks are large and have a good profile. These flies are typically 8 to 12-inches long and tied on plastic tubing. I prefer tube flies because they are able to slide up and down the steel leader, saving the fly from getting eaten up by the shark. My hook size varies from 6/0 to very large 10/0. All my hooks have large gapes. As for fly colors, Red/Orange combo is what I like best. This color combo is easy to see in tough lighting and is a tried and true combo. However, I will have one rig with a different color fly. . The reason I do this is if the mako gets turned off the Red/Orange color combo, a change in fly color can get the mako to react.
I have a few different rods rigged up with different size flies with and without popper heads. I like to catch makos on poppers so this is always my first choice. If the mako does not respond to the popper or shies away from it, then I’ll go sub-surface with a smaller fly.
If a makos get hooked and lost, they usually come back to the boat but are spookier. This is where the sub surface fly works best.