When you hear the term “World Class Fishery“, one’s mind normally wanders to remote and exotic locations like an island in the South Pacific to chase GT’s or sparsely populated areas like the wilds of Alaska in search of halibut and salmon. What usually doesn’t come to mind is fishing within twenty miles of L.A. or San Diego for fish that can reach 1,300-pounds in weight, can leap 20 feet out of the water and can be targeted from your skiff.
The mako fishery in the spring and summer off the coast of Southern California is just that, a world-class fishery.
As someone who spent a ton of time shark fishing in Atlantic I’m still shocked at the volume, size and relatively short runs that make up mako fishing in the SoCal bite and I’m even more surprised by the lack of anglers who do it.
Mako’s start to filter into the area in mid May when water temperatures reach about 66 degrees but the season quickly escalates from there. We usually see an influx of good fish in the 80 to 150- pound class starting in early June that last for the majority of the month. By July these “better” fish start to filter out and we see a lot more smallish fish from 20-80-pounds with double-digit fish days fairly common. My postulation is that these little fish arrive in July because our waters are where the big girls come to drop off their pups. As for the big girls (fish 300-pounds and over) I’ve caught the majority of my bigger fish from early July through late August but in 2013 we had a run of HUGE fish from 500 to 1,300+-pounds including a potential all tackle record fish in early June caught out of Huntington Beach. At one point in 2013 I saw eight fish in a week over 500-pounds out of Dana Point alone. In 20 years of mako fishing in the Atlantic I had only personally seen eleven. The big point is you just never know. Anytime you go out here there is a real shot at hooking a fish over 500-pounds.
First and foremost these fish are close! All the local banks like the 14 mile bank the South 9 and even the canyons that dot the 300 fathom curve just a few miles off the beach are a great place to start. The next step starts at your computer. A high quality SST and chlorophyll chart service like Fish Dope is almost a must and will really increase your chances at success. I’ve found the key to be a temperature or chlorophyll break that matches up with structure like a canyon or bank on the sea floor. These breaks create invisible barriers that often trap bait and gamefish, which in turn brings sharks with it. Find that and you’ve often already found the fish.
With the advent of braid, I’ve found you can leave your 80’s and 130’s at the dock. My preferred tackle is 30W’s with 130-pound hollow core spectra. I can get over 500 yards of 130-pound hollow spectra on my 30W’s. From there I do things a little different. Since some of these fish are over 10-feet in length and they have denticles on their skin, (think sand paper), you have to have something that acts as abrasion resistance against the line rubbing against the fish’s body and of course you need to have some kind of wire to guard against their teeth. I used to just run a long 15-foot section of cable leader but that was a pain when the fish would get to the boat. I would have to grab the 15-foot section of cable and hand line the fish the rest of the way.
Today I splice a 25-foot top shot of 400-pound mono to my hollow core. From there I attach only a 6-foot section of 600-pound cable and finish the rig with a 10/0 Mustad or Owner Jobu hook. This means I can now real the fish right up to the boat without ever having to leader the fish. I also keep a 16 sized reel with a similar set-up but 80-pound hollow core for any sharks that come to boat that are under 200-pounds and I also keep a Talica 12 with 30-pound on it for any fish we see under 80-pounds. This allows for these little guys to be a fun battle.
While trolling is effective for thresher sharks, because you are often fishing a bait ball or a very thin strip or area, (they tend to hang between 100 and 500-fathoms curve), I still find chumming to be the most effective method for taking big makos. Think about it this way. When you are trolling over a spot you have that one instant to cross a mako’s face. When you leave a chum slick on that spot it can now lead a fish to your boat for the entirety of the time you are fishing. The next step is CHUM. By that I don’t mean buy one bucket of chum, cut four holes in it and drift for a few hours.
Our trips start with a minimum of four five-gallon buckets and are supplemented with tuna carcasses, fish oil, basically anything that can defrost and smell. Rather than cutting holes in the buckets I take the entire lid off and put them inside a mesh bag. This still holds the entire chum block in the bucket but allows it come out of the top and it flows faster than if it was just a bunch of holes. For bait I use whole mackerel, fish carcasses, pretty much anything that stays on the hook and smells. One other trick I like is to bridle a live bait on one rod. I think the vibrations and kicking of a live bait help add to the entire chum line and can get a shark fired up.
Unlike the majority of fish, once you get a mako boat-side the game is far from over, especially if you are fishing from small skiff like I often do. I want to note that I release all my makos over 300-pounds as I don’t really feel comfortable tying to dispatch one from a skiff and let’s be honest, what are you going to do with 400 pounds of fish. That being said makos are DELICIOUS and I do take one fish a year. When I want to dispatch a decent sized mako, I have a unique system. I use a flying gaff like most people to secure the shark once boat-side, but I’ve had so many fish go nuts while tied off to the boat that I’ve since changed up my system. Rather than tying the flyer off to the boat I connect it to big poly ball. Once I hit the shark with the flyer I throw the buoy over the side of the boat with the flying gaff hook now in the shark and the line attached to the ball. This allows the shark to tire out at a safe distance. I then drive the boat up to the poly ball and grab the line to the flyer and coax the shark up to the boat where it is stuck with additional gaffs and two tail ropes are applied. I then drag the fish backwards for about thirty minutes before attempting to put the fish on the boat.
You should also have a simple release stick on board. We release dozens of makos each year and as such we prefer to remove the hooks both for the good of the fish but also because hooks are expensive. To use a release stick, simply put the cable inside the release tool and hold the cable parallel to the release stick. Slide the release stick down to the bend in the hook and push in the opposite direction the hook is facing. It’s that simple. We rarely ever have to cut the cable anymore.
Whether you live in San Diego or Hermosa Beach there is an incredible fishery for one of the truly great gamefish in this ocean. Short boat rides, a consistent bite, and the chance at a monster should put mako fishing in Southern California at the very top of your list for a world-class fishing experience.