Circle Hooks, Chum and Conservation in Penzance

Shark Fishing with John Locker, Andy and Matt Gouriet

Penzance was put back on the map last year after an absolutely colossal Blue shark of 256lbs was caught on board Bite Adventures and claimed a new British record. The photo of the four friends cradling the massive blue went viral online… and the boat seemed have the habit of getting among the big ones. Kieren had a few years as crew on Bite Adventure under his belt but this was his first year with his own boat, Lo Kie and his own Crewmate; Devon.

Some might say, booking a shark trip on Friday 13th wasn’t the best idea in the world. John had invited me and Matt out when we fished the Conger Club Championships a few weeks previous. It was going to be a hot one... weather was looking brilliant and sea conditions were perfect. Like the fishing machine he is, John had upped the trip to 12 hours. I threw some bits in the car and set of for 4 hours driving into the West Country.
 
On the morning, we left the picturesque quayside at Penzance at just before 7am. As Penzance is so far down the Cornish peninsula, congestion in never an issue. An empty carpark next to the pier for £6 was a nice start. With a long day ahead there was no time for hanging around so we loaded the gear on the boat and set off. As soon as we’d left the ‘slow zone’ of the harbour entrance, the hammer was put down and we started motoring towards the sharking grounds, about 20 miles. Here, we were going to be spending the day drifting west on the tide.
 
Get Chumming
 
A key part of shark fishing is to create a good chum slick… without it, the chances of catching anything would be massively reduced to almost zero. As the throttle was eased back off as we approached the start of the drift, the top was popped off the huge blue barrel containing a mix of fish, bran and a ‘secret’ combination of fish oils creating an oily and stinky cereal.
 
The reason that bran is often used in chum mixes is it’s an effective way to carry the fish oils in the tide. When the bran is mixed with the raw chum, it soaks up all these juices and oils.
 
The chum barrel was given a bit of a stir and the mixture started to get stuffed into onion sacks until they were about to the size of a football and then dropped over the side on ropes.
 
Chum bags being loaded with the fish, oil and bran mix. They were loaded within buckets to keep the stinky porridge from the deck of the boat.
Chum bags being loaded with the fish, oil and bran mix. They were loaded within buckets to keep the stinky porridge from the deck of the boat.
 
With a few shakes of the bag and the natural agitation caused by the rocking of the boat, the oil saturated bran flakes started leaving the bag. Three bags were used, on at the front, bag and middle of the boat to create a wide channel for out baits to sit inside.
 
Within 10 minutes there was visible ‘flattening’ of the water going off in to the distance, caused by the oil sitting on the surface of the water. This a good indication that the chum was doing it’s magic. The idea was that further we drifted, the longer the slick would become and if luck would have it any sharks in the vicinity would stumble across it and follow it up to the boat.
 
Shark Rod Roulette
 
Between the three of us, we were fishing with four rods on floats distributed across the slick we were trailing, all baited with Mackerel flappers. Out of the four rods, two were fin nor 30 class rods accompanied with fin nor marquis multipliers... a brilliant setup and an absolute pleasure to use. On the others two were a pair of Cabo spinning rod and fixed spool reels just to make things interesting.
 
All reels were loaded with 60lbs braid through to an 80lbs leader. We were using around about 20 feet of leader which the float slid up and down, a 4oz bullet weight to keep the bait down in the water with a 6# Cox and Rawle ball bearing swivel with coast lock tied to the end. A bite trace comprising of 4feet of 49 wire tipped off with a Cox and Rawle 12/0 Circle hook was then clipped on.
 
The reason the bite trace was separate was so that after a few fish, if it started to get kinked or tatty a new one could easily be clipped on with little fuss. Sharks also have a habit of rolling on the line so having plenty of leader could get you out of instant disaster if it did happen.
 
The question is which one would go first? We were going to take turns on the runs and while we waited, we were on a mission for more bait.
 
The mountain dew bottle floats bobbing around in the slick. A great choice of bottle - You could see the day glow yellow colour clearly even at long distances!
The mountain dew bottle floats bobbing around in the slick. A great choice of bottle - You could see the day glow yellow colour clearly even at long distances!
 
Looks like Sea Gulls are off!
 
Like always, sea gulls are never far behind a boat in the hopes of a few fishy scraps. This time was no different. We had been drifting for just over an hour and we’d collected a few varieties of seagulls… half a dozen white balls of feathers bobbing around in the swell.
 
A few of the birds at the back of the slick started getting scatty. One of the birds started flapping and skipping sideways on the water. This was enough of a signal that there were sharks in the area. Just as quick as they arrived, the flock of Gulls lifted off the surface vacated the area.
 
“There’s one, float three” Kieren shouted as he pointed to the brownish shape breaking the surface 50 yards from the boat. The fish circled the mountain dew bottle a few times and then came towards the boat and then went under. Float number two bobbed twice then buried itself under water. The first shark was on!
 
Playing a small shark on the fixed spool setup! Awesome fun!
Playing a small shark on the fixed spool setup! Awesome fun!
 
I hooked up with the Cabo fixed spool setup. I’d never used fixed spool reels for boat fishing previously but I wasn’t any stranger as I’d used them for years Carp fishing but this was different say the least. The Cabo fixed spool has a monster drag system of around 50lbs and although it can handle the heavyweights, it’s can be great fun with the smaller sharks.
 
After a little scrap a blue shark of around 25lbs appeared at the side of the boat. Kieren slipped the hook out the corner of its mouth and with the shark being free, it shot off under the boat.
 
Water Clarity and Algae
 
A few weeks previous we had been fishing from Plymouth and was getting plagued with a red algae which stuck to the line, in the eyes of the rod and was a total nightmare to get rid of. Here, we didn’t see the same clumps of red algae, but a bluey green tinge clouds in the water. These blooms had profound effect on the fish.
 
For whatever reason, whether the sharks didn’t like swimming in it because of the bad visibility, lower oxygen or even if it was an irritant to their gills, they avoided there cloudy areas and had the preference for the clear blue Atlantic water. One minute we couldn’t see the baits next to the boat as we drifted through a bloom… the next moment we could see them clearly.
 
… and like a light switch, almost as soon as we hit the clear water, Johns float fired off across the top of the water resulting in a nice Blue just over the 60lbs mark.
 
John with a Blue shark tipping the scales just over 60lbs on his Cabo setup. John Locker
John with a Blue shark tipping the scales just over 60lbs on his Cabo setup.
 
Slow and Steady
 
Over the day we drifted in and out of the blooms which did slow the catch rate down. Each time that we hit the clear water we’d pick up another few before it went quiet again. We kept ourselves entertained having a go with the baited feathers picking up different types of Gurnard, Whiting, Haddock and even an Octopus. We hit clear water again and like clockwork, another float went under and this time matt was on. It was his turn on the fixed spool setup.
 
 
We’d seen a shark of about 45lbs cruising about a few minutes beforehand that was now out of sight. We’d assumed this was the culprit. The braid was relentlessly peeling off the spool and after around 5 minutes it started to slow down and the chance had come to gain some back. After a few runs and a lot of sweating the shark came to the side of the boat. “That’s at least 90lbs” I heard someone say.
 
Matt Gouriet with his 97lbs 8oz Shark Club Qualifier
Matt Gouriet with his 97lbs 8oz Shark Club Qualifier
 
The shark was brought on-board to be measured, photographed and then was released that only seemed a matter of a minute. Using the calculation to estimate a sharks weight (Width x Width x Length / 800) Matts shark weighed in at 97lbs 8oz and a qualifying weight to join the Shark Club of Great Britain… something he’s been chasing.
 
Many of the other sharks were in the 25lbs to 55lbs range. Only two of the nine sharks were brought on the boat and released after photos were taken. The others were immediately released at the side of the boat.
 
Round is the way forward
 
All of the hooks we used on the day were 12/0 Cox and Rawle Circle Hooks with crushed barbs. These hooks and super strong, built for sharking and help you avoid deep hooking the fish. Traditional J hooks will set wherever the point is at the time of striking. So, in the instance of a greedy take you could be left with a deep hooked fish which takes longer to unhook and of course harmful to the shark.
 
Circle hooks on the other hand work differently. Due to their rounded shape and in turned point, the hook won’t just set indiscrinately. As the shark takes the bait and starts to run under tension, the hook will pull to the corner of the mouth giving a nice clean hook hold.
 
This makes if simple to unhook the sharks at the side of the boat with a T-bar with a simple little flick. For the few that are brought on-board, the hook is out within a second and minimises stress to the shark. Making them a clear and responsible choice.
 
All of the fish that we caught on the circles were hooked like the one on the left. This made it easier for the skipper to unhook, safer for the shark and caused less stress during release.
 
For these reasons, some charter boats specialising in Shark fishing have adopted a ‘Circle hooks only’ rule.
 
Shark Care is the Priority, Always.
 
For fish brought on-board, such of the fish of 97lbs, Kieren followed the same tight protocol as he had done for hundreds of sharks previously. As soon as the trace was in his hand he instructed for the deck to be washed down with three or four buckets of fresh sea water to cool and wet the deck. The deck was covered in rubber non skid rubber mats... rather than hard textured non skid that could be detrimental to the shark. Another little detail showing the thought behind the welfare of the animal.
 
Kieren and Devon lifted the shark from the water, on to the matt already with a few buckets waiting. “Keep her cool and wet” he instructed as buckets of water were poured. The hook was out, trace clear and already he had the tape measure in his hand. The measure went from tip of the nose to tail and then around the belly behind the pectorals. A few more buckets of water and it was ready for a quick photo before release.
 
On the larger sharks they are rolled onto your arms in a crouching positions, cradling the weight before standing rather than just picking the shark up. Another few buckets of water, including all over us. A few quick photos and then the fish was back in the water. They both lowered it back in with Kieren still holding the tail allowing for the shark to recover. Two or three seconds later, with a kick of the tail and it’s gone.
 
Contributing to conservation data
 
Loe Kie, like many other charter boats who target sharks across the UK are either involved in a tagging program or keeping detailed records of the sharks that they catch. 100% of shark are released by charter boats and the data they gather on size and quantity, year on year is extremely valuable. As sharks are the apex predator in our waters, their numbers can be early warning indicators in depletion of prey fish from over fishing, pollution and other environmental changes.
 
Recreational sea anglers record more shark’s data in our waters than any other source. When it’s done right, like with Loe Kie Adventures, not only would you have an unforgettable experience but you’re also contributing valuable information to the scientific community for future conservation.
 
Penzance is truly the mecca for Blue Shark fishing. If you would like to find out more about booking a trip on Lo Kie Adventures, you can either find them on facebook where they provide regular catch updates. If you prefer, you can email the guys at lokieadventures@gmail.com for availability.
 
Tight lines till next time.

 

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