A few years ago, myself and 2 of my mates, Alan and Duncan were obsessed with catching large U.K. sharks on extreme fly-fishing gear! This situation arose after we had been catching sharks in the Irish sea using conventional tackle. All three of us were very keen fly fisherman, so we mused on the possibility of landing one of these leviathans on the fly. A plan was hatched, and Alan and Duncan started making the necessary leaders, traces and fly’s. Initially we were somewhat under gunned and there was a steep learning curve. Over several trips the tackle and our ability to catch sharks on the fly improved – with one day us nearly boating a 100 blue sharks… But still the mighty Porbeagle shark evaded us!
An Irish Sea Blue Shark – I am glad that I took my Napier Apex Predator Waist sack, although this is really for carrying Roe, I often use it as a handy carry bag at other times, as it converts from a waist bag to a back pack. This was fortunate as it became essential for that long fight and when packed with appropriate padding allowed me to use it as an effective rod butt holster.
So, we then started targeting the months where a porbeagle was most likely and hoping for good weather, as virtually every second trip we had planned would need to be cancelled due to adverse seas. So on June 21st, 2014 we were happy at 6am to be motoring on towards the middle of the Irish sea after a sleepless night at the Stable Inn. Our skipper as usual was Andrew Alsop and we were on his boat White Water II, operating out of Milford Haven on the west coast of Wales.
We motored out at a good clip for about two hours into somewhere in the middle of the Irish Sea, there was some lively banter and talk of big fish and the opportunities that the day might bring. On the way-out Duncan and Andrew started preparing the burley – a secret concoction that draws the sharks in to the boat. I remember being pleased that I was not having to do this wretched job as although I have pretty good sea legs – my stomach is turned by that rotten fish smell.
Before long we are fishing and things are going slow for me… a few blues have come to the boat for the other boys but yet again, no Porbeagle
Then suddenly, my line goes tight… and it is like I have hooked a hi-speed locomotive… The skipper gives me a wink and says that he thinks this is the one… a big Porbeagle and I start praying that this fish stays on… No guarantee when shark fishing as another shark can bite through the line, the hook can pull and if the shark rolls far enough up the leader the skin of the shark will cut through the fly line like a hot knife through butter!
For nearly 2 hours, I was engaged in the most grueling sporting challenge of my life. Every time I got some line back the big fish would just take it back again. My arms were burning like they had never burned before and the 14 weight sage rod was bent at 90 degrees. Slowly though, I started getting in more line and the shark would take less line. I was actually winning. Eventually we started to see colour as I finally got the fish to the surface and then got to the fish to the boat. The fight had taken it out of me though – we were at a stalemate, the fish and I – I couldn’t get this enormous Porbeagle close enough that the skipper could grab the leader and boat the fish. Then the big fish decides to make a last gasp attempt at freedom… I have the drag fully locked as I know if this fish spools me now, I don’t have the minerals to get it back in… Something has to give and with a great crack the 14 weight explodes in half! My heart sinks… all that work to lose this fish of a lifetime at the boat. But the fish is still there, stuffed just like me. Then the call goes out to handline the fly line a dangerous thing if the fish decides to make another run. Mercifully, the big fish has succumbed, and the skipper can get to the leader and we get the fish on board. My epic fight is over.
I marvel at the fish, a big porbeagle, some people call the porbeagle a “Fako” and you can see why. The menacing predatory appearance of this leviathan make the blue sharks we have been catching up until now look like Labradors. This magnificent trophy is then measured so we can get a weight and the obligatory snaps are taken before being released back into the big blue to ponder what just happened to it.
My arms were destroyed, my rod was destroyed, I just sat down and contemplated what we had achieved, and I mean we as it had been a team effort. I caught another blue later that day but my arms were so sore I stopped fishing as I was literally scared I might catch another big shark and I just didn’t think I would be able to cope.
We didn’t realise at the time what we had achieved but as with all fishy tales – the news spread fairly fast and the next thing you know I am being told that this fish is probably the biggest shark ever caught on a fly in the whole of Northern Europe and was featured in the Angling Times. I don’t know if this is still the case or not, although with improvements in gear I think a bigger fish could be landed – I for one now fish a 16-weight fly rod for sharks, which is a little like fishing with a broom stick!