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If you want to try something really unusual with the long rod, subscriber Austin Nye has a suggestion— go for mako sharks around San Diego. He caught two makos recently, he says, a 4½-foot 60-pounder and a six-foot behemoth that weighed upwards of 150 pounds. We are putting Austin Ney on our subscriber Honor Roll for taking the time to write the report. See page 2 for more details on our Honor Roll Program.
I remember reading an article in the late Fly Fishing in Saltwaters Magazine about San Diego, California, being the best place to catch a shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) on a fly rod. These sharks are arguably one of the fastest fish in the ocean. Unfortunately, the article failed to make a suggestion regarding guide services, so I made a quick Google search and came up with the name, Capt. Dave Trimble of On The Fly Fishing Charters. (www.ontheflyfishingcharter.com). His website has lots of videos of mako sharks being taken on the fly, but what made me decide to call him was the following statement on his contact page: “I’d enjoy hearing from you whether you have questions about fishing in general or would like to inquire about a guide trip.”
When I made the call, I was quickly greeted by a cheery fellow who was more than generous with his time and his knowledge. I knew I would be in California in December 2013, on my way back from a bonefishing trip in the South Pacific, but I wasn’t sure of the exact dates. At that point, Capt. Dave told me candidly that the fishing can be pretty poor in the winter. There were few mako sharks around at that time, he said, but more chances at blue sharks (Prionace glauca). I told him I did not care; I just wanted to catch big sharks on a fly rod. He penciled me in for a possible date in December 2013 and took a 50 percent deposit.
When I arrived in San Diego two days prior to my scheduled trip, the weather turned really bad and killed the trip. We talked at length about the possibility of going out in bad weather versus the attraction of coming back the following summer on a good moon. Capt. Dave even offered to return my deposit. I insisted he hang onto it, as that would give me a good excuse to return. We finally agreed on a date for my return trip, namely June 13, 2014. That was during a full moon.
We agreed to meet the day of my trip at Dana Landing Market. It’s a perfect place to meet, as it has a nice deli with great sandwiches, fishing licenses, and all the snacks and refreshments you’ll need for the day. A short walk down the pier brought a welcome sight: Capt. Dave’s aptly branded 23-foot Mako center console, the Rapscallion, powered by a 225 hp 4-stroke Yamaha. I grew up fishing in a 23-foot Mako, so I was very familiar with the boat. It’s sturdy, it provides a dry ride, and it’s very friendly to fly fisherman.
Pleasantries over, we headed offshore. Actually, we only traveled a handful of miles, at which point Capt. Dave stopped and proceeded to set up a chum slick, taking time along the way to describe the hows, wheres, and whys. It was quickly apparent that Capt. Dave is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about catching sharks. He says he has logged over 2,300 days fishing for mako sharks on the fly, and I believe him. It is obvious that he loves his job.
I should note here that, before I left San Diego, I had the pleasure of meeting one of Capt. Dave’s associate captains, “Old-School Lou.” Capt. Dave said he used to be a shark killer, but he gradually converted him to a catch-and-release fanatic, a real “shark hugger,” he called him affectionately. Indeed Capt. Dave’s passion for shark is obvious and not a little addictive. I came away impressed also by his ability to clearly explain what to do, how to do it, and why you should do it. That is something I am not entirely used to in the guided fly fishing world. If you look at any of the numerous YouTube videos on his website, you can hear his calm, clear instruction throughout. I am particularly fond of having new fishing techniques described to me in great detail, briefly practicing those techniques, and then watching everything come together exactly as planned.
Out on the boat that day, before our first “visitor” arrived, we had plenty of time to talk about techniques and even practice the requisite bait-and-switch technique needed in shark fly fishing. Our first shark appeared initially as a six-foot-plus, blue-gray torpedo shape in the swells, methodically making its way toward the source of the slick. A really fun thing about shark fishing with a chum slick is that there is no rush. You have plenty of time to prepare tackle, video, etc.
We watched the fish for a few minutes, discussed which rod would be most sporting, and then set about trying to hook the beast. As instructed, I grabbed my 12 wt and made a short, 30-foot cast into the far end of the slick and watched the orange and yellow fly drift through it. I had to fight the urge to strip, as Capt. Dave had told me not to do that. The mako gave it a glance but did not seem too interested. At that point, I gave the fly one long strip, as practiced. No reaction. Capt. Dave then reached for the teaser rod and got him riled up on a dead mackerel. He then asked me to flop his signature fly near the bait. I did as I was coached, and almost immediately the mako turned toward my fly, bit down on it, and turned back up-swell for a perfect shot at the corner of his mouth. “STICK HIM!” Capt. Dave yelled.
Done! Fish on! It was like stripstriking a block of cement. The fish took off on a blistering run, taking out at least 250 to 300 yards of backing before performing an acrobatic 20-foot backflip, plus a few shorter, but no less impressive jumps. I have never seen that much backing disappear off a reel that quickly. All of this was happening, mind you, with a pod of white-sided dolphins frolicking nearby and the U.S. Navy performing war games with nuclear subs, aircraft carriers, and the like as a backdrop against the Southern California coastline.
After about 30 minutes of hard battle, the shark finally began to tire and pinwheel around the boat. Gingerly, we persuaded the fish to come back toward the transom of the boat, where it released itself after Capt. Dave grabbed the leader. I had caught my first mako on the fly! It was an extremely memorable catch and the beginning of an addictive habit. It was also a helluva way to break in a new 12 wt. outfit. I couldn’t have cared less about the photo op afterward. I was just happy that the fish and captain parted ways unscathed and healthy.
We changed locations at that point and eventually attracted another, smaller, shark. This one was in the four-foot range and weighed around 40 to 60 pounds. With this fish, Capt. Dave proved himself adept with a camera as well as sharks by affixing my GoPro camera to a gaff and capturing the bite and initial run on film.
I cannot say enough about Capt. Dave’s knowledge and professionalism. He is extremely passionate about his craft and easy to talk to and get along with, and he runs a tight, clean, top-notch operation. If you want to catch a mako on a fly rod, his is the outfit you want to use. I will definitely book at least annual trips with him in the future. I want to catch more and bigger mako sharks!—Austin Nye.
Postscript: Austin Nye included some information about equipment in his report that may be of interest: “The equipment I brought with me included a 12- and 16-wt rod with Tibor Gulfstream and Pacific reels, respectively. My line was a 12 WFF Rio Tarpon. A floating line is necessary because sharks tend to circle your fly, and you don’t want them getting caught in a sinking tip. It turned out that Capt. Dave had everything imaginable on the boat, from 6 wts to 16 wts. Next time, I am going to pack 8, 10, 12, and 16 wts myself, as I think the smaller sharks would be more sporting on tackle lighter than 12 wt. As for flies, I used the Trimble Shark Fly that Capt. Dave provided.” Interestingly, Nye says the airline he used to get to San Diego, namely Southwest Air, allowed him to bring rods and reels into the cabin. He says that seems to be a general policy of Southwest Airlines. Has anyone had a similar experience? That could be a deciding factor on which airline to use on some domestic fishing trips. Anyone with additional input, please write: [email protected].