The deep blue waters of California are prized for their big game fishing. There’s hardly an angler on the West Coast unfamiliar with the abundance of trophy fish in this area. Many of them, however, don’t realize just how close to home one of the most exciting and unique game species can be. We are, of course, talking about Thresher Shark fishing. The location? Newport Canyon just off Orange County’s Newport Beach.
As you might know, the Thresher Shark is not your average Shark from the park. It uses its distinctive tail to hunt and maim its prey before it actually gets to the jaw work. The tail itself is often as long as the rest of the body and is capable of producing some devastating blows. If you’ve ever seen a Thresher Shark in action, you know what I mean. Obviously, this makes catching the beast a tall order.
Here are some cool Thresher Shark facts. The largest recorded Thresher Shark was 20 feet long and weighed a whopping 1,000 pounds. The largest Thresher caught in California weighed in at 575 pounds. With a tail like that, you’ve got to have a cool nickname. How about Fox Shark, Sea Fox, Swiveltail, and the obvious one, Longtail Shark?
So, where can you find the Thresher Shark? One of the very best locations to fish for Threshers is the Newport Submarine Canyon. It only makes sense for the location to be as remarkable as the fish itself. If you were wondering, a submarine canyon is a steep-sided valley cut right into the continental slope. It looks something like this:
Much like a land canyon can affect water movement above sea level, a submarine canyon determines current patterns below. Due to this constant flow of water, these canyons are packed with rich nutrients fish just can’t ignore. Think of it as a gourmet dining room.
What’s special about the Newport Submarine Canyon is that it’s so close to one of the premier fisheries on the West Coast. Bewildering depths await just a few hundred feet off of Newport Pier. It’s not fair when you think about it. In a town renowned for its 30+ mile offshore fishing, there’s a fishing treasure trove hidden right under the town’s nose.
Before we dive into the ins and outs of Thresher Shark fishing, let’s quickly mention the picturesque town you’ll be based in.
A treasure in its own right, Newport Beach owes its popularity mainly to the wealth of water activities it offers. Surfing, diving, deep sea fishing – you name it, this town is all about that deep blue. The harbor, made out of seven man-made islands, is dotted with yachts and restaurants as far as the eye can see. This is, in fact, the largest recreational harbor on the West Coast. One place that’s a must-see is the historic Dory Fish Market, where local fishermen have been offering the day’s catch since 1891.
The town itself has preserved this calm oldie-America vibe, with kids playing in the streets like you would see in a ‘50s movie. If you’re in town with your family and they’re not that crazy about fishing, rest assured that they’ll find plenty of things to do in this colorful locale. Ok, now let’s get back to catching a Thresher.
How to Catch a Thresher Shark
As it keeps feeding on schools of anchovies, mackerel, and sardines that inhabit the canyon, the Thresher Shark gets bigger and bigger. Threshers as big as 400 pounds are caught in these waters. Catching one is, therefore, no easy feat, especially if you want to catch it correctly. However, if done right, the experience can truly be spectacular. So how do you go about catching a Thresher?
Thresher Sharks usually like to hunt alone, so to locate them, you first have to locate their prey. Look for diving birds to locate schools of baitfish. A valuable backup is, of course, your fishfinder. Seeing as Threshers attack tail-first, you can’t just go the old-fashioned way of casting or trolling your offering on a hook. The Shark will try to beat your bait silly before it moves in to devour it. Presenting your bait this way can result in foul hooking the beast, leading to an ugly sight of a dead Shark being dragged by its tail. What you want to do is hook it by the mouth.
To find out exactly how this is done, we sat down with one of California’s leading experts on Thresher Shark fishing, Dave Elm. Dave, the production manager for American Fishing Tackle Company, has fished these waters for years: “The best way to catch a Thresher Shark is by slowly trolling a hookless dead mackerel. As the Thresher Shark moves in to attack your offering, stop the boat and proceed to pull your bait out of the water. As you’re pulling, the shark will follow the bait all the way up to the boat. The moment the Thresher gets close, cast your hooked mackerel right in front of it.”
Timing is critical here. The Shark should shift its focus on the hooked bait and proceed to devour it with reckless abandon. That’s when the real fun starts. The Thresher Shark is known to put on a show while fighting. They often leap entirely out of the water, twisting and turning in breathtaking fashion.
“There’s another way to catch Threshers,” Dave says. “Slowly trolling a mackerel fillet on a circle hook gets the job done just as well. As soon as you see that tail whack, put the boat out of gear. The mackerel will sink when you do, and this will make the Thresher think its prey is stunned. They inhale those mackerels every time.”
Light or medium tackle will get the job done but make no mistake, your strength will be put to the test. You can use heavy tackle to minimize the fight time and hit two birds with one stone – save yourself some effort, but also minimize stress to the animal and increase its chances of survival post-release. The Thresher will fight you vehemently, but compared to other big game, the fight shouldn’t last very long (15–45 minutes in most cases).
Your best chances for Thresher Shark are during summertime, from June to September.
Thresher Shark Conservation Tips
Thresher Sharks are one of the fish species with the lowest fecundity rates (reproduction capacity). For this reason, following some basic conservation guidelines is vital to preserving this unique animal. Here’s what you can do:
- Ensure you cut your line as close as possible to the Thresher’s mouth. This will increase the Shark’s chances of survival post-release.
- Use a circle hook instead of a J hook. This will lower the chances of hooking the Thresher by the tail.
- If you’re doing catch and release, keep the Thresher in the water. Again, this lowers stress to the Shark and increases its chances of survival.
- If you do plan on keeping a Thresher Shark, note that the limit is two per day, with no minimum size required, per the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
- Use heavy gear to minimize fight time and stress to the Shark.
If you’re in the Orange County area, Thresher Shark fishing should definitely be high on your to-do list. This unique fish will give you a run for your money and you will enjoy battling it almost like no other. And the best part is, it’s waiting for you just a few hundred feet off the coast.
So, what do you think about Thresher Shark fishing? Would you like to catch a Thresher Shark? Or have you already hooked one? If so, what was it like? Let us know in the comments below.