SHARKS OF NEW YORK BIGHT

Catch Big Makos and Threshers Just Minutes From The Hudson River Mouth.

By Gary Caputi Posted April 13, 2016

Gary Caputi

With the sun finally shinning and temperatures fast on the rise, droves of beachgoers head to the Hamptons, Long Island and the Jersey Shore. But not far from the beaches, apex predators, many of them giants weighing hundreds of pounds, cruise, looking for a meal. Starting in late spring, sharks, including makos and threshers of impressive proportions, invade New York Bight, affording anglers an edgier type of big-game action: one where the target species are not only endowed with formidable strength and endurance but also powerful jaws with rows of razor-sharp teeth.

An abundance of sharks and the forage they pursue travel in and out of New York Bight starting in late spring.

THE THOROUGHFARE

New York Bight hosts a variety of pelagics that use the massive channel to come and go across the continental shelf with the seasons. An abundance of sharks and the forage they pursue travel that ancient submarine highway scoured by the Hudson River at the end of the last ice age, turning the area into a world-class shark-fishing destination.

“Makos and threshers show up the first week of June,” says Glen Kapoosuzian, perennial shark tournament winner and skipper of Reel Games, a charter boat out of Freeport, New York. “Early fishing centers around Chicken Canyon, Glory Hole, Mudhole and nearby wrecks. It all begins when the water hits 57 degrees, and things get better as the temperature rises. I’ve caught many of my biggest sharks in early June, including a 591-pound thresher and a 594-pound mako.”

Gary Caputi

DANGEROUS QUARRY: Makos, the fastest shark species, known for its high-speed runs and amazing somersaults, and threshers, aggressive, bullish and almost as acrobatic, are headliners in the Bight. Threshers have become more prevalent over the past 10 or 15 years, yet makos, once the mainstay of the New York Bight fishery, remain plentiful.

Makos count on their sharp dentures to kill or maim prey during high-speed attacks.

Both track down prey from long distances by picking up scent dispersed by the water, so chumming is equally productive for either species. But their hunting tactics couldn’t be more different. While makos rely on their speed and daggerlike chompers to kill or severely injure during the initial attack, threshers use their long tail fins to incapacitate prey with powerful blows before circling back to devour the stunned victims.

Gary Caputi

ESSENTIAL FACTORS: Water temperature plays a key role in the arrival of early-season sharks. The larger ones, which have the greatest temperature tolerance, are usually first on the scene, and some stick around until November. “Temperature is the most important thing,” Kapoosuzian claims. “I use SST charts to find spots with water at least 57 degrees. Nearby temp breaks and structure peak my interest, but it’s a home run when you find bluefish. My best days have always come when there’s bluefish around the boat.” Both the whiptails and makos arrive at about the same time, trailing the early influx of bluefish, so it stands to reason that the best bait is fresh bluefish, especially small ones you can rig whole. Kapoosuzian works with local commercial fishermen and fish markets to get the freshest and carries plenty on each trip because there are times when you go through scads of ravenous blue sharks while waiting for a big mako or thresher to show.

For sharking in New York Bight, stand-up rods and lever-drag reels loaded with 50- to 80-pound line are standard, and circle hooks have become commonplace.

While big sharks lead the cavalcade, smaller ones pour into the Bight as the season progresses. And in midsummer, a lot of the threshers move well inshore to attack schools of menhaden, often within sight of the beach. That’s when Capt. Brian Rice of Jersey Devil out of Fairhaven, New Jersey, starts fishing for them. “You don’t have to run very far to find threshers in July,” Rice says. “We usually fish within sight of New York City, west of the ship approach to the harbor. They’re there for the menhaden, but I believe they also come for reproductive reasons. That’s why I prefer to only take a male when we decide to keep one.” Males are easily identified by their external sex organs — called “claspers” — located on the back of their pelvic fins.

Gary Caputi

PROPER SETUP: Stand-up rods and lever-drag reels loaded with 50- to 80-pound line are standard, and circle hooks have become commonplace. And with federal regs limiting boats to one shark per day, catch-and-release is often outstanding (last season we hooked six large threshers in seven hours on the east wall of the Mudhole), so using circle hooks makes sense. Rigs are a matter of personal preference. Kapoosuzian opts for 12 feet of straight, stainless wire with no skirts or rattles. Rice uses a heavy mono wind-on leader connected to a swivel and then to a 3-foot trace of wire. “The wind-on leader lets us reel the hooked shark right alongside the boat,” he explains. You also need a chumming system, floats to suspend baits in the slick, fighting belts and harnesses, and gloves for wiring. And if you consider keeping a shark, you better carry a flying gaff or harpoon, along with two or three straight gaffs and tail ropes.

If you intend to keep a shark, the angler brings the fish close enough for tThe wireman pulls the shark within range of the gaff or harpoon.

Illustration by Tim Barker

TOP SHARK RIG # 1: Capt. Glen Kapoosuzian favors a simple but effective rig with a tandem of 12/0 to 20/0 circle hooks. The leader is a 12-foot length of 240-pound stainless-steel wire attached via haywire twists to the first hook on one end and to a 300-pound swivel that connects to the fishing line on the other end. The second hook is connected about a foot behind the first with a trace of the same wire, again using haywire twists. When duplicating this rig, increase the length of the wire to account for the haywire twists (6 to 8 inches for each).

Capt. Glen Kapoosuzian prefers the more standard leader setup — a 12-foot length of wire and a tandem of circle hooks at the business end.

Illustration by Tim Barker

TOP SHARK RIG # 2: Capt. Brian Rice takes a different approach, using a single circle hook and only 3 feet of 240-pound stainless-steel wire, just enough to protect against the shark’s dentures. The wire connects the hook to a 300-pound swivel, which is then connected to a 250-pound, 10- to 15-foot-long monofilament wind-on leader. The wind-on setup allows the angler to reel in a hooked shark closer to the boat, and the designated wireman pulls on the heavy mono — easier to handle than wire — to bring in the shark for release or gaffing.

Capt. Brian Rice likes a wind-on leader setup, so the angler can bring a hooked shark closer to the boat.

Gary Caputi

CHUM FOR SUCCESS: You ain’t sharkin’ if you ain’t chummin’, and bunker (menhaden) and mackerel, ground up and frozen in large tins, are the top choices for the task. Frozen blocks of the oily, ground baitfish are placed in plastic milk crates, chum bags or perforated totes hung amidships over the gunwale to produce the visible slicks and long scent trails that attract, along with makos and threshers, various shark species, including blue, sand tiger, and even great white. A steady stream of bluefish, bunker or mackerel chunks really helps. Some anglers bring a clamp-on meat grinder on the boat to grind fresh baitfish, mix it with sea water and ladle it overboard.

Most sharking is done adrift, using chum to attract the sharks.

Both captains prefer a four-line spread with the farthest line set the deepest. Every line is rigged the same way, but each is fished a little closer and shallower than the previous one, with the closest line unweighted and set near the boat just out of sight in the water column. Early and late in the season, cold water keeps sharks closer to the surface, so set your long bait a little closer to the boat and no deeper than 75 feet. In the summer, however, the long bait can be set 200 to 300 feet back and as deep as 150 feet. Each weighted bait should be counted down to the desired depth, then floated back into the slick under a balloon or a Styrofoam float with a release system. We also spread the baits horizontally by running the longest line off a release clip on the bow rail and the next one off one of the outrigger clips.

BATTLE STATIONS

When you hook a shark, expect the surprised brute to embark on a blazing run or leap frenetically out of the water. The job of the angler is to quickly take up slack, then settle into the fighting belt and harness and let the drag do its work. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew should clear other lines and any cockpit clutter. Safety is a prime concern when dealing with sharks, especially makos and threshers. Makos are renowned for their aerial maneuvers, but threshers jump too, though not as -frequently, and those long tails of theirs can inflict -serious injury to unsuspecting crew members. I saw someone almost get knocked out by a powerful tail slap

THE END GAME

If you intend to keep a shark, have the flying gaff or harpoon at the ready with the tether securely fastened to a cleat and coiled out of the way, preferably in a 5-gallon bucket. With the boat at idle, the angler brings the fish close enough for a gloved wireman to grab the leader and then back away from the gunwale. The wireman pulls the fish within range of the gaff or harpoon, but he must remain alert in case the fish lunges away. The designated gaffer should strike firmly and without hesitation, aiming for the gills. Once the shark is subdued, it must be brought alongside to get the tail rope in place. At that point the gaff tether is secured to the spring-line cleat and the tail rope to the stern cleat until the shark expires and it’s safe to bring it in the boat. To release a shark, you skip the gaffing and clip the leader with wire cutters as close to the mouth as you dare.

Map by Keilani Rodriguez

NORTHEAST SHARK HEAVEN: New York Bight extends from New Jersey’s Cape May Inlet to Long Island’s eastern tip. It largely consists of continental shelf and includes Hudson Canyon. The direct influence of the Gulf Stream accounts for its mild climate and fertile waters.

An abundance of sharks and the forage they pursue travel that ancient submarine highway scoured by the Hudson River at the end of the last ice age.

FAST FACTS FOR SUCCESS

WATER TEMP: When the water reaches 57 degrees, sharks start showing up in New York Bight.

SHARK BAIT: Small bluefish is the preferred shark bait in the Bight: the fresher, the better.

TEAM EFFORT: Always have a designated wireman and a gaffer for safer and easier sharking

SWS PLANNER New York Bight Sharks

What: Mako and thresher sharks Where: New York Bight, from the beach to 50 miles offshore When: June through November Who: As the fishery evolves with the season, sharks move close to shore, where they're accessible to anglers in smaller boats with the proper gear. Farther offshore, larger, more seaworthy craft become necessary. These for-hire boats book shark charters in New Jersey and on Long Island.

Capt. Glen Kapoosuzian Freeport, New York 516-641-4877

Capt. Brian Rice Fair Haven, New Jersey 732-996-6372

Capt. John Williams Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey 732-539-7991

SWS TACKLE BOX New York Bight Sharks

Rods: 50- to 80-pound-class stand-up

Reels: Matching lever-drag

Line: 50- to 80-pound monofilament

Leader: 12 feet of 240-pound stainless-steel wire with a 300-pound swivel between it and the main line, or a 10- to 15-foot, 250-pound mono wind-on leader with a 250-pound swivel connecting it to 3 feet of 240-pound stainless wire

Hooks: 16/0 to 20/0 circle

Bait: Fresh small bluefish or large menhaden

Great Catches

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