Hunting Mr Mako
by Allan Burgess
This shark is known right throughout its worldwide range by the Maori name of Mako. The mako is readily distinguishable from most other sharks. The upper body is cobalt blue while the undersides are white. The nose is sharp and pointed. In Australia, the mako is also known as the blue pointer.
There is a pronounced caudal keel on each side of the tail for extra stability and thrust while swimming. This caudal keel is absent from most sharks; including notably the blue shark which is often found in the same area as the mako.
Another big difference between the mako and the blue shark is that the lobes of the tail are almost equal in length whereas the upper lobe of the blue shark’s tail is much longer.
The makos teeth are very long, sharply pointed, there are many of them, and they angle backwards for holding prey.
The mako is an open water oceanic pelagic shark but sometimes comes into coastal waters following prey. I once witnessed a fairly large a mako shark rocketing out of the sea off the Rangitata River mouth several hundred metres from shore. The mako was coming up from below into a school of kahawai. The kahawai where probably chasing baitfish. Seabirds were running a shuttle backwards and forwards from the coast out to the school. The mako was leaping well clear of the water in spectacular fashion!
Once the mako feels the sting of the angler’s hook he will often leap clear of the water in an effort to regain his freedom. Not all mako sharks do this. Both males and females jump but the females jump less often. The mako is an extremely powerful, unpredictable and fearsome shark to have on the end of your line. Sometimes they go mad the moment they are hooked. Whilst other specimens appear to ignore the hook but then “lose it” when gaffed.
This is not a fish to be toyed with by the inexperienced. Never bring a mako into the cockpit even if it looks dead. Even a small one in the cockpit will go crazy ripping the boat apart. They are also known to “bite” people even after appearing quite dead for several hours. Keeping them out of the boat and secure with a heavy line, or choker chain, around their midsection just behind the gills is the best way to deal with them. Hooked makos have been known to leap into the cockpit, attack the boat even after tossing the hook, and chewing up the berley bucket! Never grab a mako, or any shark, by the tail as they can bend around and bite with lightning speed.
The mako is a rare warm-blooded shark. The body temperature is several degrees warmer than the sea. This enables the mako to produce sudden bursts of high speed in pursuit of very fast swimming prey like tuna, mackerel and kahawai. This fish also has considerable stamina. Even when it appears worn out it can suddenly explode with huge reserves of energy.
Very large makos are more likely to be dark grey rather than cobalt blue in colour. There is considerable variation in weight for a given length with larger specimens. A mako caught by Ralph Alex of Montauk, New York, in 1956 weighed 683 and three-quarter pounds and measured 11 feet 9 inches. Whereas a monster all-tackle record mako caught in New Zealand weighed 1,000 pounds but was just 12 foot long. Although just three inches longer it was an incredible 316 and three-quarter pounds heavier!
In 1988 a mako weighing 1,115 pounds (505.76 kg) was caught by Patrick Guillanton on heavy 60kg gear off the Black River, Mauritius. This being at the time an IGFA all-tackle world record. There are almost certainly bigger specimens in the sea.
Mako sharks are loners. Unlike blue sharks which travel together in schools and small groups larger makos are thought to live and hunt alone. That is not to say that an abundance of food such as schooling fish, or a rotting whale carcase, won’t attract more than one mako.
The best time to fish for them in temperate waters around New Zealand is from February to June. This is the time of year when fish schools are most plentiful. The ideal water temperature for mako fishing is between 15 and 30 degrees C. Around New Zealand’s South Island they are caught by sports anglers off Otago Peninsula, Banks Peninsula, and the Kaikoura Coast.
Smaller makos are taken by sports anglers on saltwater fly gear. Indeed makos will sometimes hit large lures intended for billfish and large tuna. This is the exception rather than the rule as they prefer fresh bait to lures. Fishing for makos around New Zealand generally involves heading at least five miles, or more, offshore, then drifting whilst releasing a continuous berley slick of blood and mashed fish. Usually, blue sharks are first to appear around the boat. The blues often seem to loaf about close to the boat for some time. The makos are a little more stand-offish. However, there are no hard and fast rules. Sometimes a mako will hang back in the berley trail whilst at other times a hungry specimen will head right to the boat and snap at the berley bucket.
The name of the game is to get your large cut bait, rigged on a heavy wire leader, in front of the mako’s jaws, preferably without it being taken by one of the blue sharks. Once the mako takes the bait, get all other lines in quickly and be prepared for anything!
Perhaps the best bait of all for makos is a live one usually suspended from a cork float or a balloon. The best life baits being something like a kahawai, smaller tuna or mackerel. The floats will enable the crew to follow the baits path and so prevent them from getting together and causing a tangle beneath the hull.
Makos are excellent fare. Smoked they are particularly good!
There has been a trend over the past decade, or so, towards tagging and releasing large sharks. This is great to see. Recently our government passed legislation to protect the great white shark in New Zealand waters. The mako is now the top shark that can legally be hunted here.
Mako shark fishing is a mixture of high excitement combined with a healthy fear of this awesome and unpredictable predator. Fishing for Mr Mako is a challenge that only the most determined of anglers will meet and overcome. Mako shark video.
See also our page about the mako shark.