Surfcasting for Sevengill Sharks
If there’s one sight in this world that’s sure to quicken the heart of any surfcaster, it would surely be your rod bent over at right angles by a very big fish. I don’t mean a few quick nods at the tip followed by the rod straightening out. I’m talking bent right over. Bent over hard, almost to the point of pulling your rod spike out of the sand!
You rush for your rod holder, your excitement level nearing bursting point. Line slips rapidly from your reel as the drag sings in the salt air. The sea has been flat-calm all day. This can mean only one thing; a massive fish has taken your bait!
A fish this size when hooked from a South Island beach, is nearly always a sevengill shark. This species comes right in close to shore. On several occasions, I’ve witnessed a big sevengiller cruising lazily just beyond the breaker line swimming at no more than a slow walking pace. This can be very exciting, especially if it’s within casting range.
Sevengill sharks are caught all around the coast of the South Island. As a species, they are consistently more plentiful than any other large fish found in these waters. Quite a few are caught by boat and surf anglers each year along the coast between Christchurch and Dunedin.
According to many Christchurch anglers and commercial fishermen, sevengillers move into Port Levy, on the northern side of Banks Peninsula, to mate. Certainly many have been caught from around this area over the years. Here is a big one I caught at Taylors Mistake: Allan’s Sevengiller. The article about it is here: Taylors Mistake Sevengiller. Here are some other big sevengill sharks caught off the Canterbury coast: Sevengill and Sixgill Sharks.
Canterbury ‘s shingle beaches at Nape Nape, Birdlings Flat, Dorie, Pendarves, and Otaio, have all yielded big sevengillers over the years. Sadly, according to the late Joe Chidgey, who was a well known and successful Christchurch angler with many years experience fishing the surf, the numbers of sevengillers caught now are only a trickle compared with years gone by. Joe remembers that twenty odd years ago, many local fishing competitions were won with the capture of a sevengiller.
I recall another mate of mine telling me how he had caught a very large sevengill shark at Nape Nape Beach, in North Canterbury, during the South Island Surfcasting Championships some 30 years ago. He was sure he would have the winning fish only to discover that another contestant further down the beach had landed a bigger one! They are unfortunately no longer so plentiful today.
Sevengill sharks are well known as opportunistic feeders. Upon opening, many a specimen has been found to contain items of food that have washed out to sea via one of our many big east coast rivers. They have been found to have dinned on rabbits and hares, lambs, parts of sheep and spent salmon. Of the specimens, I’ve caught while surfcasting, one contained the whole tail of Hector’s dolphin!
Baits for Sevengill Sharks
Which are the best baits to employ when targeting sevengillers from the beach? I have taken them on squid, jack mackerel and spiny dogfish. I must admit that on each occasion I’ve caught a sevengiller, I was not specifically trying to catch one. I believe the reason for my success had more to do with my use of wire traces. This is an old habit of mine which stems from being continually bitter, off by sharks of all sizes. Even a spiny dogfish can bite through heavy mono! If dogfish don’t bite all the way through, they damage the line to such an extent that the next take results in a “bust off.”
I know several expert anglers who have successfully landed big sevengillers on heavy monofilament. They use heavy nylon of the type used for stringing tennis rackets. However, I’m not convinced! A good shark can chomp straight through even the heaviest nylon. I always use stainless steel wire.
Only a short length of wire is necessary when beach fishing. A trace any longer than a couple of feet is a hideous thing to cast any distance. I fish a rig with a 50cm trace and beef-up the leader with the use of heavy gauge mono – around 37kg. This is essential when shark fishing. Their rough skin is almost as damaging to your line as their teeth.
A big customer, around eight feet in length, will easily become wrapped in the line, particularly if it is hooked in the opposite side of its mouth – the side that’s away from you. When this happens a fair length of the line is constantly rubbing on its rough skin. It’s unavoidable. Your line will take very little of this treatment before it breaks!
Returning to the question of which is the best bait to catch a sevengiller, experienced surf anglers, I have spoken to, swear by big baits. Most popular are whole yellow-eyed mullet fished as a dead bait from a standard paternoster or running rig. Others have taken sevengillers on red cod heads, whilst some surfcasters have been successful with squid. I have caught sevengillers at Birdlings Flat on squid bait.
I’m sure that the best bait by far is a wet one! This is not intended to be flippant, it’s just that sevengillers are few and far between and your best chance of catching one is to put in a lot of hours at the water’s edge. According to my fishing diary, on average, I’ve caught one sevengiller for every 34 surfcasting trips.
I’ve taken them on a variety of baits, both rod fishing and long lining. I think they’re not the least bit finicky about their food and will take just about anything. You can’t beat a fresh yellow-eyed mullet, slashed with a knife to allow its juices to slowly permeate the surrounding water. A sevengiller has, like all sharks, an extraordinarily sensitive olfactory system and is able to detect even the minutest scent of bait in the water. It stands to reason that the best baits will be those that exude the most blood and fish oil.
How to Play and Land a Big Sevengill Shark
When you do hook a sevengiller at the beach you must try to remain calm and not prematurely attempt to force the issue by the application of too much grunt. When the shark attempts to move off the sensation is not unlike hooking a huge mass of floating weed. Should you apply to much pressure the line will snap for sure! Not to mention it won’t do the life expectancy of your rod and reel a lot of good either. If you have fought fish no bigger than kahawai or trout then you are in for a whole new experience.
The thing to remember is that there’s no quick way to land a really big shark from the beach. When it wants to go you just have to go with it! Sometimes this can take you hundreds of metres down the beach.
For the first half hour, this is tremendously exciting. After that your back becomes sore, your legs start to hurt, and your arms begin to ache. You must maintain constant pressure. Eventually, either you or the fish will give up. Twice in this situation, I have lost big sharks, including one rather large dark grey individual, who after a tug of war that had gone on for half an hour decided, for some reason, perhaps because the water was becoming a little shallow underfoot, that he’d had enough! It then took off at a great rate of knots and broke the line. It had suddenly become sick of this silly game. I was surprised at its sudden application of its afterburners, applied too much pressure. The line frayed and weakened over the last three or four metres and just couldn’t take the extra pressure. Line fracture from contact with the shark’s skin is probably the leading cause of “bust-offs” in these situations. Sharks also have a tendency to roll which makes the problem worse. I spool with 30 lb line for surfcasting; should this become wrapped around the shark’s tail you’re in big trouble!
Getting back to the fight, it has been my experience with big sevengillers that when first hooked they tend to stay deep and move off. This is the crucial period during which the fish must be “turned” before you run out of line. Your only course is the application of constant pressure which causes the shark to burn energy as it seeks to escape.
After this stage – if the fishing gods have smiled – the sevengiller will eventually come to the surface. The sheer bulk of a fish that can be three metres long and weigh over 200 kilos is an awesome sight when first viewed. You still need to have your wits about you or, as happened in the incident I mentioned earlier, it will get off.
Still applying pressure you have to let the waves carry the shark up the beach. Under no circumstances attempt to prevent the shark from going back in with the back-wash from a wave. This is a recipe for disaster. Eventually, a bigger than average wave will leave the fish high and dry.
Big sevengillers over two metres are poor eating. The flesh is firm and dry with a texture I would similar to ten-year-old mutton! The smaller ones around two metres are excellent cooked by any method.
In summary, you usually hook a sevengiller when you least expect it. To catch one you have to be prepared every time you go down to the beach. You never know, today could be the day! More info on sevengillers.