Surfcasting for Sharks
by Allan Burgess
On Saturday 15 May I caught another sevengill shark at Birdlings Flat. This makes a total of 9 big sevengillers I have caught there over the years. It is also the first sevengiller I have caught at night. Unless you intend to take a shark home to eat the best thing to do is get the hook out if you can do so safely and return it alive to the sea. This one ended up providing many meals of fish and chips.
It was late in the day with perhaps little more than an hour or two of daylight remaining when we arrived at the beach. In another first for me, we actually drove the Toyota Hilux off the end of the car park and out over the loose shingle to get closer to the sea. I don’t advise this at Birdlings Flat as the shingle is very loose and it is very easy to get hopelessly bogged to the axles. Indeed we drove past several other 4x4s that were wisely parked in the car park at the end of the road.
However, ours is not a standard Hilux. It has very wide tires and the body is raised to prevent it from bottoming out on the stones. Still, we had to be careful and not do anything silly like heading down the steep slope or getting too close to the breakers.
We set up our gear as quickly as possible to make the most of the last bit of daylight. I enjoy night fishing at Birdlings Flat but I don’t like setting up in the dark. When surfcasting after dark it is important to return any item of gear to your vehicle or bag immediately you have used it or you will lose it in the dark for certain. This is particularly so when it is wet and overcast with a faint drizzle falling as it was that night. At least there was little or no wind present.
By setting up while it was still light I could see the sea was reasonably flat albeit with some big dumpers thundering in every so often. The sea would be quite calm for five minutes or so then there would be two or three big sweeper waves that would ride a long way up the steeply shelving shingle beach. You have to watch out for those when casting!
To begin with we caught the odd spiny dogfish. Not a lot of fun admittedly but better I guess than nothing at all. I remember fishing this beach years ago when the first few casts would almost always turn up a few kahawai on our baited hooks. Alas not anymore! You still get kahawai here but just not like you once did.
With our lines out it was time to fire up the barbeque. It was venison steaks and bangers on the menu. At least we wouldn’t be hungry.
Once it was completely dark just as I had hoped and expected we began catching red cod on our frozen yellow-eyed mullet baits. The problem was that the red cod were small and not worth keeping so we tossed them back to grow bigger.
Despite the very light drizzle, it was shaping up as a pleasant evening of surfcasting. It is worth noting that when fishing at this time of the year an early start is a good idea otherwise most of your fishing will be done in darkness!
I wandered down to my rod stand to change my baits with the aroma of that steak cooking following me down. I unhooked a couple of small red cod and tossed them back in. Rebaited and cast my line back out. There was only one line of breakers close in and I knew I was casting well out from shore with my long rod. This is very much a case of fishing by feel alone. The thing you have to be very careful off, apart from getting hit by any of those aforementioned sweeper waves when casting, is accidentally getting your line tip wrapped in the darkness. Casting with your line wrapped around the rod tip is annoying and a waste of sinkers with lighter lines. However when you have a 24 kg shock leader and heavy trace it is more a case of the angler getting flung around at the end of the rod!
After casting, I placed my rod back in the beach spike. There was enough ambient light to do so without the aid of a torch. It is better to use your torch as little as possible so your eyes adjust to the gloom.
I took up the slackline on my Alvey 600 and placed my thumb around the rod with my forefinger over the line. This lets me feel any bites on the tensioned line. I knew that staring up into the inky darkness at my rod tip would be pointless.
I soon felt a few good tugs on the line so lifted it from the rod stand down into my Alvey rod pouch I wear around my waist. I had the reel drag quite tight when suddenly my rod tip bend hard over and I was being pulled forcefully towards the sea. I had to loosen off the drag a touch to ease the pressure. “Fish on,” I yelled to my mates!
After some ten minutes of pulling back and forth, I had a big sevengill shark on the beach. It was a good thing I remembered the long gaff. With the odd big wave rolling up the beach we didn’t want to be messing around at the water’s edge longer than we had to!
The big shark was about six feet in length. I knew from past experience that it would be good eating so decided to keep it straight away. If it had been a couple of feet longer I would have released it as the bigger ones are tough and poor eating.
After dispatching it we hauled it up the beach and did our best to take some good photographs in the dark drizzly weather that seemed to have set in for the night.
Soon after the excitement died down we remembered the barbeque. Fortunately, my daughter had remembered to switch it off when I hooked the big fish so it wouldn’t burn our meat. No problem we thought; we’ll fire it up again. We had to shine our torches around in the darkness looking for it as it was one of those small black models with the disposable gas cylinders that we had set up on the ground. Trudging over across the stones I realised our dog was lying right next to it and was licking the skillet! That dog isn’t dumb. With our attention diverted elsewhere, it had seized the opportunity like a thief in the night and eaten the lot. That’s one of the great things about surfcasting. No two trips to the beach are ever alike!