Blue Desert: Kayak Mako Sharks

Posted by Spencer Wonder on

              Southern California is known as a nursery for all sorts of pelagic sharks, from Threshers and Makos to Great Whites and Hammerheads. While this means that the opportunities for landbased fishing this fantastic coastline abound, there is another species that migrates to our shores each summer…Humans. This great migration of sunbathing mammals, while great for the tourism industry, can put a real damper the LBSF real estate available!

              Fortunately, during the late Spring and Summer the juvenile and sub-adult Mako sharks start to come within small boat and, more importantly, kayak range! For the angler willing and prepared to do battle offshore, there are plenty of sharks to be had out beyond the breakers!


              The average West Coast kayak angler is probably already set up for this fishery, as no heavy tackle is required. While the sharks may reach sizes upwards of 200lbs (and potentially larger if the angler feels up for the challenge!) 50lb line is more than adequate for targeting these fish from a kayak as the angler will find applying more than a dozen or so pounds of drag nearly impossible depending on the particular fishing platform. We recommend midsized lever drag reels backed with a quality braid ( and topped off with a short fluorocarbon ( top shot of 6’ or so. The idea is to have approximately 300yds of line available to play the fish. These sharks can and will go aerial and pull quite a bit of drag! As mentioned previously, 50lb line is more than adequate.



              As far as rigs go, there are really two ways to target these pelagic missles: Trolling and Chumming. Both are effective and often times the same trip will employ both methods of fishing to ensure the best chance at a connection!

              For trolling one can use either natural or artificial baits, and we usually troll both simultaneously. Our favorite way to present natural baits are either as a strip bait or whole smaller finbait, either mackerel or bonito depending on what’s available. Fresher is always better, live is a bonus! To ensure the bait stays running straight and deep behind the boat an inline planer is used, there are plenty on the market but we prefer one with a more streamlined profile as you are paddling the boat after all! The leader from the planer to the hook should be about 12’. Cable is preferable to single strand for Makos as they have a tendency to jump and spin and single strand may kink off at some point during the fight. We tend to employ a double hook rig using two circle hooks or one circle hook and a double hook in the 10/0 size positioned at the front and rear of the bait. This ensures the best chance at a hook up as these sharks tend to swipe at baits and “bounce off” a few times before getting hooked properly!

              Artificial trollers are equally effective with a few considerations given. The first is to match the lures size to the size of the quarry, generally that means an 8-10” lure is appropriate given the average size of the sharks found within kayak range. We are biased toward billed, crankbait style lures for kayak mako fishing over the heavy weighted skirt-style lures that are popular for thresher shark fishing and boat fishing. The billed lures just seem to lend themselves better to kayak trolling speeds and are lighter and easier to transport. Color doesn’t seem to matter much, with natural patterns scoring marginally better on sunny days and vibrant “hot” colors doing well on cloudy/rainy days. It is important to chose a “through-wired” lure as we are shark fishing after all and nobody wants to reel in half a trolling lure! No matter what lure you settle on remember to attach it to a 6-10’ length of cable leader to ensure the shark stays buttoned!

              When trolling we often run the natural baited rod far behind the boat to enable the planer to work properly, roughly 100’ or slightly more behind the boat is a good start. The artificial troller should be set to roughly half that distance. Set the trolling rods drag to just enough to stop line from leaving the reel while paddling. Set the clicker and aim for 2-3mph trolling speed. When the strike comes make a couple extra paddle strokes before stopping to ensure the hook found home! If the shark misses the hook or comes unbuttoned just get right back to trolling, they often return to finish the job!

              Chumming is just as effective as trolling, and a good way to recuperate after a long paddle dragging lures! Anything can work for chum, homemade mackerel/baitfish based chums and store bought commercial chums are equally effective. If the angler has access to sportfish frames a bundle of frames hung off of the boat can work as well. As a general rule more is better, and the more chum in the slick the better. Smaller particles/oil is better than chunks, the goal is to drive the sharks in, not feed them, that’s what the hook-bait is for!

              No matter what your choice of chum is, it should be fished the same way, set out on a drift with the baits positioned “down-drift” and in the slick. Rigging is simple, and we follow the same basic strategy each trip: one bait up, and one bait down. The surface or “up” bait utilizes a balloon or float tied to the top of the leader, with the rig hanging below, this rig is generally simple, a single 10/0 circle hook on a 12’ cable leader is good enough. The “down” rig can be a bit trickier, but the best way weve found so far is to make a 12’ cable leader with a 3oz sliding egg crimped in place a few inches above the 10/0 circle hook. This bait can be dropped anywhere from 30-100 feet below the kayak. Bait the rigs with half mackerel, chunks of bonito, belly strips, whatever is on hand. Fish the reels in gear, with just enough drag to keep the clicker from slipping and when the strike comes give the fish a while to eat, they can be surprisingly gentle on the take!

Where to Look?

              While Makos can come all way to the shoreline, most of them will be found a reasonable distance offshore. There are no hard and fast rules as for where to look, but there are some good indicators such as bird activity, dramatic changes in temperature, color changes (plankton load), or even troll strikes! For the most part we like to set the trolling lures out once we get into good looking water and head offshore. Usually something will get our attention, either baitfish on the fishfinder, kelp patties, a fin on the horizon, or a dramatic weed line or temperature break. That is where we will start our chum drift. If nothing is going on offshore, sometimes it is worth it to back track towards home and set up a slick where the water changes clarity/color. Always remember to troll back up your chum slick at the end of the session, oftentimes this is a very productive way to end a trip!

Landing Sharks and Safety:

              This needs to be said: shark fishing in a kayak is extremely dangerous. Caution should be used at all times. Never attempt offshore kayak fishing alone, and certainly not a style of fishing that involves attracting sharks to a plastic boat, hours away from assistance. Never exceed your own paddling ability and be sure to have a VHF and GPS on hand. Conditions can change in an instant and things go wrong fast in a kayak.

Remember to check your ego at the door. While most makos hooked this way are small (under 8’) there is a chance of encountering a true monster fish. Know your limits and the limits of your craft and do not attempt to land anything you cannot handle. A 500lb+ mako is a challenge to subdue in a large boat, let alone a kayak! No fish is worth dying over.

Again, most of the sharks hooked this way will be smaller fish, under 100lbs and readily manageable and releasable and should be treated as such. However, it is perfectly acceptable to harvest the occasional fish for the table so long as precautions are taken to safely land the fish. Remember to respect the fishery and release the majority of your catch so that others can enjoy this sport for years to come!

Hopefully the information in this article covers the basics of what is needed to start taking part in this unique west coast shark fishing experience. Don't forget to check out our own website, for more information and products dedicated to this interesting and innovative fishery!