Chasing Laser Beams: Kayak Thresher Sharks

Posted by Spencer Wonder on

Kayak Threshers:

              Southern California is known as a nursery for all sorts of pelagic sharks and one of those seasonal (less so these days) species that visits are the Thresher Sharks! These nearshore pelagics are unique in that they tend to favor relatively shallow coastal water, putting them not only in reach of landbased anglers, but also making them a favorite and popular target for kayak fishermen as well.

During the late Spring and Summer and continuing well into the Fall and early Winter months the juvenile and sub-adult Thresher sharks start to come within small boat and, more importantly, kayak range and for angler willing and prepared to do put in the work tracking these highly mobile and unconventional sharks, there is a real opportunity for some big game action from a plastic boat!


              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 purple laser beams: Trolling and Drifting. Both methods work, but trolling is definitely the favorable methodology for larger fish or when searching for a bite in a new location. Once the fish are located, drifting can be a lethal way to keep the action going!

              For trolling one can use either natural or artificial baits, and we usually troll both simultaneously. Our favorite way to present natural baits for threshers are as a whole smaller finbait, either mackerel or bonito depending on what’s available. Fresher is always better, live is a bonus but on the whole unnecessary and usually an added variable and potential for tangle that we simply chose to avoid! To ensure the bait stays running straight and deep behind the boat an inline planer or heavy inline lead of around 5 ounces can be used. The leader from the planer to the hook should be about 12’. Cable is preferable to mono, and quite frankly fishing a mono in a shark fishing situation is asking for heart break. These are sharks after all, they have significant teeth once they reach around 8’ and as they have a tendency to jump and spin, fish hooked on monofilament are usually lost before they are brought boatside. We tend to employ a single hook rig using a relatively large circle hook around 8/0 in size.  The wide gap on the large hook enables a deeper hook hold, usually around the thin jaw bone and revents hook pulls as well as foul hooking which usually limits the mortality rate and ensures the best chance at clean release if desired.

              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 shark fishing over the heavy weighted skirt-style lures that are popular for boat based thresher shark 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 or lead 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 thresher fishing the second the strike is detected stop paddling. If the fish continues to run, you’ve likely hooked it and its game on. However, if the fish isn’t connected yet, give it a minute to wait and see if the fish comes back, they have a tendency to slap the bait prior to taking it orally and a pause can trigger a satisfyingly violent return strike! 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 about a lost cause / waste of time in thresher shark fishing. These are not Makos, they feed mostly on smaller baitfish schools and tend to avoid larger more conventional “shark” baits.

Where to Look?

              While Thresher Sharks can come all way to the surf, most of them will be found in depths from 30’-200’. 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 along a chosen depth line, our favorite depth being between 50-80’. Usually something will get our attention, either baitfish on the fishfinder a tail on the horizon, or a dramatic weed line or temperature break. If we get a few solid hits or find a significant bait ball or school, we will begin our drift there. We don’t give the bait long to work, if over an hour or so there is no activity, we move on and resume our troll. Always remember to home at a slightly different depth, if they weren’t in 50’, try 100’.

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 threshers 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 300lb+ thresher shark can be a dangerous animal to subdue for everyone involved.

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!