We are trolling big swimming plugs for bluefish 15 miles off Virginia Beach when one of the rods suddenly bucks in the rod holder. “Holy smokes, that’s a big bluefish!” I say to my fishing buddies. Then, a giant thresher shark explodes out of the water 100 feet behind the boat, beginning an hour-long battle that ended with a 200-pound fish boat-side.
That shark reignites my enthusiasm for these great fish.
Monsters on the Beach
When I was a kid, my dad and I caught big makos that exploded in aerobatic displays of gnashing teeth and thrashing tails. But through the years, shark populations have declined, and my passion for shark fishing had gone dormant until that thresher shark interrupted our bluefish trip.
That day, we released another big thresher and broke off a third fish, trolling Stretch 50s and Rapala Magnums on 30-pound tackle.
As shark populations have rebounded, there’s no better hunting grounds than mid-Atlantic waters.
With my interest piqued, I contact Capt. Jake Hiles, a VB local who specializes in shark fishing. “There are more sharks out there than most people realize,” he says.
Hiles says that blacktip sharks show up inside 20 fathoms in April and stick around through October. Threshers pick up in fall and hang around through spring, while big makos lurk east of the 50-fathom line in spring and fall.
To find the fish, Hiles first finds the bait. “For blacktip, sandbar and dusky inside 20 fathoms, we look for big schools of menhaden and set up shop,” he says. The threshers show up, along with big bluefish, on inshore humps around Chesapeake Light Tower and Tower Reef. Mako sharks follow albacore along the 50-fathom plateau in spring and fall.