The Promised Land
No place offers better shark fishing than Hatteras Island, North Carolina. After hearing stories of free-jumping makos, I joined Capt. Kenny Koci for a day of shark fishing this past spring.
We meet at the dock before dawn, and an hour later we are on the edge of the Gulf Stream. But instead of stopping the boat and deploying a chum bucket and bloody chunks of bait, Koci slows to 6 knots and brings out a spread of 50s spooled with 150-pound braid and a 300-yard topshot of 50-pound mono.
While we are setting the spread, I spot a six-foot mako free-jumping off the bow. “I guess we’re in the right place,” Koci observes.
Koci says that tuna, albacore and especially bluefish in the area are a good sign that makos are around too.
We don’t troll far before we get the best sign of all: The rod pulling the right flat line bucks hard and slams down. “That’s how you hook one!” Koci says.
While the angler works his fish to the boat, he explains that makos will often short-strike a plug. If a mako hits and misses one of the Ilanders or SeaWitches, Koci drops the bait back and waits for the shark to return. Cranking and pausing will encourage the fish to attack again. “You gotta work it like a blue marlin,” he says. “They’ll almost always come back to finish it off.”
As the day progresses, we have jumping sharks, running sharks, charging sharks and streaking sharks. Koci’s crew is ecstatic, and by the end of the day, they are exhausted.
On the way in, Koci details the sharkin’ off Hatteras. “The fish show up in December, when the water starts to get cold and the bluefish move offshore,” he says. The peak of the season is March to April. He looks for a temperature break where 66-degree water crosses structure. “The fish could be in 20 fathoms or 500 fathoms,” he says, “and 66 degrees is the magic temperature.”
While trolling is a great way to catch makos during the day, Koci says the bite really fires up at night. “We’ve had nights where we’ve caught 20 makos,” he recalls. Using spread similar to the one Hiles uses off Virginia Beach, Koci drifts the 66-degree break. “The best nights find the current bucking the wind,” he says, which slows his drift and spreads out the chum slick.
Listening to Koci’s stories of epic action convinces me: There are more opportunities to explore along the mid-Atlantic, and a lot more sharks to catch.