When the iconic Shakespeare Ugly Stik brand of boat rods first appeared in 1976 it was described as “maybe the most remarkable product of the last two decades”. Nearly 40 years later the trademark clear-tip Ugly Stik remains one of the most popular and recognised brands in the fishing tackle industry. To celebrate the brand’s success, plus its longevity in the marketplace, Shakespeare took a set of Ugly Stik GX2 rods on a nationwide tour. The challenge was to put the rods into varied situations to demonstrate their versatility and toughness. It included a trip to Devon, targeting blue sharks aboard Sea Angler 2 with skipper Malc Jones, out of Plymouth. On a bright morning with broken cloud and a steady south-westerly breeze, I boarded the charter boat in my role as Shakespeare category manager, along with the company’s product design consultant and Sea Angler contributor Mike Thrussell, and Tony Eaves, one of our sponsored coarse anglers. Punching out west of the famous Eddystone lighthouse, several stops to try for mackerel had yielded less than a dozen. This was critical, for lots of minced up mackerel, bran and fishy oil are essential to hang over the side of the boat and drip scent and particles into the water to attract the hungry sharks. WISE CHOICE After some thought, Malc decided to risk it and headed out 20-plus miles in the hope the mackerel were more readily available in the deeper water. A wise choice! Once on station, Tony and I feathered for mackerel and immediately started picking up one or two. Malc readied the rubby-dubby, and once this was placed into mesh bags and was dipping methodically in the sea as the boat rolled in the swell, the mackerel came more steadily. Mike was setting up three Ugly Stik 12/20lb-class rods, each equipped with a 15ft, 200lb wire trace ending in a size 8/0 hook. Each bait would be suspended under a slightly inflated party balloon attached to a short section of telephone wire, ending in a small swivel. The swivel slides on the mainline above a wire trace and is locked in position with a sliding stop knot on the mainline. This set-up allowed him to adjust the depth the baits were fished at if conditions dictated a change. Chosen bait was a mackerel, with the tail cut off. Mike then stitched the hook in and out of the fish working down from the tail, bringing the hookpoint out just behind its head. To add movement to the bait, and give the illusion of life, he added a single fillet of mackerel by the tail end to the hookpoint. As the balloon moves up and down in the sea swell, so the mackerel fillet flaps about. Mike allowed for the speed of the drift, as the boat was being whipped along by a stiff breeze. The rubby-dubby trail, he anticipated, would be close to the surface within each balloon’s visual reach of the boat. He set the first balloon at about 60ft and 100yd from the boat. The second rod was positioned 60yd out and 40ft deep, the third within 30yd and 25ft down.
The scent trail is much like the shape of a torch beam travelling out from the boat, and getting deeper. By staggering the depth of the baits, it puts the baits in the scent trail. The idea is that the sharks follow this trail and come across the baits. Numbers of blue shark at the time were not great in the area, but about two hours after setting the balloons, Mike noticed a slight shudder on the middle one. Slowly, line began clicking off the reel. This was not a confident take, so Mike held the rod and fed line off the spool for a few seconds to gauge what was happening before letting the rod pull over to the weight of the shark. It was there briefly, but spat out the bait. The bait came back with little in the way of teeth marks on it. Maybe this initial enquiry was a small, or very suspicious fish. HEAVY FISH Within 15 minutes the furthest balloon set at 60ft shot across the surface, paused, then drifted under as a confident shark took the bait. After the fish swam off a few yards, Mike let the rod bend into it to set the hook, and line suddenly sang from the reel.
This was a heavy fish. It swam off strongly just under the surface, and then dived down deep, consistently taking line, before hanging in the water. Mike maintained steady pressure and gained a few inches of line when he could. Twice the shark was within 40ft of the surface, but surged down again. The third time the lads saw it…and it was a good fish. The shark cruised 20ft down, but in clear view. Taking his time, Mike got the upper hand. Skipper Malc used an open sling that the shark was led towards, which made lifting and unhooking easier. The shark, now nose out of the water on the surface, was moved carefully by Mike into the sling and lifted aboard. Quickly measured prior to safe release, a length and girth calculation gave a weight in the region of 90lb. It was caught on the Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 12/20 rod with 20lb mono line. This proved to be the only shark of the day, but it was