The Thrill of Catch and Release – What is a Tope?
Boaters and fishermen that try their line around the coast of the British Isles and Ireland are long familiar with Tope. They often see these slender shadows, that are predatory sharks, swimming in sandy areas. Often hunting in very shallow water. Tope populations have dwindled, and are listed as an endangered species. Still, Tope (especially the feisty males) are known as fantastic fighting fish. Sport fishermen in the UK and Ireland aptly target these sharks for the battle, practicing catch and release. So what is a Tope looking for to eat, and how do these English and Irish anglers catch them? Keep your eyes peeled as we answer these questions, and more!
Life, Characteristics, and Typical Food Source of the Tope
Tope are a fascinating species of shark that are not only found along the coast lines of Ireland, and the British Isles. Also know as soup fin shark, school shark, or snapper shark, they can found in every temperate ocean zone around the world. They have unfortunately been hunted to the point of extinction because of the value of their fins, and have reached the global endangered species list. But, Tope are still considered a prize fighting fish by anglers everywhere.
Tope belong to the family of shark known as Triakidae. They have a sleek, slender shape with a long snout leading to sharp teeth. Although Tope are often found in shallower water, they are not bound to it. They can travel to depths of over 2,500 feet, and have been known to grow as long as 6 and ½ feet. The female fish are always the larger ones, but the smaller males are known to be much more aggressive when hooked.
The main food source for Tope is other fish. When it comes down to it, they aren't very picky about what kind. Any school of small cod, sardine, anchovy, smelt, or you name it will do for Tope feeding. Tope are even more than willing to search the bottom for mollusks, crabs, flounder, and rock fish. Fishermen tend to use freshly killed mackerel, sardine, or eel when going for Tope.
Using the Proper Gear to Catch and Release Tope
Because Tope, or school shark are an endangered species (officially listed as Vulnerable), catch and release is the name of the game when fishing for them. Tope don't recover well from long, drawn out fights. Hooking and landing them on lighter gear that forces a long fight will often kill school shark, so using a heavier setup with a wire leader is highly suggested. Again, the best bait of choice would be a medium to large size mackerel, either whole or cut in half. Drift it out and away from the boat by wind and current, and wait for the shark to take it a ways before setting the hook.
Suggested hook size is a pretty large 8/0 to 10/0. The fresher and bloodier the bait the better when it comes to shark fishing. Tope will also inhabit waters that are full of other shark species, so be prepared for plenty of what I call “incidental” catches. You were fishing for Tope, but incidentally caught a 5 foot Mako shark instead. You see what I mean.
Here are the pointers to remember when Tope Fishing:
- Use Heavy Gear: This means you'll want a short, stiff rod. The heavy tuna sticks built with the roller guide on the tip work perfect. You'll also want a heavier reel capable of holding 60-100 pound mono test. Braided line is also effective for shark fishing.
- Use a Steel Wire Leader: No mono, flouro, or braided line will withstand the sharp teeth of Tope or other kinds of Shark. Using a steel wire leader is imperative, and even then the thinner wire will often break.
- Use a Large 8 -10/0 Hook: Many times the wire leader and hook are sold as a shark setup. These are what we use on the boat for shark trips. The hook is already tied to the steel wire, and all you have to do is attach the leader to the main line.
Fighting Tope to the Boat - Proper and Safe Release
Because Tope are a protected species and must be released, there are a few other steps that should be taken to ensure their safe return to the ocean. First, bronze hooks will dissolve and fall out of a Tope's mouth faster than other hooks if it must be left behind. They should always be used fishing for Tope. Also go either barb-less, or pinch the barb down with pliers to facilitate ease of hook removal. Next, consider using circle hooks that tend to bury in the lip instead of further into the mouth of the fish.
Fighting a good size Tope will be an absolute blast, and a memory of a lifetime. Even with the heavier gear, these fish will work you. They will pull line. Often several times. It might seem easy to bring them in at other times, until they see the boat. Then they're gone, pulling out most of your line. It'll be a battle, and you'll want to have a fighting belt ready. Learn to use the leverage of the rod as it's meant to be applied to large fish. The butt goes in the belt loop, and your hand goes high up on the rod handle. This way you can lean back, and put the force of your entire body weight to work against the Tope.
When you have brought the shark alongside the boat, and the time to remove the hook is at hand, there are several safety concerns that should always be anticipated. You might want to have some chain mesh gloves. If the hook is buried deep in the shark's mouth you'll want to have wire cutters to clip the leader. Using a T bar can remove a hook safely from a distance. If you want pictures have your camera ready. What ever it is that you are going to need, have it ready! Remember that you need to get the fish free, and back in the ocean as quickly as possible. It is also possible that the fish still has some fight left when you go to remove the hook. The chain gloves could save your hand. If this happens let the fish go, and get out of the way. Be ready for such an occurrence, and don't let it take you by surprise if it happens. Enjoy your time while out on the ocean. Mention your knowledge of Tope fishing and you'll surely get someone to ask, “What is a Tope?”