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Tope handling

This code is approved by NFSA, SACN, SFSA, Shark Trust and the UK shark tagging programme.


Code of best practice

Whilst tope may look big, tough creatures they are actually quite delicate, especially when out of the water. This code has been written so that you can enjoy tope angling but, most importantly, cause the least damage possible to any tope you are lucky enough to encounter. Remember: a gut-hooked fish is usually down to bad angling practice and should be avoided by striking early. Releasing a tope at the side of the boat is the preferred method.

Be Prepared

It is essential that you are prepared for any eventuality when bringing a tope to the boat. It sounds obvious, but the time taken to find tools buried in lockers or under a pile of clothing means the tope is under stress for longer than necessary. This means having T-bars, pliers, wire-cutters, tagging kits, weighing slings (if applicable), cameras, etc. at hand. Each person on-board must know what is expected of them. Time is the vital factor that may determine whether the fish will survive capture and subsequent release.

Hook size

The use of bronze finished hooks is the singularly most important factor in the release of hooked sharks, as any hook that has to be left in a fish will dissolve rapidly. Mustad Codes 3406, and 79514BR or VMC 9255BZ hooks are highly recommended as they are proven to dissolve from the mouth position within 5 days. Size 6/0 is recommended, either barbless or with the barb crushed. Lip-hooking significantly reduces the likelihood of a hook being left in the fish so the use of circle hooks should also be considered.


Tope are a large, strong fish with sharp teeth and rough skin. Losing a fish because of an inappropriate trace increases the likelihood of fish mortality due to trailing line. The trace should be at least 2 metres long so that the tope’s tail cannot hit your main line. The preferred traces are 25cm of 150lb wire to a swivel and 175cm of 100-150lb mono/braid or 2 metres of 250lb mono straight through.

Beware, though: all wire traces are dangerous as they can cut the hands of the lead man when holding the trace with a thrashing tope on it.

When to strike

The old books used to advise striking at the start of the second run but this will usually lead to a deep-hooked fish. Once the tope has started the familiar screaming run, count to six on a big bait (full mackerel) or three on a small bait (fillet size) and wind down firmly into fish. It is imperative you wind quickly at first to get rid of the bow before lifting the rod to set the hook. A gut-hooked fish is usually a result of bad angling practice.

Releasing at the side of the boat (the preferred method)

Although tope are not man-eaters, they can inflict serious injury if not handled correctly. The recommended option is to release the fish at the side of the boat with a long-handled T-bar. This is better for the fish and easier and safer for the angler. Insert the slit on the bar round the bend of the hook with one hand and pull the line down with the other. Use the weight of the fish to pull out the hook. A barbless hook or crushed barb makes this task simpler.

To leave the hook in or not?

There are occasions (although this is often down to inexperience or bad angling practice) when the tope swallows everything and the hook is out of sight or in the protruding stomach. The best option for the welfare of the fish is to cut the line as close to the hook as possible. The tope will lose the hook eventually (more quickly if not using stainless steel hooks). If you can see the hook in the wall of the mouth, then it may be necessary to bring the fish into the boat.

Bringing the fish on-board

If a fish cannot be released satisfactorily without bringing it on-board, then the following should be borne in mind. Sharks are cartilaginous and their soft organs lack the support of a mammalian-type rib cage structure. To minimise the risk of lethal damage please observe the following:

– It is essential you try and bring the fish in horizontally, with arms supporting the soft abdomen area if possible. For vessels with high gunwales, firmly hold the dorsal fin and tail and lift the fish horizontally. Alternatively, a pectoral fin may be used. However, where possible, the abdomen should be supported to the highest degree possible.

– Dragging a fish backwards over the gunwales is likely to cause lethal damage to the fish.

– It is important, at this stage, that everyone on-board knows their job. If you have spare men on-board then ask them to stand clear. Once the lead man has firmly grasped the trace, the drag on the reel should be reduced to allow the lead man to gain line if he requires it, or to allow the fish to move if the lead man releases or fails to grasp the leader and the fish still has a head of steam. When the tope is brought aboard and placed on the deck, the lead man should then squat around the fish applying enough pressure to restrain it. A wet cloth or towel soaked in seawater should be placed over the fish’s head ensuring the eyes are fully covered. This action usually pacifies the tope and makes the removal of the hook with a disgorger or long-nosed pliers easier and safer. Remember, a loose tope on the deck can cause much damage to itself and to people on-board.

– Where an angler is fishing alone it is recommended that all fish are released at the side of the boat, either by using a T-bar or cutting the line close to the fish.

– If the tope is to be weighed, the preferred method is by the use of a weighing sling. The tope should be laid on the sling (laid out on the deck in preparation) the moment it is brought aboard, ensuring that unsupported movement within the boat is restricted. Make sure the fish is placed evenly within the sling before lifting. For photographing and returning the fish, remember to keep the tope horizontal, with the ribcage supported by the arms.

– When releasing the tope, hold it in the water for a short period to allow oxygen back into its gills. When the fish kicks, that is a good indication that it has recovered enough to be released.

– Under no circumstances is the use of a gaff or a lasso-type tailer recommended. They are unnecessary and both will seriously damage the tope.


The best practice for angler and tope is to remove the hook at the side of the boat. If you have to land the fish, then the safety of the angler and fish are paramount. Care must be taken at all times. A tope’s teeth are as sharp as razor blades and can easily bite a finger to the bone. Enjoy the fishing but please remember – respect must be given to these magnificent sharks at all times.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

21 April 1926 to 8 September 2022