SICK!

Shark fishing is exciting… Catching one off the beach is downright SICK!

Capt. Steve Dougherty January 25, 2011

Unfortunately, shark fishing is one of the least appreciated and least respected of all forms of fishing—especially when you’re battling bloodthirsty man-eaters from the safety of a sandy shoreline. OK, so the truth of the matter is that sharks aren’t patrolling our favorite beaches waiting for the prime opportunity to attack unsuspecting beachgoers. Although extremely rare, when an incident does occur it is simply a case of mistaken identity. However, let’s face the facts. There are a lot more sharks cruising our beaches than most people care to know. Aerial footage of massive schools swimming within a stone’s throw of the sand have been used by various media outlets to instill fear in those who frequent the beach, but don’t be alarmed. We’re fortunate these magnificent predators frolic only feet from shore because on a global scale, sharks are in serious trouble. Most recreational anglers understand these magnificent predators deserve respect and are worth much more alive than dead. Your job is to make sure this view is instilled into future generations.

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Fortunate for anglers, sharks do indeed swim the beaches of Florida every month of the year, but you can greatly increase your odds of an encounter by carefully studying the migration patterns of their favorite forage. Before we get ahead of ourselves we must first talk about some legalities. Florida features more than 1,200-miles of coastline, however, don’t be under the assumption that every beach is shark-fishing-friendly or conducive to big game success. Many public beaches don’t allow fishing of any kind and there are many others that don’t offer legal or adequate parking. Yet another obstacle we must overcome is that towns are introducing ordinances banning shark fishing as local residents think anglers are attracting sharks to the shoreline. The truth of the matter is that the sharks are already here and adventurous anglers are just capitalizing on the opportunity. In my experiences, I’ve found that it’s best to find an isolated beach with legal parking that’s in the vicinity of an inlet, jetty or pier. I know this is a tall task, but possible. Sharks have a propensity to roam closer to shore in certain areas, which explains why you will find a tendency for some beaches to be sharkier than others. If you hear any news reports of a particular beach closed to swimmers because of shark sightings, then this stretch of coastline is a great place to start your search.

Sharks are on the top of the food chain for a reason. They are powerful, intelligent, opportunistic and some of the strongest adversaries you will ever encounter.

To the delight of South Florida anglers the most incredible action occurs from November through April when spinner sharks inundate area waters. Whether they’re here performing mating duties, shadowing forage fish, or simply enjoying the warm weather is somewhat of a mystery. Despite the tendency for these great gamesters to leave the area after spring break, shore-bound shark fishing can indeed be productive year-round. While spinner sharks are aptly named for their incredible acrobatic gyrations, blacktips will also be in the mix and are equally inclined to take to the sky when hunting or hooked. Completing lengthwise spins, their super fast revolutions will wreak havoc on your tackle. Combine dizzying leaps, rough skin and sharp teeth, and you have a predator that will put your angling prowess and the toughest tackle to the ultimate test. Sharks are on the top of the food chain for a reason. They are powerful, intelligent, opportunistic and some of the strongest adversaries you will ever encounter.

When it comes to tackle for taking spinner sharks from the suds you have a few options, but it will serve you well to select outfits that make for a fair fight. This is no place for heavy-duty 16/0 Senators loaded with 200lb. Dacron. During the East Coast’s winter and spring run, sharks in the 50 to 100-pound range will be your most likely adversaries. Drag strength and line capacity are the two most critical components to a well-rounded outfit. The first weapon you should have in your arsenal is a heavy-duty spinning outfit. I suggest Fin-Nor’s Offshore 9500, as it holds and incredible 500-yards of 30lb. mono. Matched with a 7-foot medium-heavy action rod, this outfit is well suited to subdue even the feistiest blacktip or spinner. The next step up from a spinning rod is a conventional outfit with a reel like a TLD 30. Matched with a 7-foot rod, this will give you a bit more drag capacity. I prefer not to use anything heavier because I know mid-size sharks are generally of the order.

Being equipped with adequate terminal tackle is the next step to success. Skyward spinners will ravish your terminal gear in no time. Expect kinked wire and chaffed leaders after each and every battle. Instead of typical J-hooks, rig with wide gap circle-hooks. Personally, I’ve had excellent success with 7/0 Daiichi Bleeding Bait hooks. The beauty of spinner shark fishing is that you don’t need an intricate leader system. It’s best to keep it simple. I’ll start with an 8-foot section of 80lb. leader. From here I attach a 6-foot section of wire with the use of a barrel swivel. I generally start with #7 wire and bump it up if I find myself losing fish.

Part of the joy of fishing during the epic spinner shark migration is the unrivaled surface activity. Around the state many shark-fishing enthusiasts utilize kayaks to deploy weighted baits into prime position. While this is indeed a highly effective approach, I like to do things a bit different. By presenting my offerings on the surface, it’s easy to tell when a spinner comes in to investigate. Huge boils, tail smacks and aerial pursuits are sure to follow. Along the East Coast ideal conditions occur when offshore winds prevail. When this is the case, I simply suspend offerings under balloons and float them beyond the first sandbar. For adventurous anglers willing to think outside the box, flying a kite off the beach is a sure-fire way to entice incredible surface activity.

When it comes to bait selection you should know that sharks aren’t picky eaters. While it will serve you well to select an oily and bloody offering, nearly anything fresh will do the trick. When available, bonito and kingfish are the best, but ladyfish, mullet, goggle eye, Spanish mackerel and bluefish work equally as well.

Unlike typical beach-shark endeavors where the most action occurs after sunset, spinners are aggressive when the sun is high in the sky. When the moment of anticipation comes to fruition, you’ll want to let the shark take the bait before you engage the reel. With the use of circle-hooks you’ll have to resist heaving back and driving the hook home. Simply start reeling until you feel the weight of the shark. The following moments will be highlighted by aggressive aerials and drag-screaming runs. Once the shark is near the beach you want to get it as close to the sand as possible and slip a tail rope around the base of its tail. Beach shark fishing has numerous safety issues and it’s critical you use extreme caution. This fishery is no joke and no place for egotistical novices or unattended minors. Once you pull your trophy onto the beach a long handled dehooker or pair of wire cutters will handle the necessary task of hook removal or wire cutting. Play it safe here without risking your own safety. Worse case scenario is the hook will rust away in a matter of days.

It’s critical you practice catch-and-release and quickly slip your opponent back into the water. Sharks play an essential role in the marine ecosystem and when you remove an apex predator, it can throw the entire food chain off balance. Treat these amazing animals with respect and you will be rewarded with a great experience and spectacular aerials that can only be rivaled by tailwalking billfish.

Tag & Release

Around the world, sharks are a species of concern. They have ruled the oceans since prehistoric times, but their longstanding reign as apex predators may very well soon be over if indiscriminate commercial finning practices aren’t eliminated. Overfishing has decimated shark populations around the globe and numerous studies have documented huge declines. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Cooperative Shark Tagging Program (CSTP) is part of a continuing research project directed toward the study of the biology of sharks that call the Atlantic Ocean home. Data from tagging efforts provides valuable information on migration and the extent of fish movements. The need for international cooperation in such work is underscored by the fact that many shark species have wide ranging distributions, frequently traverse national boundaries, and are exploited by multinational fisheries. The CSTP is also an important means to increase our biological understanding of sharks and to obtain information for rational resource management. The tagging of sharks provides information on stock identity, movements and migration, abundance, age and growth, mortality, and behavior. To join the tagging efforts, visit na.nefsc.noaa.gov/sharks.

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