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The basics of land-based shark fishing

Fishing for sharks can be an incredible adrenaline rush.

Very few sportfish can match the brute strength of a shark and nothing can make you appreciate the grace and beauty of these magnificent creatures like going toe-to-fin with a fish that can easily dwarf the person on the other end of the line. The battle can become even more epic when it is done along the barrier between the two combatants’ worlds like it is on the shoreline.

Land-based shark fishing isn’t as easy as dropping a worm into your neighborhood retention pond though. It is a sport that requires special gear and equipment. It requires a great deal of physical strength and a force of will.

More importantly, it takes knowledge and a great deal of respect for the animal that you are going against. To catch sharks responsibly, you must first love them. That ensures that the shark’s well-being is always at the forefront.

It should be noted that shark anglers tend to be the most ardent supporters of shark conservation efforts. The vast majority of them practice strictly catch-and-release tactics and many regular shark anglers are part of tracking and research programs such as NOAA’s Apex Predator Tagging Program.

For those interested in getting involved with the extreme sport of land-based shark fishing, here is a primer on what you should know. This is by no means a definitive education and it is suggested you accompany someone who is experienced with fishing and handling sharks before you attempt it on your own.

This will, however, give you some basic ground rules to follow to ensure both yours and the sharks’ safety and well-being before, during and after you hook into one.

Choose the right gear: Since sharks may come in all sizes, it is important to be ready for any situation. You will want to have the right gear for the job whether the fish that takes your bait is a 10-foot tiger or a 2-foot bonnethead.

When choosing the proper rod consider how you will be deploying your baits. If casting directly from the shore, a longer rod will help you get a whiplash effect when tossing out your bait. A shorter, stouter rod works better when using a kayak or paddle board since it will ultimately give you more control over a hooked fish and reduce the overall fight times.

The reel should be big enough to accommodate enough line to allow the shark to make its initial runs which can easily spool off 300 yards or more. Most shark fishermen prefer a Penn Senator or similar open- face reel but a spinning reel capable of supporting up to 80-pound test tackle will work as well, especially when casting directly from shore.

The 50- to 80-pound braid is an ideal all-purpose line that can handle large fish while giving you flexibility and control for more likely-sized catches. At the end of the line you should always include a three to four foot leader made out of metal wire to avoid having the shark’s teeth cut you off.

While you might be tempted to use a 20/0 size hook or larger, chances are it is going to be overkill and might actually keep you from catching most of the sharks that are around. A 10/0 to 12/0 is a good all-purpose sized hook that will be suitable for a wide range of sizes.

Always use inline and preferably barbless circle hooks. Unlike traditional “J” hooks, which increases the chance of foul hooking deeper inside the mouth or throat which can damage organs like the gills, circle hooks, by design, will embed in the corner of the fish’s mouth, making them easier to remove.

Other important gear that you will need include a rod holder that can be inserted into the sand, a pair of fish handling gloves (especially when handling braided line and wire leaders), a sharp knife for bait and a dehooking device. A good beach chair and a cooler are also necessities since there will likely be a lot of downtime while you wait.

Now that you are properly geared up you will need to find a good spot to set up at. Here are some things to keep in mind when searching for the perfect sharking spot:

Know the rules: Many beaches have special rules when it comes to fishing in general and shark fishing in particular. It is up to you to know the rules before you set foot on the sand.

Beaches are best: While pier fishing can be fruitful for a variety of species, they don’t make the best place to catch sharks. Hooked sharks can be a threat to nearby swimmers and the pilings create an entanglement threat if the shark swims through them.

There is also the problem of releasing the fish when you are 10 feet or more above sea level.

Instead look for an open stretch of beach that is secluded and doesn’t have swimmers or other recreational activities like surfing going on for 300 yards or more. Sharks will obviously hunt where the prey tends to aggregate so look for spots that are near creek beds, harbor mouths and channels.

Don’t fish alone: Trying to control a wild animal while doing all the things necessary to ensure its safety can be a tall order for anyone, especially if the fish is bigger than the fisherman. It is important to always stay in control of the fish at all times to reduce possible injuries to both the shark and the angler. This is easier when there is another person to help.

Now that you’ve found that perfect spot, it is time to catch yourself a memorable fish. Here is your guide to do that:

Deploy your bait: As a general rule, sharks are indiscriminate eaters but every shark has there own specific tastes. Use a bait that emulates the sharks’ natural diet. For instance, hammerhead sharks instinctively feed on a bottom-dwellers like rays. (Editor’s note: Anglers should avoid actively targeting endangered species such as great hammerheads if possible)

Bloody or oily fish such as jack crevalle, ladyfish or bonito, either whole or cut into large chunks, make the best bait for sharks as they can be detected for long distances. Another popular option when fishing for shark that is readily available, especially here in Florida, are “tarpon popsicles,” which are saltwater catfish that have been de-headed and the dorsal and pectoral spines clipped off.

Thread the bait so that the point of the hook is fully exposed.

If using a kayak, paddle out at least 100 yards from shore before dropping the bait. If casting from shore, use a balloon to float your bait into the channel and let the current carry it offshore.  If there are offshore sandbars, it is best to drop baits directly on the other side.

Sit back and relax: After your bait has been deployed, set the pole into a rod holder and loosen the drag enough that a strike will not dislodge the rod from the holder. Now you wait.

Click, click, BOOM!: When a shark takes the bait let him run while carefully removing rod from holder.

Tighten down the drag and set the hook by pulling back on the rod tip with steady pressure. Do not jerk the rod tip as this can snatch the bait out of the shark’s mouth before he is fully hooked.

Once the hook is properly set allow the shark to run while maintaining steady pressure on the line. Constantly reel in any slack so that the shark does not turn itself back across the line, causing a break off.

Alternate leaning backward while pulling back on the rod to and leaning forward while retrieving on the reel. Repeat until your arms burn.

After you’ve managed to bring the shark close enough to the shoreline, here are some handy tips to follow that will help keep both angler and shark safe:

Always keep the fish in the water: Almost all sharks must have flowing water over their gills at all times to keep the blood oxygenated. This is why, with the exception of species like nurse sharks, sharks in the wild must remain in constant motion. Never haul a shark onto dry land and, if possible, keep the front end of the shark partially submerged in the surf.

Keep your hands clear of the danger zone: Always remember to use a hook removal tool that is long enough to pull out the hook without having hands and fingers within striking range of the shark’s mouth. If removing the hook safely isn’t possible, be sure to cut the leader as close to the hook as possible. Hanging lines can create an entanglement risk for the shark once it is returned to the water.

Use a tail rope if needed and always remember that many sharks have the ability to swing their heads all the way around to their tails.

Make it quick: The longer the fight, the more stress that will be put on the fish. Using appropriate gear and weighted tackle for the size of shark will help ensure that the fish can be landed and subsequently released in the shortest amount of time possible. You should always know all the laws and regulations regarding shark fishing before your bait even touches the water. For several species, including most of those that are considered endangered, bringing any part of the fish out of the water is considered an illegal harvest. Should you recognize that your fish is a protected species, you should attempt to remove the hook and release the fish without bringing it ashore.

If taking pictures, do it as quickly as possible. A photograph for social media isn’t worth the life of one of the most majestic creatures in the ocean.

Release with care: After the hook has been completely removed, slide the fish back into the water nose-first and perpendicular to incoming waves. If the shark doesn’t immediately swim off or becomes embroiled in the cashing surf, grab the shark’s tail and gently push it back and forth in the water to force fresh water over its gills. This will help oxygenate the shark’s blood and reduce lactic acid buildup that can make the shark sluggish.

Never allow the shark to turn belly-side up once it is returned to the water as this can induce a sleep-like state in many sharks called catatonic immobility. Always be careful if you have to venture into the water over waist deep. Even the most worn out shark can catch a green streak and thrash around.

Respect your surroundings: Never put anyone around you at risk — especially if using chum — and always leave nature just as you found it. When you are done, take everything that you brought so that there are no signs that you were ever even there. Every fisherman has an ethical obligation to protect the resources that they enjoy so that others may also.

Again, the most important thing to remember –above all else– is to be respectful of these animals. Every action should be done with the purpose of making sure that after the fight, these animals are returned to the ocean with minimal harm so that they can live to fight another day.

Want more to hear more about the sharking adventures of 

And of course, check out his blog, Sharkophile.

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