We’ve got a variety of sharks in my region that you can fish for, including blacktip, lemon, bull and hammerhead sharks. The best shark fishing takes place in the late spring and early summer when the tarpon have migrated to our coast and the sharks come in to feed on the tarpon. This is when we get the giant bull sharks and Great hammerheads that you hear about biting a 100-pound tarpon in half.
If you want to target the big sharks, the best place to do that is wherever the tarpon are holding. The big bull and hammerhead sharks like to pick the weak tarpon out of the school to feed on, so they’re always hanging out close to the tarpon schools and watching for an injured, sick or weak fish that they can make a meal out of.
We also get a lot of blacktip sharks and a few lemon sharks. They can be anywhere from off the beaches around the Spanish mackerel schools to in the harbors and bays and even on the beaches close to shore. Blacktip sharks are a lot of fun to catch and release and the best thing is that you can catch them on fairly light tackle compared to what you have to use for the larger shark species.
For bait, just about anything bloody and stinky will work. A half a bonito or jack crevalle, a chunk of barracuda, stingray or even a half a roe mullet will work. Anything that will put some scent into the water, and it helps if you have some chum that you can throw out to get a slick going that the sharks will smell and swim up.
If you’re having problems finding bait for sharks, you can usually go out onto the flats with a bow and arrow and look for bat rays. Shoot the ray with the arrow, and then use a net to collect them. Bat rays are real oily and make excellent shark bait and are a natural part of the shark’s food chain.
In a pinch, you can cut your baits up in the livewell to make a chum slick. Turn the livewell on, so that it is pumping water overboard, and then cut up the baits in the well. The blood and guts will mix with the water and then get pumped overboard, creating a chum slick the sharks can follow.
Sharks don’t like a lot of current, so you want to target them on the near the change of the tides when the current is starting to slow down. They’ll gather on the sandbars near the passes and on the beaches, close to wherever the tarpon schools are holding.
The size of the bait and the size of the sharks you’re targeting will determine what you use in the way of hooks. You can go with anything from a 6/0 4X strong circle hook for the blacktip sharks to a 12/0 forged marlin hook for the larger shark species.
Sharks not only have teeth, but they also have skin that is like sandpaper, so I like to use a three to six foot piece of single strand wire to keep them from biting through my leader. I use 150 pound test wire, and wrap it to the hook on one end and a 200-pound stainless steel ball bearing swivel on the other. Then I’ll use 10 feet of 150 pound monofilament to keep the shark from cutting the line with its body if it gets wrapped up in the leader.
The heavy monofilament with a short piece of wire leader also helps when you get the shark close to the boat and the end of the fight. You can wire the fish hand-over-hand on the monofilament until you get to the steel leader, then lean over and try to cut the wire leader as close to the hook as you can. The hook will usually rust out or fall out within one or two days. That’s probably the safest way to handle and release a shark of any size.
For tackle, you’ll want 50 pound braided line for the bull sharks and 80 pound braided line for the hammerheads. For the smaller shark species, I like to use 30 pound braided line. You can use conventional or spinning tackle (I prefer conventional), but you absolutely have to have a rod with a lot of lifting power. If you use a flexible rod on sharks, they’ll just hug the bottom and you won’t be able to lift them off the bottom the entire time. That will wear you out faster than it wears the shark out.
Keep in mind that a big hammerhead or bull shark has a lot of power and strength. They’ll pull the boat around like a Chevy truck hauling it up the road, only they’ll eventually tire. When the sharks are taking line, that’s the time to rest. When they slow down, that’s when you want to work hard to get them in. That’s what will tire the shark out quickly so that you can get it boatside.
Keep in mind that while sharks are apex predators that eat a lot of our hooked fish, they also serve a purpose in maintaining the natural balance of the marine ecosystem. Some sharks are good to eat, but most aren’t so if you’re not going to eat it, make sure you do all that you can to make sure the shark is caught fairly and in a sporting manner and then released healthy.