Sharks are here all year, but just like snowbirds, many of them head south for the winter months. One fun and tasty shark that is plentiful is one of the hammerhead sharks, the bonnethead or when you have northern visitors, the shovelhead, sounds more Tarzan like to say shovelhead. Somehow bonnethead does not have the same ring to it. So, these are hammerheads which grow to about 4 feet long, and start having babies (females at 32” and males at 24”) having 4 to 12 pups each year. I guess the guys just can’t wait. Believe it or not bonnets are one of the most caught sharks in the U.S.
OK, are they good to eat? Yes, they are. I fillet them and I will get to how you should prepare your shark for dinner and you don’t even need to buy it a suit. First of all, how big a shark should I keep? Look at your cooler- that tells you how big your shark can be. Well, if it will not fit in your cooler let it go. Shark meat is not good left in the sun all day. First you should gut the shark as soon as you catch it, that stops the transfer of fluids. Yes sharks sort of urinate through their skin but not quite really and yes, they urinate the same as most critters, but not quite. Either way, you get the idea. I don’t leave the skin on, if you do it won’t hurt you. (A taste matter, not a safe to eat thing.) Now when I go to gut the shark I use a gaff. You cannot gaff a shark through the belly like some fish, the skin is too tough, so I put the gaff hook through the gill opening. And now with the shark on the gaff hook, I cut down from just below the jaw to its butt. Then take out or cut out everything, rinse the shark off, and put it in the cooler. Now sharks have a couple different brains, one for when they are awake and one for sleeping. Most sharks have to stay in motion, a bonnethead can lay still, but the brain-stem brain is still alive enough for the next 15-20 minutes after the first brain is dead to bite you, so watch out. Hey if you just tossed me into a cooler I would bite you too.
As far as how to clean the shark, you should know there is a layer of blood/stuff between the meat and the skin. If you like fishy tasting fish, leave the skin on. If you like fish flavor, without the fishy taste, fillet the skin off. Start when you get back by cutting off the fins. If you like a nasty gel-type soup, keep the fins, I throw them out. Once the fins and the tail are cut off, cut the tail off, straight down where it attaches to the body. Cut a line all the way down the back of the shark on the center line. I take my fillet knife and cut down to the backbone and work the meat off one side of the backbone, then the other. Now you have two sides with a backbone. Cut the meat sides off from the head and lay them on the board, skin-side down and very lightly cut the skin from the meat, a back and forth slicing motion is best. I rinse/clean the fillets and with the grill hot, I cut the fillets into chunks about 4 inches, so they can be flipped. Butter one side of the fillet and then sprinkle on some lemon herb seasoning. Place butter side down on the grill, when brown flip over the fillet, butter and sprinkle lemon herb seasoning lightly. Brown and done- enjoy.
I guess you should know how to catch one as well. A popping cork with a live shrimp is the best way to catch shovelnose sharks, or a shrimp on the bottom. Bonnets or shovelnose like shrimp, it is their favorite food. I have caught a few while using baitfish, but 94% of what I have caught is with a shrimp.
Most bonnet sharks are caught while people are trout fishing on the flats or just outside the bar.
There is a picture of me holding a bonnet shark and that is the way to grab a shark by the back of the head. When you get the shark next to the boat, with your good hand, right hand for right handed people, left for left handed. Now grab your leader-I use the bleeding leaders from A.F.W.
2/0 for these sharks. Now if I can lift the shark up easily I will, if it is too heavy, I remove the hook in the water and let it go. Or bring out the gaff if I am going to eat it, but a gaff will ruin the gills of the sharks, so do not catch and release with a gaff. If I can lift it, I hold it by the leader with my right hand and then quickly after it settles down, grab the dorsal fin, it makes being Tarzan “grabbing sharks” easier when you do it a little at a time. After I have my finger on the dorsal, I then switch to grab the shark by the back of the head. Cool thing about shark skin is it is smooth as silk if you run your hand from the head towards the tail and UN-real rough if you try to rub tail to head. Funny thing, it is the most aero-dynamic surface known to man. They molded shark skin and that is what the skin of a stealth bomber airplane feels like.
OK, now you can go out and catch your shark dinner. Best places to find shovelnose sharks is on the flats, but I often look for them on the sides of the I.C.W.
Hope you have fun, enjoy your trip.