Of all the trips we took to the beach when I was a kid, the ones I remember best are the rare times we saw shark fishermen. I was fascinated by the huge tackle they used, conventional reels with spools the size of coffee cans and rods that could double as gaff handles. I could listen for hours to the stories they told of incredible fights and monster sharks.
Matt Scripter, a FWC fisheries biologist and PhD candidate at Florida Tech, is one of the new generation of beach shark anglers who forgoes the heavy tackle of the past and opts to pursue sharks on gear that would’ve been laughed at twenty years ago. Scripter uses heavy spinning tackle to catch sharks from the beach that average four to six feet long but can get much bigger. His biggest was an eight foot lemon shark that he wrestled to shore about a mile south of Sebastian Inlet.
Scripter recommends heavy duty spinning reels that hold at least 300 yards of line but over 600 yards might be necessary if you intend to drift or paddle your baits out far from shore. Scripter personally uses Shimano Saragosa and Daiwa Saltist spinning reels mounted to Shimano Terez and custom rods. His reels are spooled with 40 pound test Jerry Brown Line One Hollow Core braided Spectra. The reason for using hollow core braid is if he loses line due to a break off he can splice in a new section of line instead of replacing the whole spool.
For terminal tackle Scripter starts out with an 8/0 Gamakatsu or 12/0 Mustad circle hook. He attaches about a foot of number 9 (105 pound test) single strand leader wire to the hook and a heavy swivel using haywire twists. If you have a hard time wrapping a haywire twist, try a tool like the Du-Bro E/Z Twist that makes the task easy. To the swivel crimp six to eight feet of 400 pound test monofilament that terminates in another heavy duty swivel. To this swivel Scripter ties a few feet of 80 to 130 pound test monofilament that is tied to the braid main line using a surgeon’s knot. If he is not free-lining baits from an inlet on an outgoing tide, Scripter uses a beach rock as a sinker. The rock is tied to one of the swivels using 20 or 30 pound test monofilament that can break off when a big shark hits.
Ladyfish, jacks and bluefish make prime shark baits but other fish will work in a pinch. Fish you catch right in the surf can be good for sharks, although Scripter says he hasn’t had much luck using hardhead catfish for bait. Bluefish are subject to Florida size and bag limits and that still applies if they are used as bait. In addition, bluefish carried in a boat on state waters must be in whole condition. If you use a kayak or similar vessel to row your bait out it must remain whole and intact but if you cast from shore, pier or jetty you can cut up the bluefish and use pieces. Consult http://www.eregulations.com/florida/fishing/saltwater/ for the latest size and bag limits for Florida saltwater fish.
Most of the time you will place your rod in a sand spike rod holder while you wait for a shark to find your bait. If you do so with the drag locked down a shark can easily pull your rod into the water. If your reel has a bait runner feature use it. If not you can back off on the drag but count the number of turns of the drag knob so you know exactly how much to tighten when you get a strike. Another option is to leave the bail open and secure the line in a release clip such as the Du-Bro E/Z Adjust Release Clip. If you go with an open bail and release clip, pay attention to your rod or a shark may empty your spool without you ever knowing. When you get a hit, Scripter’s advice is to let the shark run for ten seconds or so and then tighten up and allow the circle hook do its job.
Sharks tend to run up and down the beach so Scripter recommends following the fish to keep the fight perpendicular to the shore. The traditional pump and wind method of fighting a fish is a good way to wear yourself out when fighting a shark in the surf. Scripter recommends walking backwards up the beach and reeling as you walk back to the water. Using this method even a relatively small person can best a shark without wearing themselves out too much.
Scripter’s final advice is to release all sharks you catch. “These are apex predators that deserve our respect. They serve an important role in the coastal ecosystems.” In addition, shark flesh contains high levels of mercury that can be dangerous for human consumption.