Let’s just start off by saying we promote the catch and release of sharks. If you're going to kill one to eat you should consider only keeping one of two species, mako or thresher sharks. All sharks excrete urine through the skin and ammoniate the flesh with the exception of mako, thresher and great white sharks. These three species actually have a urinary tracks and do not urinate through the skin. Great white sharks are federally protected and are catch and release only.
Other species are edible and you can eat the smaller ones and they are not bad.
Shark fishing goes on all year with a few specific times for a few specific species. While we have all species most of the year, spring is the time for makos as they come close to the shoreline feeding on cobia and tarpon and can be caught surf fishing. Mako sharks in excess of 800lbs have been caught from the surf. The most common sharks we have are black tips, sand bar, tiger, thresher, mako, nurse, bull, gray reef and spinner sharks.
Sharks can be caught on charter boats that specialize in shark fishing, surf fishing, private boats and piers along the coast. Okaloosa Island Pier does not allow shark fishing but all the other piers do including the two piers in Panama City, Navarre and Pensacola Piers from dusk till dawn.
Pier and Surf Fishing for Sharks
Almost year round there are sharks in the surf. Most common are sharks in the 40 to 80lb range. Some years, mostly in the spring, the large mako sharks come to the beach to feed on the cobia and tarpon. Mako sharks in excess of 800lbs have been caught in the surf.
Because of the varying size range of the sharks, the tackle we use can vary greatly.
For most anglers a 9-11ft spinning rod with large spinning reel spooled with 50-80lb braided line works best. Terminal tackle for these sharks will consist of a steel leader 4-5ft long 175-250lb and a 13/0-15/0 circle hook and a 2-4oz spider lead on a sinker slide. Using this rig you can actually cast the bait out.
For the anglers looking for larger species you will need something as large as a Penn 6/0 reel up to a Shimano Tiagra 80WLRSA reel on a bent butt rod. This rigs should be backed with several hundred yards of hollow core line with a top shot of at least 100yds of mono and your leader. In addition, your steel leader for this rig should be at least 400lb and up to 800lb. I would have the leader be as long if not longer than the shark you're targeting so this could be as long as 15ft. If the leader is too short the sandpaper like skin of the shark can wear through the line during the battle. You may not need a lead on this rig as the bait should be large enough to keep it in place but there are times with the wave and current will require a sinker slide and spider lead.
When targeting the larger sharks you will need a way to get the bait out because bait, rod and reel will be much to large to cast. You’ll need either a kayak, surf board, float or paddle board to paddle the bait out several hundred yards from the beach.
The techniques for pier fishing for sharks do not differ from surf fishing so all your tackle and rigging will be the same. Even using a kayak to get larger baits is the same.
For both surf and pier fishing when using larger tackle it is a good idea to have a harness also and a tail rope for the larger sharks.
While we do chum for sharks when boat fishing, as a general rule we do not chum for surf and pier fishing due to the proximity to swimming areas. Sharks and swimmers in our area are not a big deal as we just don’t have shark attacks, but it is best not to chum just to be on the safe side.
The most common bait for sharks is bonita as they have a high oil and blood content. The next best is ladyfish, mullet, bluefish or king mackerel. You can use chunks of fish or whole depending on the size of the shark you're targeting.
When boat fishing chumming is the most popular method for catching sharks. You can either grind and make you own chum from fish carcasses, menhaden oil, oats and dog food. This is a messy and stinky proposition. Most people just buy chum in frozen 5lb blocks. Whether you choose to make your chum or buy chum you will need a chum bag to hang from the boat and some chum to just throw over and make a chum slick.
It does not take a long time to attract a fair number of sharks so long as you set your chum slick over a large reef, wreck or rock edge. Tackle for chumming is the same as surf fishing for larger sharks. The only real difference is we do not use weights because the water is deeper and we are chumming the sharks to the surface and in place of a weight we use balloons or floats to keep the baits near the surface.
Once you have your chum slick set it starts to become a waiting game. When the bite does come and the battle begins depending on the size of the shark the battle can last from a few minutes to a few hours or more. If you do decide to keep a shark to eat I would suggest having a bang stick or gun to kill him. A small shark can be gaffed and thrown into a cooler but a larger shark will most likely not fit into a cooler and will be towed to the dock or placed on the deck of the boat. Sharks can live for hours out of the water so every precaution need to be taken to keep someone from getting injured.
Let’s just reiterate that if you don’t have plans on eating the sharks, let’s make sure we release them unharmed. Get the shark as close to the boat as possible and cut the leader as close to the sharks mouth as possible, the hook will rust out or fall out within a short time and we can preserve the species for years to come so our children and grand children can have the same fun times on the water catching the magnificent creatures.
While sharks can be a nuisance when we are trying to catch other species they are necessary part of the ecosystem and yes they will on occasion steal your fish or at least steal the better part of your catch. They are vital to the balance of everything in the ecosystem. They are apex predators and as much as it pains me at times when they do steal my fish, killing for just the sport of it is unnecessary and a good camera will capture every picture we need as you can see from some of these pictures of sharks that have been caught and released unharmed.
Tell me this picture of this little girl is not one of the best you have ever seen! Her expression is priceless!!