Surf fishing for sharks is one of the most fun, rewarding hobbies and my favorite hobby. Shark fishing is one of the least appreciated types of fishing especially when you’re doing it from a beautiful sandy beach. Most people think of sharks as ‘creatures of the deep’ or ‘man eaters’, but they are actually some of the best sports fishing to be had from the beach or boat. If you’re looking for something to do while enjoying the beach, fishing for sharks can provide an adrenaline-filled experience and a picture worth 1000 words.
For me, it all started at Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. My dad and I had setup one night on an incoming tide. We were inexperience just hoping for the big one. As the tide was coming in we had to move the poles back to stay dry. As soon as I pulled the bail back my hand felt like it was on fire. When I realized what was going on I could no longer hold the line. Screaming my fool head off my dad grabbed the pole, lock the bail, and set the hook. SNAP! The pole broke in half and needless to say we never saw the creature of the deep. All that to say, fishing for shark on Hilton Head Island is some adrenaline pumping fishing!
Introduction to Surf Shark Fishing
With 5730 miles of coastline in the United States, there is plenty of water for sharks to roam. Sharks are found along all coastlines in the US, but Florida and gulf coast states see the majority of these magnificent creatures. The Pacific coast has their fair share of sharks cruising the beaches. These sharks are generally the larger shark species (including the Great White Shark).
Millions of people visit coastal regions for vacation every year and little know that fishing for shark is even an option. Let’s face the facts. There are more sharks on the beaches than anyone would care to recognize. You would be amazed at the number of sharks swimming among beach goers. What’s important to remember is that sharks don’t purposely bite people. We aren’t a natural food source for them. The majority of bites you hear about on the news are caused by being at the right place at the wrong time. Let’s say you’re out swimming in the waves and below you a school of bait fish has just surrounded you. You don’t know it but the 6ft Blacktip or Spinner shark was in the area and has just found its meal for the day. Unfortunately for you, you accidentally got bit! Beach shark fishing is truly wonderful because you can enjoy the beach and all its beauty, and at the same time have the chance at experiencing one of the greatest creatures that roams the waters. Not to mention an adrenaline rush that is second to none. Keep reading this guide to learn about the best shark gear, the best locations to shark fish, what to use for shark bait, and how to catch and release one of these powerful beasts.
Buying Shark Fishing Rods, Reels, and Tackle
If you’re planning to do some shark fishing and want to stand a chance at catching a large shark, you’ll need the right shark gear. The 3 main components we’ll discuss are the rod and reel, main line, and tackle which includes shark leaders or shark fishing rigs, shark hooks, and weights to hold your shark bait in the surf. You can check out the bass fishing rod reviews here. Throughout this guide we’ll assume you are targeting sharks 4′ and up. Sharks smaller than 4′ can be had on smaller tackle which normal surf fisherman typically use.
The most critical part of all your shark gear will be tackle. This is where the shark meets your line, so using quality leaders and hooks will pay off and lead to more hook-ups. Before jumping into this section let me give you a run down of how a shark reacts to a hook in the mouth. Sharks are opportunists. If they see a hunk of bloody meat they are going come by and pick it up. Once they do they are going to swim off with the bait hanging from their mouth. If there is no resistance they’ll begin to eat the bait, but as soon as they feel any resistance or fight left in the bait all hell will break out. Generally speaking a shark may begin spinning or whipping its tail in an effort to get away or stun the bait. Your leader is going to take the main brunt of this abuse. If you main line comes in contact with the shark tail at any point in the battle you can kiss him goodbye.
Shark Rod and Reel
You’ve only got two choices when picking a shark rod: spinning rod or bait cast. A spinning rod is a great choice for anyone only shark fishing a couple times a year. You can fish for bait or sharks with this type of rod, so it’s a great choice if your budget is of concern. The drawback to using a spinning rod is that the drag will probably melt down after catching couple big 6′ blacktip or spinner sharks. Purchasing a $30 spinning combo isn’t going to handle a fight from the oceans top predator. My recommendation would be a $40-$50 spinning reel capable of holding 300-400 yards of 40lb test line. This reel isn’t even close to top of the line but really is the minimum you should consider when targeting bigger sharks. When choosing a rod to complement your reel stick with heavy action rods that are 10′ or longer. A good $50 – $100 rod is exactly what you’re looking for here. The other option is the bait cast reel. This is the type of rod you’d use if you were fishing from a chartered boat. They can range in price from $100-$2000 but will handle 10′-15′ big dogs that are cruising the beaches. The main drawback of this type of reel is they are hard to cast and can’t be used for general bait fishing. Generally speaking this type of rod and real is better for an intermediate shark fisherman who will be fishing a dozen or more times per year. A good combo in this class is the Penn Senator 113 or 113H and will run your around $100.
Your reel will be 98% main line. Here again you have a couple choices depending on your budget: Monofilament or Microfiber. Monofilament is the cheaper of the two but you’ll sacrifice the amount of line you can spool on the reel. Monofilament also isn’t quite as abrasion resistant as microfiber. You can expect 300-400 yards of 40lb monofilament to cost around $10-$15. This is a good choice for spooling the Penn Senator 113 as it has a high line capacity. If you decided the spinning combo best meets your needs I highly recommend the microfiber. You’ll be able to increase your line capacity almost two fold and get the much need abrasion resistance. It will cost you another $20-$30 but you’ll land more fish and it will last much longer than the monofilament.
Shark Fishing Leaders and Rigs
A 400 lb stainless steel cable is highly recommended for all shark leaders. Some people have reported good success with piano wire as well. All hooks and swivels should be attached with crimps with similar ratings. To build several shark leaders it is cheaper to purchase the material individually and make them yourself. This also lends itself to using multiple hooks on a single leader in case the bait is quite a bit larger. However for the weekend fisher its probably better to purchase a couple pre-made shark leaders off the internet before your big weekend. These leaders should be a foot longer than the shark you plan on catching. It should have a drop for a hook, a weight, and a swivel to attach to the main line. Generally speaking you won’t find this type of heavy duty tackle in any bait shop so plan ahead. The stainless steel leader is NOT attached directly to your main line. It’s highly recommended you purchase a spool of 100lb monofilament leader that will connect your mainline to your shark leader. This leader should be 5-10 yards long. This will provide a nice shock leader as well as protection from any tail whips that your main line will encounter during the fight.
Hooks for Catching Sharks from the Beach
You’ve got 2 choices when it come to shark hooks: J-Hook and Circle Hooks. I primarily have used J-Hooks because they work. However they tend to lodge themselves deep in the mouth which can make for an interesting scenario on the beach when trying to remove the hook. Circle hooks will lodge themselves in the corner of the mouth making hook removal a breeze. Many people seem to think that using circle hooks results in several missed hook-ups. Shark hooks sizes range from 10/0 to 14/0 for sharks up to the 6′ range. A couple of years ago I saw a couple guys using a hook as large as my forearm. They were targeting Tiger and Bull sharks with whole 30 lb Jacks.
A weight is very important because it will keep your shark bait locked in place as the surf tosses it about. This can be quite difficult the bigger your bait gets. I generally use a spider weight as they tend to lock into the sand really well. I buy several different sizes and will load them up 2 or 3 at a time depending on the conditions at the beach. This way when you’re shark fishing the weight is in the sand and your line is pulled tight, so the hooks are dangling in the water. Now if you get a bite you’ll see it on your pole instead just losing your bait. A good hook size for this rig really depends on what type of bait your using to catch your shark bait. For shrimp, squid, or fishbites you’ll want to use a good 2/0 hook. If you’re using mullet or other live or cut bait consider using a 3/0 or 4/0 hook. Generally speaking you’re going to catch much larger and gamier fish with this type of bait such as blue runners or jacks.
Finding or Catching Shark Bait
There are several different ways to get a hold of some decent shark bait. The worst feeling in the world for a beach shark fisherman is showing up at the beach with all your brand new shark gear and not knowing if you’ll be able to catch shark bait. Here are the 3 best ways to find shark bait for you next sharking trip.
Catching Shark Bait
Using lightweight tackle or your spinning rod discussed in the shark fishing gear section are perfect for fishing for shark bait. You’ll want to rig your line with a double drop leader. Basically it’s a 2 hook rig with a clip for a weight at the very bottom of the rig. This way when your fishing the weight is in the sand and your line is pulled tight, so the hooks are dangling in the water. Now if you get a bite you’ll see it on your pole instead just losing your bait. A good hook size for this rig really depends on what type of bait your using to catch your shark bait. For shrimp, squid, or fishbites you’ll want to use a good 2/0 hook. If you’re using mullet or other live or cut bait consider using a 3/0 or 4/0 hook. Generally speaking you’re going to catch much larger and gamier fish with this type of bait such as blue runners or jacks.
One other method to catching bait and/or shark bait is the cast net. Throwing a cast net really takes a little while to learn to throw, so don’t get frustrated. I tell anyone trying to learn to throw a cast net to stay out of the water. Practice dozens of throws in your backyard in the grass, and then before making your first throw in the water, practice in the sand. Once you can get a 5′ – 10′ range and the net opens up wide you’re ready to start hunting bait. A trained eye can see bait skimming just under the waters surface. A good pair of polarized sunglasses help a lot, but are not mandatory. You could even get online contact lenses and wear them. You’ll see little “V”s on top of the water. You want to try to get in front of them and let them swim into your range. Stay very still and be patient. Live bait is the absolutely best way to catch perfect shark bait. Some also have had great luck blind cast netting in the water. I hope you’re in shape if you employ this method as it’s very tiring.
Begging for Shark Bait
There are loads of forums and fishing sites around where you may be able to find someone kind enough to supply you with extra shark bait. Lots of shark fishers catch loads of bait in a day and will freeze them. Fresh bait is always best but when you’re trying to increase your chances of catching a shark you want to have anything in the water.
Buying Shark Bait
I met a couple of guys that drove from Jacksonville to fish at my Ormond Beach spot. They were using a whole Jack Crevalle for bait. I asked them where in the world they were able to land such great shark bait and the responded with the Jacksonville Fishing Piers. Makes sense. There are people always fishing on those piers so if you can head down the day before and find a lucky fisherman who landed a nice piece of meat there’s no harm in offering him $5 or $10 for his catch. I’ve also been lucky and found whole bonito in a couple bait shops. Calling around to see if they stock this type of bait is best. One last place to try are the fishing docks. Lots of shark charter boats have stock piles of extra bait. If you’re lucky enough, you might just be able to land some fresh shark bait.
Types of Shark Bait
I’m not totally sure the best place to catch Bonito as I’ve never caught one. I know tons of this fish are caught offshore I’m just not sure if they can be had from the beaches. I have seen these guys in the freezer at bait shops. Consider yourself lucky if you can use the bonito as shark bait.
Jacks can be had from the shore. These guys are pound for pound one of the funnest fish to catch. They’ll put up a great fight and then make terrific shark bait. Live mullet or other live bait are great for Jacks.
LadyFish are touted as mini-Tarpon and for a good reason. They jump like crazy and put up a great fight. Shrimp, FishBites, artificial lures, and live bait all work great for catching ladyfish.
I’ve had great luck on the Atlantic fishing for Blue Runners. Live or cut mullet seem to be their meal of choice. Puts up a pretty good fight.
Whiting primarily feast upon shrimp or sand fleas. The bull whiting are pretty fun to catch, but anything smaller can be tough to determine if you’ve even got a bite especially with the waves. These guys should be your last choice for shark bait. Something is always better than nothing.
I know the guys in Texas have much better luck finding stingrays in the gulf. I’ve fished for 5 years here in Florida and haven’t hooked on of these guys. Up in Hilton Head, SC I have hooked up with some very large stingrays. The intercoastal waters of central Florida are teeming with stingrays. I’ve used them as shark bait but with very little luck. I’ve read many reports of folks in TX catching monster sharks on whole rays.
Rigging Shark Bait
Rigging your shark bait is vital to hooking up with a shark. You can hook them through the eyes and fish just the head or you can hook them through the tail and fish them live. There are actually several different ways to rig your shark bait but I’ve only shown the method I prefer. Here’s a picture of a very nice bluefish rigged up as shark bait. If you notice I’ve got 2 hooks on this rig of stainless steal leader. The bigger the bait the more hooks you need. This bluefish is around 18″ so 2 hooks were needed for good coverage. I feed the hooks through the mouth and out the gill. Place the first hook (closest to the main line) just below the gill. Then place subsequent hooks 1 – 2 inches from each other. If you’re using a piece of cut bait you’ll only need a single hook.
The next step to rigging your shark bait is critical! Make sure you bring some wax covered twine or zip ties. This method is used for two reasons. The first is to keep the shark from stealing your bait. As the bait sits in the water the skin will become soft and will tear easily. When a shark picks up the bait there is a good chance he’s going to mouth it for a while before the hooks are in the sweet spot. The second reason to secure the bait in this manner is to ensure the hooks are perpendicular to the bait. Imagine for a second the shark picks up your bait and happens the bite down right on the hook. More than likely the hook will lay flat on the bait and you’ll miss the hook-up. My method for securing the hook to the shark bait is pretty simple. Cut a 20″ piece of twine and lay it out flat. Now place the bait in the middle of the twine with the hooks facing up. Take the two ends wrapping it around the bait and through the eye of the hook. Now flip the bait over and tie a square not. If you did it right the hook should automatically be pulled perpendicular to the shark bait. You shark bait should end up looking like this.
You may consider fishing for sharks with live bait. Its a little more tricky since you’ll need everything setup before you catch your first piece of bait. You’ll need a single hook leader and you’ll probably want to use a circle hook. The best place to hook a shark for live baiting them is probably aft of the dorsal fit on the top side. This should keep him alive for quite a while and give him an injured look which is sure to attack the big boys. Have a tip or see something I missed? Want to ask a question? Just drop a quick comment below and I get back to you before your next big shark fishing trip.
Deploying Your Shark Bait
You’ve really got 2 choices when it comes to deploying shark bait. You can cast it out or you can kayak it out. I’ve also convinced a couple friends to use their surfboards to deploy shark bait, but this method is not recommended. On the particular day we did deploy our shark bait with a surfboard, we got a hookup before he even made it back to the beach! They never knew shark fishing could be so much fun 😉
Casting Shark Bait
Casting shark bait can be quite difficult since you’ve got to throw a pound or more of shark bait that is connected to a 6′ leader with an 8 oz. leader. What you need to remember is that sharks have an incredible sense of smell and have no problem coming into waste deep water. If you can only cast your shark bait 10-15 yards don’t worry. Walk it out as far as you can, just make sure you are in the gut (between sandbars). Once you get good at casting you should be able to throw a hunk of shark bait 30-40 yards. If you’re casting a Penn Senator 113 or similar bait casting rod you’ve got a whole new challenge. Keeping your reel from ‘bird nesting’ is a must. There is nothing worse than getting a huge spool of line all tangled up and wasting precious time with which you could be catching bait. A lot of times a big tangled mess means cutting the line and starting over. You can’t afford to be cutting 50-100 yards of your spool. My first suggestion would be to tie on a weight and practice on the beach for several minutes. Once you feel comfortable add a little more weight. Remember a 6oz weight and a 20-30oz hunk of meat weighs a lot! You’ll eventually get the hang of it and it will be quite easy to cast. If you have major issues with casting I have another suggestion. Loosen the drag as light as it will go and throw it has hard as you can. With the drag enabled at all times it will not birds nest at all. Iâ€™m sure this is not good for your reel, so it’s best to learn to cast properly. One other safety concern to mention when casting shark bait. When your heaving a ton of weight from the end of the pole the line as a tendency to slip in your fingers. You can get a deep cut on your fingers if this happens. Consider using some surgical tubing or a leather glove when casting. There is nothing worse than nursing a deep wound when you’re going to be on the beach all day.
Kayaking Shark Bait
Kayaking your shark bait is the best way to haul out those large baits. Two recommended kayaks are the Scrambler XT or the Frenzy. Both are made by Ocean Kayaks and are great for kayaking in the surf. If you get serious about shark fishing and buy a extra large reel you can haul out your baits several hundred yards and go for the big boys. Additionally they are quite fun to play in the waves when the fishing is slow. Once you’re happy with your placement you can walk back to the beach and place your rod in a holder. I recommend a 2-3″ PVC type rod holder about 4-5′ long. This will keep your reel out of the sand and the corrosive salt water. Also having the rod this high will keep the line out of the sand therefore prolonging the life of your main line. Once its in the rod holder be sure to loosen your drag. You want it tight enough so the waves don’t pull it out, and loose enough that a shark won’t realize he just picked up a dinner.
How to Catch and Release Shark from the Beach
Your setup on the beach with your brand new shark gear and you just caught and rigged up the best shark bait you could find. You waded out and casted your bait in the perfect location and got back to dry land and set your pole in the rod holder. Surely you remembered to loosen you drag all the way so your pole isn’t pulled in the water when that 6 foot blacktip cruises by your shark bait. Now it’s time to do what fisherman do best. You wait. And you wait. Then in an instant your pole will double over or your clicker will start singing. In that instant you’ll be hit with an adrenaline rush like none other. It’s time to do battle with the biggest and baddest predator the oceans will ever see. Get to your pole ASAP. At this point the shark has just picked up the bait and is off to devour his freshly plucked meal. From the time you hear that clicker you need to start counting. When you get to 10 it’s time to set the hook. As fast as you can start loading up the drag to a predetermined drag setting. Make sure you reel in all the slack and then set the hook as hard as you can. Now the shark is going to start peeling some major drag. Keep your eyes on the water because if you’ve hooked a blacktip, spinner, or mako shark you may see him jump out of the water. As he’s peeling drag don’t try to stop him. Let him wear himself out. Your goal at this point is to keep the line as tight as possible. If he turns and swims back towards the beach you’ve got to reel in that slack as fast as possible. It may also help to run up the beach to get that slack line tight again. Eventually you’ll start gaining line back. Then you’ll see your 100lb leader surface. At this point, you’ll want to have a friend handy to hold your pole or be the daring one and grab the shark by his tail. You’ll want him to be in less than knee deep water before trying to pull him by his tail onto the beach. You need to have a pair of 16″ channel lock pliers handy in order to retrieve the hook. Pull the shark by the tail onto the sand. You’ll need to work quick so no permanent damage is done to the shark. If you can’t get the hook out in a couple of tries cut the leader and leave the hook behind. The hook will rust out of his mouth in a couple of days and he’ll be perfectly fine.
Snap a couple of pictures and pull him back in the water. You’re going to need to walk him out quite a ways (knee deep water) and get the water flowing over his gills again. If he is unresponsive keep pulling him back and forth in the water. You’ll know when it’s time to let him swim free.
Please be mindful there are new shark fishing regulations that have been passed into law in 2019. Sharks being released should not be brought out of the water. Please review the Florida Wildlife Shark Webpage for more details.
Shark Fishing Locations
Finding a shark fishing location isn’t really all that hard. All you need is a little sand and a lot of water. The two most popular states to shark fish in are Florida and Texas since they have loads of both. They also have a lot more sharks along their coasts than other states, but that’s not so say that South Carolina, North Carolina, and all the way up to New Jersey don’t have their share of shark. Florida leads the nation in shark bites because there are more sharks per capita than anywhere else, BUT just remember you’re more likely to get struck by lightning than you are to get bitten by a shark. As with all types of fishing you really have to go where the shark bait is. I was a weekend shark fisher so I was always having to catch my bait before I actually started fishing for sharks. If it took me 3 hours to catch bait the morale was low. Finding a beach near an inlet or by some sort of structure can do wonders for bait and sharks. Also find a power plant near the water. Power plants tend to cool their reactors with the ocean water and pump the warm water back into the ocean. The outlets are usually several hundred feet offshore but the bait and shark fishing is second to none. That’s why I drove 3 hours to fish in the Jensen Beach area. One word of caution when it comes to finding your perfect shark fishing location. Fishing for sharks when there are 100 people around is a bad idea. Find a beach that doesn’t get a lot of traffic. If you do have to fish in a very populated area my suggestion would to be fish early in the morning or in the evening when the majority of people have left the water. The first time your line burns a little kid because a 6′ blacktip made a screaming run on you, you’ll thank me. If the shark you hook up with is larger than the tackle you’ll probably end up several hundred yards down the beach.
Florida: Best the world has to offer
I shark fished for nearly 5 years in the Central Florida area. This would include the Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach, and Cocoa Beach areas. I also checked out Monster Hole at Sebastian Inlet. Occasionally I would drive about 3 hours south to the Jensen Beach / Juno Beach area in hopes to hook up with a bull, tiger, or lemon shark. Unfortunately I wasn’t that lucky. It is also rumored that Key West is some of the best around. I’ve read stories of the great hammerheads tearing a 200lb tarpon to pieces. If I had to make a suggestion on the best Florida beach to catch a shark, try Ormond Beach. This beach is great for shark because hardly anyone visits, and fisherman own the beach in the morning. This is the beach where I caught my first 6′ blacktip and kayaked through a huge school of tarpon. Canaveral National Seashore (CNS) is also a great option for shark as it is also not very populated. You’ll have to pay a $5 fee to get into the park, but you get restroom facilities. Also make sure you check the space shuttle launch schedule as the park is closed when it’s on the pad. I personally haven’t had much luck here, but have read many fishing reports saying that sharks frequent these waters.
Texas: Some of the biggest sharks the gulf of Mexico has to offer!
I could really use some help with the texas shark fishing section.
What I do know is that the Galveston shark fishing is down right addictive. There are several Texas charter boat captains out there who target sharks. Also the Padre Island National Seashore (PINS) is home of some of the greatest Texas shark fishing I’ve ever seen.
North Carolina: Sandy beachs with crusing sharks
Cape Hatteras Light house, which is called Cape Point, is one of the easiest places to shark fish and rated the best location to shark fish on the East Coast due to the sand bars and the guts that run thru them. The sandbar runs off the north side of the point and continues around to the south side. At low tide, it runs out about 500 ft. When I first started out, I had no kayak, and low tide I was able to walk big tuna skirts out on the sand bar and heave over into the third gut, which drops off into about 12-25 ft.of water. I don’t recommend walking the bloody bait out if there are any sharks around. The best shark fishing experience I have had is anywhere from the beginning of June to the end of August and as far as my opinion, set up about 4 hours before dark and fish all night. The best equipment for this location would be to use a reel that will hold upto 500 yards of 50 lb. test and a heavy action 5-7 foot rod. I generally use a 30 foot, 300 lb. stainless steel liter with a 10/0-14/0 hook(all depending on the size of fish that you are trying to catch), 5 foot up from the hook I use a 14 oz. breakaway sinker. The rip current off of the sandbar when the tides are returning can be a pain. What I mean by breakaway is when I am hooked up the sinker will break loose from the liter line and I am fighting all fish, no dead weight. I use this method for 4-8′ sharks and it has proven to be very productive for me. If your preference is surf casting versus kayaking the bait, then I would use a heavy action 12′ surf rod capable of throwing 6-14 oz. of lead. The reel would have to hold at least 350 yards of 30lb.test and the only surf casting reel that I know of is a diawa 50 sha. It’s got a heavy drag line and is built for durability. The only downfall I have about surf casting is trying to throw a monster chunk of bait, and at Cape Point, the sharks generally run 5-12 feet and it does not take long to spool a surf casting reel. That is why I recommend having your ducks in a row if you are planning to fish Cape Point for sharks.
Virginia Shark Fishing
Virginia Beach is one of the main places that I fish in Virginia. I fish a lot off of the piers because beach access is limited in this area. I fished Virgnia Beach Fishing Pier in August of 2008 and it was very productive for monster black tip sharks. It should be mentioned that shark fishing is not permitted off of Virginia Beach Pier, but you can’t help what bites your bait. We landed about 30 out of 40 blacktips. The largest was about 6′ but I didn’t have the equipment to weigh the fish, but I am sure it would have broke the state record. The best fishing spot in Virginia Beach is Little Island Fishing Pier, known as Sandbridge Pier. You have plenty of beach access and that is where the big boys run.
Sandbridge Beach Shark Fishing Off of Sandbridge beach I would use at least a Shimano 30w LRS which holds 580 yards of 50 lb. mono. and a heavy 5’5″-6′ rod. The best bait that I have used in Virginia beach is live or chunked bluefish and spanish mackeral used the same way. Virginia beach is limited on sandbars in this area but Sandbridge is located on the southern point of Va. beach which is deep water and very swift rip current and sharks love that! July 26th of 2008, I hooked up on a 65lb. Cobia off of Sandbridge pier while penn rigging. The same day, I hooked up on about a 40lb. King Mackerel while penn rigging. The reason I say about 40lbs. is because while reeling the fish to the pier it exploded out of the water, and could not figure out why. Well needless to say, when I got it to the pier, I only had half of a fish and the one half was 20lbs. It was about a 61/2 ft. bull shark that cut this fish in half. All in all, Sandbridge is one of the best places that I have ever fished.