When you’re informing someone of the sharks you catch on the beach, you will invariably hear a response like ‘you catch those right there’ or ‘I swim right there’. And it’s true. It’s amazing how close to shore relatively large sharks swim at night. There is really something to the adage don’t swim at night or at dawn or dusk. Of course, I've landed sharks only a few hundred feet away from drunken late night swimmers without any harm to them, but after I showed them a picture of what they were swimming with they freaked! It’s all part of the thrill of summer shark fishing, a time where summer partying and catching fish that can remove a hand, strangely, go quite well together.
Beach Shark Fishing Method
The photograph above proves that patience, dedication, and a spirit for learning pays off. All of those attributes of personality are essential to landing a fish like the one pictured above.
Fishing for sharks at night can be a marathon of folly if preparation is not taken seriously. It is paramount that rods and reels are in good working order, that all knots and leader are secure, that some sort of de-hooking device or pliers are readily available, a preferably waterproof camera is handy, and there is back-up gear either at the site or somewhere nearby. When the bite is on, the last thing you want to have to deal with are broken rigs, clicking reels, and remembering that you forgot a de-hooker and camera. What you want to be dealing with is ‘how the hell do I get this thing out of the water’. Seriously, I’ve seen a reel broken clear apart at the stem, and I’ve seen a sand spike broken in half. If you have the time and resources to get your gear in good working condition you will be rewarded with a much more enjoyable fishing experience.
Chunked baitfish are the most commonly used bait for shark. Fresh bunker are the number one choice since they are usually available in the tackle shops when other fish are hard to find. Frozen bunker will also work, however I always prefer fresh if I can get it. Basically, what you want to use is a bloody, oily, or slimy finned bait. This means cocktail bluefish and sea robins will also work as bait- and it adds to the fun when a shark picks up a bait that you caught yourself. I've had success with fresh cocktail bluefish caught the morning before fishing, as well with a fresh ling caught a day prior on a party boat. I’d even be willing to try chunks of skate wing. More often though bunker is the choice because, again, it is usually the easiest to acquire.
It’s not an absolute, but sharks seem to be a lot more active around the new and full moons. It could be that the extra water over the sandbars from the moon tide allows the sharks to feel more comfortable in close. Or maybe the moon stimulates bait to move, or maybe the moon stimulates the sharks themselves. Either way, if you have limited time to fish, make sure you plan a schedule around the full and new moon phases.
Here is an example of how to plan fishing around the full and new moons:
High tide is always sometime in the evening, around twilight (during summer sunset times), during the full and new moons and moves progressively later, around 50 minutes per day, each day forward. This means in order to do a session where you get to the beach and set up about a half an hour before sunset, the best days are the moon day itself, and one day before it and three days after it. This gives a span of 5 days of maximum efficient tidal conditions with each moon phase. And since there is usually one full moon and one new moon per month, it follows that there are 10 days, give or take, worth fishing for sharks per month, just based on tide.
The Importance of Weather Conditions
Just based on tide I write, because there is more to it. Of those 10 days per month, there are factors which will render fishing useless, aside from the fish not being there in the first place. A large swell, thunderstorms, south wind upwelling and seaweed are some in a list of things that make fishing not worth it. Unfortunately, thunderstorms and south winds can be quite common in summer. A large swell is less common in summer, but the fishing tends to not be as good once the waves are over 3ft or if there is a current running, events which can be common in summer. It seems the sharks prefer calm water with a small background swell and slight water movement. A loose rule is that if you’re throwing more than 6 oz it’s probably not worth it. All of these stressors can put a real damper on the fishing, to the point that an entire month may pass without being able to fish. So make the most of the times that it’s actually worth going to the beach, and really cherish any fish that are landed. Again, this is where patience, dedication and a spirit for learning will pay off.
Relevant current and forecast atmospheric information can be found on the links page
The Bucket and Backpack Method
As I said before, preparation goes a long way in making a shark fishing event run smoothly. I can be accused of being enthusiastic, and I will take it since I like seeing my friends and I catch a lot of fish with minimal hassle from our gear. You can get a lot more done and advance further when you’re not wasting time asking questions like ‘did you bring the headlamp’ or ‘where’s the pliers’ or ‘did you forget the bait knife again’. I like to do my prep work a few hours before the event so that everything is in tip-top shape when the whistle is blown. In certain aspects it’s a lot like being a fireman- lots of idle time followed by pandemonium- and when the pandemonium starts you don’t want to be asking whether or not someone forgot to fill the fire truck with gas. I employ a red bucket to get the gear to the beach and a backpack to hold the items needed to release a shark.
Red Bucket (the junk bucket)
-4 oz, 5 oz, 6 oz, and 8 oz pyramid sinkers
So now you’re fishing. Be aware that sharks can take you far away from your camp site. So how do you keep all the gear you needed to land, unhook, and release a fish readily available? The answer is a backpack. When the action is hot, I will wear a backpack.
Here’s what’s inside the backpack:
-needle nose pliers
As always, being a serious surf fisherman means having an intimate understanding of what’s going on with the weather. Having an awareness of sea surface temperature, surf heights and swell direction, and wind direction and wind speed is paramount to consistently putting together good catches of sharks. Being able to track and predict the movement of thunderstorms on a summer night, without assistance of radar, is also a very handy skill to have. When the planets align- meaning the weather conditions are good, the water conditions are good and the fish are there, you will be in for unforgettable experience. Bring the camera and show off to your friends!