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COASTAL SHARKS
"The Other White Meat..."

by Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

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The Gulf seemed at peace with itself as my cousin Frank Moore and I pulled up to the small oil platform. The water was as smooth as a mirror and unusually clear for being only three miles off the Galveston jetties.

As we placed the rig hook on vertical pipe spanning the height of the rig, it seemed as if we might be in Florida instead of on the Upper Texas Coast. But the city of Galveston stood in the horizon to remind us exactly where we were.
 
This tranquil mood began to crumble as Frank poured over a cup of clabbered beef blood. The water quickly dissolved the red mass, but the alluring blue tint began to take on an ominous dark shade almost instantly. A minute later Frank poured over another cup of blood and lowered down a weighted five gallon bucket full of mashed menhaden as I readied the rod and reels.
 
Just as he was about to pour third cup over, a fin popped up 30 yards to our south. The bucket had already created a chum slick and we had our first visitor, an extra-large Atlantic sharpnose shark that would soon prove to not be alone.
 
Soon there were dozens of the small sharks swishing through our chum slick and ready to take whatever we threw at them. I was the first to hook up. The drag on my Ambassador 6000 screamed like a banshee as the powerful shark pulled with the strong current. For a fish that weighed no more than 15 pounds, the shark fought like a brute making deep, quick dives and seemingly refusing to tire.
 
Frank too had on a shark, but the battle wouldn't last long. After fighting the fish a few minutes, he fought a strong tug on his line and then nothing. When he reeled in to see what had happened, he found the head of an Atlantic sharpnose shark connected to his hook, but there was no body behind the gills. A large shark had made a quick meal of the smallish one. It was probably the work of a large bull shark, which commonly prowl the area and are famous for preying on small coastal species like Atlantic sharpnose.
 
Such is shark fishing. There's nothing more exciting than creating an encounter with the apex predators of the ocean. Sharks never fail to put up a strong fight and always deliver in the excitement department. They're powerful, unpredictable and are extremely abundant in some areas during summer months, giving anglers an offbeat option for fun fishing action.

 

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And to add fun to the mix, I like to use light tackle for sharks, particularly the smaller sharks which inhabit the near-shore Gulf. Atlantic sharpnose, juvenile blacktip, bonnethead and small spinner sharks are all common around oil platforms, jetties and even piers when warm waters draw hordes of baitfish to these areas.

Tackle-wise going light for sharks doesn't require a vast repertoire of expensive gear. I've been using two basic set-ups while seeking sharks. The first is a 7 foot medium-action Shakespeare Ugly Stick rod with an Ambassador 6000 spooled with 17-pound test. This rig is light enough to afford a good fight from a small shark, but can also handle a much bigger one if it takes hold. The setup is finished off with three-ounce slip weight rigged above a three foot steel leader and a 12/0 Eagle Claw circle hook.
 
I release most sharks and have found the circle hook nearly 100 percent effective in hooking sharks in the side of the mouth, where no long-lasting
damage is done to the fish.
For ultra-light action I use the medium action rod and reel spooled with six to 10 pound test line. I use a light steel leader with the exact same setup for this except for using a Daichi Catfish Wide hook, which is a modified smaller wide-gapped circle hook. The 12/0 hook used on the other setup is just too bulky for the small rig.
 
Bait-wise, any bloody cut fish will work. Personally, I prefer mullet because it's easy to get and cuts easily. Probably the all-time best shark bait though is cut chunks of jack crevalle or bonito. Both of these fish are extremely oily and will draw a shark strike quicker than just about anything else. I once caught more than 30 sharks off the body of one 10 pound jack crevalle.
 
To draw sharks in, chumming is almost a necessity. Sharks tend to go where the easiest catch is and putting out chum is like ringing the dinner bell for these intense predators.
 
There are dozens of ways to chum and probably no wrong way to do it. The most economical would be to take a five gallon bucket, punch it full of holes and put weights in the bottom. The bucket is tied to the boat with enough rope to sink at least 10 feet down and fill it with fish guts, old shrimp, cut menhaden or any kind of smelly stuff. This will create a chum slick that will draw in sharks from all around. I like to use this in conjunction with cups of beef blood poured over the side.
 
If you're shark fishing from a pier like many anglers, this bucket method can prove effective, especially for bonnethead sharks which are very common around piers. Bonnetheads travel in small schools and can be drawn in very easily by dropping a chum bucket over the side of the pier. Other species will also respond.
 
If you want to get sharks to come to the surface to hit flies or even a topwater plug (Hopefully rigged on a steel leader) try taking out a pail of wet sand or mud and live glass minnows or finger mullet. Take several of the baitfish and clump them up in the sand and throw them overboard. The fish will escape at different depths and it will drive sharks crazy. Once they start surfacing you can skip the sand and just throw over the live bait to keep them surfaced. This is a modified version of what is called "power chumming" in Florida.
 
After you catch a shark, the next question is "What do I do with it?" It might surprise you, but shark meat is delicious.
 
I once had a big fish fry and served cobia and shark and most of the guests picked the shark as their favorite. Considering how good cobia tastes. That's one heck of a testament to shark meat.
 
Once you decide to keep a shark, remember that it should be killed immediately. After the fish is dead, remove the head and tail and allow it to bleed off the side of the boat. Once the fish is completely bled, put the fish in an ice chest.
 
My favorite way of cooking shark is to let it marinate in a 50/50 mixture of vinegar for three hours before cooking. Beer is another good marinade for shark. After marinating, I cut it into 1/2 inch steaks and fry it like any other fish. It's also very good grilled with lemon pepper or garlic salt.
 
My personal policy on retaining sharks depends on the species and the conditions of fish after landing it. In the past before I started using circle hooks, if the shark was bleeding profusely from the gills, it went in the ice chest. Using circle hooks will help avoid this problem though.
 
Now I only take home a few small sharks a year to eat and leave the rest to proliferate in the ocean. The only species I will occasionally keep are Atlantic sharpnose, bonnethead and blacktip, which are all still abundant in Gulf waters. I always release this big species to fight another day. Many of these species have plummeted to dangerously low numbers. They deserve a fighting chance.
 
"Some common near-shore shark species"
 
To most people, sharks caught in the nearshore Gulf are either "sand
sharks" or "baby hammerheads", but there is some real species diversity in
these fertile areas. The following is a brief description of some of the
species common to the Gulf Coast.
 
Atlantic sharpnose shark-These small sharks range from 24 inches to 42 inches and are the most common shark species in local waters. Atlantic sharpnose sharks are often called "sand sharks" and are commonly mistaken for juvenile blacktip sharks because of dark pigmentation on their dorsal fins. These sharks have the standard shark build with a pointed nose. Some individuals are covered with small white spots.
 
Blacktip shark-Blacktips are a common large shark species and can be distinguished by the dark black coloration on the tip of their fins. Blacktips grow to be more than 150 pounds and have been known to attack divers and swimmers from time to time. As a sportfish they have few equals as they're famous for jumping like a tarpon and making long, powerful runs. The average blacktip caught by anglers is around 20 pounds.
 
Bull shark - Bull sharks are distinguished by their blunt nose and stocky build. Bull sharks are a common visitor to local beaches and can tolerate high levels of freshwater. Juvenile bull sharks are common around the beachfront and jetty systems and so are their much larger relatives. They're considered a man-eater.
 
Bonnethead shark - Bonnetheads are a small species of shark often mistaken for juvenile hammerheads sharks because of their odd-shaped head. The difference is that a hammerhead has a straight head, while the bonnethead has a rounded one. Bonnetheads often travel in schools near the water's surface.
 
Lemon shark - These are one of the largest species of sharks to be found near local beaches. These sharks can weigh more than 500 pounds. They're usually a yellowish-brown color, although some individuals appear to be almost gray.
 
 
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