Sharks In The Chum Line
Catching sharks isn’t rocket science. All you need is some bloody, stinking bait and a strong anchor.
“Shark! It’s a dadgum shark.” If I heard my dad say that once while I was growing up, I heard it a thousand times. And the very next words I always heard were, “Get the knife,” after which he would promptly cut the line. My father hated sharks. I grew up hating sharks because of that. Heck, in the 50s and 60s not many people liked sharks.
Today it’s a whole new world. Shark fishing has become an established effort, a bona fide fishing activity. There are even some charter captains and guides who specialize in shark fishing. Local fish markets sell shark filets for as much as $8 a pound or more. Who would ever have thought about eating a shark when I was growing up?
There are at least 30 different species of sharks found along the Georgia coast. Some only grow to about 4 feet long; others can grow four times that length. Over half of these species are protected and must be released if caught. I think the biggest problem a shark angler has is determining exactly what species he has caught. If you plan on keeping a shark to eat, you need to know the regulations; and, they are a bit complicated. The best rules to follow is that if you don’t know the species, you need to let it go.
Most anglers practice catch-and-release on sharks. The food value listed on the different species of sharks ranges from good to very good. Only one comes in as excellent, the nurse shark. There are people who say that grilled shark steak can’t be beat.
Shark fishing can be done almost anywhere there is saltwater because sharks are literally everywhere in saltwater. Whether you fish from a pier, the surf or a boat, you can catch sharks. Sometimes you catch sharks even when you don’t want to catch sharks.
If you are fishing from a pier, it makes good sense to chum the water for sharks. This chumming would include fresh, bloody fish carcasses or some of the commercial blood chum bags available in area tackle shops. Sharks are said to be able to detect blood in the water from a very great distance. Once they pick up the scent of blood, they follow it up current to find the disabled, bleeding prey. If fishing from a pier, you need to make sure shark fishing and chumming are legal activities.
You will want to make sure you are positioned on the pier so as not to interfere with the other anglers. They sometimes take offense to shark anglers. Once a shark is in the area, he will eat every bait he can find, often breaking off several lines before being caught. I’ve seen as many as three anglers on a pier all hooked up to the same shark because the shark ate all of their baits.
Move to the end of the pier where the tidal current is running away from the pier. That way the other anglers won’t be fishing in the chum and blood stream and hooking an unwanted shark.
In the surf, shark fishing is simply hit-or-miss and luck. Chumming is almost impossible because you are on the beach, and there is no real way to get a chum line going. But that’s fine, because there are plenty of sharks to be had from the beach even without the chum.
If the swimmers and surfers knew how many sharks there are patrolling up and down the beach just beyond the breakers they probably would not be in the water. Aerial photos sometimes show hundreds of sharks swimming along the beaches. The last week of May saw two separate shark bite incidents on north Florida beaches. In both cases the victims were standing in less than 3 feet of water. The same sharks that swim in north Florida swim in Georgia waters, as well.
The key to surf fishing for sharks is getting a fresh, bloody bait out far enough for the sharks to find it. I like to fish an area where there is no outer sandbar. Those sandbars allow a deeper pool of water to form between the bar and the beach. Lots of surf fishermen fish these pools exclusively. I find that the sharks like to be just beyond the breakers. If there is no outer sandbar, you should be able to cast a good bait beyond the big waves. After that, it’s a matter of sitting and waiting.
I also would try to avoid areas of the beach where there are a lot of swimmers. It’s not advisable to catch a shark out from under the bathers. Even though the shark was already there, you may be accused of bringing the sharks in close because of your bait. Find a less populated beach.
The trip we made in June to find a shark or two was in our 21-foot center console off Cumberland Island. A smaller boat will do well where we fished, if the weather is calm. We fished from just behind the surf to as much as a mile off the beach. We moved so we could be located close to any pogy pods that were in the area.
Shark fishing from a boat allows for a great chum line to be established. We needed only to find something to chum with. And that something was pogies—menhaden shad. These are smelly, bloody fish, and they will attract almost every predator fish in the area once you get that smell in the water.
The first order of business was to find some pogies. We idled up and down the beach off the island until we located a couple of pods of fish. Pogies usually stay on the surface, and in calm water you can see their wake on the surface. They will come to the surface and flip once in a while.
We fast-idled the boat over to a large pod of pogies and then cut the engine. That let the boat continue silently into the middle of the pod. In a few casts of our 10-foot cast net, we had enough chum for the day. We filled a 48-quart ice chest with nothing but pogies—no ice. Then we put a few live pogies in our livewell to use for bait.
We had fished inshore and caught a few bluefish that we wanted to use for shark bait. They were in the cooler with the pogies. We were all set, looking to anchor the boat.
We watched the pogies in the area to see whether they were staying close to the beach or moving farther out. Sometimes pods of pogies will move up to a mile or more off the beach. The pods on this day were hanging in about 20 feet of water, a little more than a half mile off.
We wanted to anchor the boat in the path of the pogy pods. They always move with the tidal current while the sharks will almost always be moving against the tidal current, sniffing out their prey. Our chum line would bring them to us.
We had the rods set out with the clickers activated on the reels. Any other fish that bites will make the reel click some as it moves with the bait. A shark will make the clicker scream. Sharks don’t usually sit still and eat. They grab a bait and run.
When they run, pick the rod up, put the reel in gear and set the hook while the shark is running away from you.
We set the hook on the first shark bite, and the drag on the reel started sending line out. But we were able to turn the fish and eventually get it to the side of the boat. We released the 25-lb. shark, and I could not tell you what kind it was. You really need a set of pictures with you to identify some of these sharks.
It was the same routine for two more sharks we caught, both of them blacktips. They were both about 4 feet long and easily identifiable because of the black tips on their fins.
We had a few sharks come up in the chum that were not interested in our bait. They swam around the boat and then left. One huge shark was way back in the chum line prowling. I could not tell what he was, but its sides looked like they might have had some vertical markings, so I assume it may have been a big tiger shark.
Our tackle consisted of a pair of Penn Defiance 6-foot, 30-lb. class rods with Penn 20LW Defiance reels. We had 30-lb.-test line on each one. These outfits are great for a variety of fish along the beaches. They hold 400 yards of line, which is enough to catch up to a big tarpon, and they are stout enough to handle a big bull red or shark.
Most of the sharks you will catch will be less than 50 pounds, but occasionally you can hook into a monster.
Our line was doubled for 5 feet and then tied to a swivel. On the line above the swivel we slid a 5-oz. egg sinker. We only needed enough weight to keep the bait on the bottom in the current. Obviously if the current is strong, use a larger weight. The swivel had a 4-foot-long, 80-lb.-test wire leader and finally a 10/0 O’Shaughnessy hook.
You can use a circle hook if you like, but I find the cost to be a factor with the larger circle hooks. When I have the shark at the side of the boat, I’m going to cut the leader down as close to the hook as I can and let the shark have the hook. Sharks, along with all other fish, can dissolve a metal hook embedded in their flesh in a matter of weeks.
The weather is getting hotter as each day passes. If you have a Bimini top, put it up. And take plenty of water. Dehydration can happen extremely fast sitting anchored in the hot sun for several hours.
While you have the chum line going, sharks are not the only fish that can be attracted. Tarpon and big red drum are just as likely to come up that chum line. If you see one or more tarpon rolling at the surface behind the boat, they have found the chum. If you want to tangle with a big silverside, simply put one of the live pogies on a hook and freeline that bait back with the chum. Make sure your tackle is heavy enough for the tarpon. You probably want to take one of your shark rods and keep it handy for a tarpon.
Big red drum will also come up in the chum line. They tend to be underneath the big pogy pods. If you put a live pogy on the bottom out of the chum line but under a pogy pod, you will likely hook up with a big red.
Remember, the rules and regulations on keeping sharks vary from species to species, and some sharks are difficult to tell from one species to another.
We fished off Cumberland Island, but the sharks can be caught all along the Georgia coast using the same techniques we used. Find the pogies, catch some chum and bait, and anchor up to get a chum line going. The sharks will come right to you!
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