Shrimp Boat Sharks

Want to match your angling skills against five feet of jumping, twisting, toothy critter? If so, pitch a pogy behind a shrimp boat and hold on.

Capt. Spud Woodward | August 1, 2004

For millions of years, sharks roamed the worldʼs oceans and were the undisputed kings — the grizzly bears of the sea. That is, until man came on the scene. Well-meaning folks in natural-resource management labeled sharks an underutilized species, stimulating the development of large-scale commercial fisheries. The novel and movie, “Jaws,” drove us out of the water and into a rampage against the great white. Thankfully, we now understand that sharks play an important role in marine ecology, and we treat them with a bit more respect.

The waters of coastal Georgia are home to dozens of different types of sharks. Some like the Atlantic sharpnose and the bonnethead are very abundant but rarely grow larger than 10 pounds. Others like the tiger and greater hammerhead are encountered rarely but can push the scales to 1,000 pounds or better. But, it is the medium-sized species, like the sandbar, finetooth, spinner and blacktip that are the perennial favorites with coastal anglers. The last two species are particularly popular since they are abundant in nearshore waters, routinely hit the 30-lb. mark, taste great on the grill, and, oh, how they fight.

Once hooked, a spinner or blacktip will erupt from the water, turn cartwheels, and gyrate in a way that would make an Olympic gymnast turn green with envy. Small or large, it doesn’t matter — they all go for the sky. Throughout the fight, they continue to do their best to intimidate the angler with airborne antics while giving the terminal tackle a beating. When itʼs all over, the rubbery-armed, sweat-drenched angler has the satisfaction and comfort of knowing that he has tangled with one of natureʼs toughest adversaries.

Shrimp boats often provide shark anglers with great places to hook up with a big, explosive shark. By late summer, most of the shrimp boats are working within a few miles of shore and can usually be found near inlets and river mouths.

Shrimp Boat Etiquette: The tranquil scene of a shrimp boat working in calm waters gives no sign of the drama playing out just a few feet below the surface. As the trawl sweeps along the sea floor, a variety of fish, crustaceans, jellyfish, and other marine life are stirred up. Some escape capture, but are momentarily disoriented. Others are carried along into the net. When the catch is hauled on deck and sorted, everything but the shrimp and maybe a few fish and blue crabs are pushed out the scuppers and back into the sea. If you were a shark, where would you be?

By late summer, most of the shrimp boats are working within a few miles of shore and can usually be found near inlets and river mouths. On calm days, the shrimp boats are within easy reach of seaworthy vessels. Find one, and you have a pretty good chance of finding a shark.

Once you spot a shrimp boat, approach close enough to see if the crew is working on the back deck. If you see them sitting or kneeling, chances are they just hauled back and are sorting the catch. Luck is on your side as this is primetime to find a hungry shark. Even if the crew is not sorting the catch, but the boat is trawling, you can still expect action as sharks usually lurk around waiting for the next feeding opportunity.

All shrimp boats have their name on the bow and stern. If you have a VHF radio, try to contact the captain on channels 6, 7, 9, 11, 17 or even 16. If all else fails, come alongside on the port (thatʼs the left side for you non-nautical folks) forward of the booms, and speak directly to the captain at the wheelhouse.

Gabe Gaddis, a marine biologist with the Georgia DNR, knows shrimp boats. He has spent days and nights onboard as a scientific observer and time astern as a shark angler. He offers some sage advice.

“It is really important to communicate with the trawl captain prior to putting baits in the water. Some of the captains say itʼs not necessary, but it makes me feel more comfortable when I do. Plus, I can find out when heʼs going to haul back his nets, how close to get to the net cables, and if he might still have some cull onboard that I can use for bait.”

Gaddis recommends having a mesh bag with a float available to transfer to one of the crew. They can fill it with trash fish and pitch it overboard for you to pick up. While not necessary, a six-pack of cold beverages or a few greenbacks will often help seal the deal.

Once you dispense with the pleasantries, itʼs time to put your baits in the strike zone. If the shrimp boat is actively fishing, Gaddis recommends approaching from astern to within 30 yards of the net cables. Then pitch out your baits and drift away. If the crew is shoveling cull overboard, wait until you can put your baits into the ready-made chum line.

Usually, the action is immediate, but if you donʼt get a strike, let the boat drift a hundred yards or so. Sometimes the sharks are prowling an area well behind the nets, and youʼll draw your strikes away from the boat. Typically, shrimp boats pulling nets run at speeds of three knots or less. So, it wonʼt be difficult to catch back up with the shrimp boat for another drift. When sharks are in the area, chances are you wonʼt have to make too many drifts before you get a bend in the rod.

Toothy-Critter Tactics: While sharks will respond to artificial lures, particularly the larger, shallow-running crankbaits made by Rapala, Yo-Zuri, and others, most anglers targeting shrimp boat sharks prefer natural baits. Makes sense to match the hatch. You may be able to pick up some net cull from a shrimp boat, but itʼs best to have a little insurance. By August, large schools of menhaden, or pogies as they are known to most anglers, can be found just off the beach. Catching a dayʼs supply is usually just a matter of one toss of the cast net.

A netful of pogies gives you a little added insurance that youʼll have enough bait for the day. By August, large schools of pogies can be found just off the beaches.

If you have a baitwell supplied with seawater, toss in a few pogies just to have the option of fishing some live bait. Otherwise, place a few-dozen menhaden on ice, and youʼre ready to find a shrimp boat. Hook dead pogies by bringing the point of the hook up through the chin and out the top of the head. It never hurts to cut off the tail just to put a little extra scent in the water.

The twisting acrobatics of a 50-lb. spinner shark will make short work of light line, leader, and fishing rods, so leave the bass tackle at home. Most guides and anglers who target sharks use at least 20-lb.-class tackle and many prefer 30- or 40-lb. gear. Medium-heavy action rods, like the Shakespeare Ugly Stik Custom Model 1170, are preferable since they keep the fight sporty but provide enough backbone to handle a heavyweight. Conventional or spinning gear — the choice is yours. Just be sure to have at least 200 yards of line on the spool. Monofilament works fine, but it is advisable to use a Bimini twist or spider hitch to make a five-foot length of double line before finishing off with a 125-lb.-test snap swivel. New generation lines like PowerPro or Stren Super Braid are great for shark fishing since they are exceptionally strong with a small diameter and are highly resistant to abrasion.

The key to success in shark fishing is terminal tackle. Either wire or monofilament can be used for leader material just as long as it has the strength to deal with teeth and sandpaper-like skin. Most folks opt for mono in 100-lb. test or stronger, particularly if theyʼre using circle hooks. Wire size should be No. 9 or larger. Regardless of the material, make your leaders the length of the sharks you expect to catch — typically five or six feet will do the trick.

Both circle and conventional J-hooks work for sharks. The choices in circle hooks are growing every year. Just be sure to pick a model with a minimum 3/4-inch gap between point and shank. The Owner SSW Circle in size 7/0 and the Eagle Claw L2222 in size 6/0 are both good selections. If you opt for a conventional J-hook, choose the OʼShaughnessy hook manufactured by virtually every company or the Owner SSW Needle Point, both in size 6/0. Hooks can be connected to mono leaders with a snell or any other strong knot and a haywire twist in the case of wire. The other end of the leader should be finished off in a loop to allow connection to a snap swivel.

Anglers should be prepared to make floating-and-sinking bait presentations when targeting shrimp boat sharks. Hereʼs a simple way to do it: Finish off one end of 16-inch section of heavy monofilament with a surgeonʼs loop. Then slide a plastic bead and either an egg-shaped float or a 2-oz. egg sinker onto the mono. Slide another plastic bead on and finish off the end of the leader with a 125-lb.-test coastlock snap swivel. You simply connect the loop of your float or sinker rig to the snap swivel on the main line and then connect your leader. Make several of each version and you can quickly change bait presentations.

Shark Handling 101: Once a shark is brought near the boat, someone has to make a decision about keeping or releasing the fish. Many of the species of sharks common in Georgiaʼs coastal waters have good food value and can be positively identified with a little experience or the aid of printed materials. Of course, the decision to take a shark should always be made with consideration of all applicable state and federal laws, and considering the fact that many shark species are just beginning to recover from decades of overfishing.

When the decision is made to release the shark, you have a couple of options. If the shark is small, say less than three feet in length, you can usually safely control it by using one gloved hand to grab it in front of the dorsal fin and the other gloved hand to secure the tail. While you hold the fish, have someone remove the hook. If you hold the shark horizontally, but upside down, youʼll find that it goes into a dormant state. Once you have the hook removed and the photos taken, place the fish back in the water. If the shark is active, release both hands simultaneously. If the fish is sluggish, move it back and forth in the water until it tries to escape.

For larger sharks, the best approach is to keep the fish in the water. Using gloved hands, keep the leader tight to control the fish and bring it alongside the boat. Sever the leader as close as safely possible to the hook with a sharp knife or pliers if youʼre using wire leader. But be careful and donʼt get too close to the dental work. Believe me, monofilament, wire, and hooks are a whole lot cheaper than doctor bills. The hook and a small length of leader material will prove only a minor annoyance to the shark and will likely fall out with time.

If the decision is made to a keep a shark, it should be thoroughly subdued before it is brought into the boat. By subdued, I mean application of blunt force trauma to the central nervous system. In other words, hit it in the head with a hard object. The best tool for this is a fiberglass or aluminum bat. However, if youʼre a traditionalist, the cut-down Louisville Slugger works fine. Plus, a fish bat makes a handy tool for dealing with a mutinous crew.

Once the shark is safe to handle, make an incision about halfway through the base of the tail and allow the fish to bleed out. This will help rid the flesh of urea, which quickly turns into ammonia. However, itʼs very important not to cut off the tail. Georgia law requires that saltwater fish covered by harvest regulations be landed with the head and fins intact. Once the fish is bled, remove the internal organs and rinse the body cavity with seawater. Next place the shark in a cooler or well-insulated fish box along with plenty of ice.

Back on land, cut off the sharkʼs head and tail, and remove the skin and any underlying dark meat. You should be left with pinkish flesh that may have a slight ammonia smell. Depending on the size of the shark, you can cut the meat into steaks or filets and immediately pack in clean ice. Now youʼre ready to dazzle your friends with a grilled shark steak and your story of how you took on a few million years of evolution and won.

Shark Rules, 2004 Season

Once treated as a nuisance and a varmint, most sharks are now protected by state and federal regulations designed to prevent excessive harvest from commercial and recreational fishing. Anglers, take note. State and federal shark regulations are not the same. Georgia’s jurisdiction in the Atlantic Ocean goes out to three miles, while federal jurisdiction extends beyond the three-mile mark out 200 miles. Yes, it is confusing, but remember this. Even if you are fishing in federal waters, you will eventually be coming back into Georgiaʼs waters. When you do, the catch onboard will need to be legal according to Georgia fishing regulations.

In Georgia, sharks are divided into two groups for purposes of management. The Small Shark Composite consists of Atlantic sharpnose, bonnethead, and spiny dogfish, all of which must be 30 inches before harvest. The Georgia Sport Fishing Regulations includes color illustrations of these sharks. The daily and possession limit is two per person, and the season is open all year.

The Sharks Composite includes everything else except the sand tiger, the harvest of which is prohibited. The spinner, blacktip, finetooth, sandbar, and several others fall in this category.

Again the season is open all year, but sharks must measure at least 48 inches, and only one longer than 84 inches may be kept. This maximum size limit is designed to allow for the capture of a potential state record while reducing wanton waste of the larger shark species, like greater hammerhead, which are typically not good for food. The daily and possession limits for this shark group is two per person or per boat, whichever is less. For more info on Georgiaʼs saltwater regulations, click here.

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