Trip To Shark Alley

Here's how to do battle with really big fish that really bite—Georgia sharks.

Ron Brooks | September 19, 2006

In September, shark fishing is at its peak in the inlets and sounds along the Georgia coast. This peak is just what some anglers await each year. We went after “Jaws” in August, hoping to find more of what had recently been a big-fish bite along the coast. Capt. David Newlin took us out of Kilkenny Marina on his boat, the 38-foot “Captain D,” to “Shark Alley,” just outside of Ossabaw Sound.

From March through October of every year, sharks proliferate the waters of the Georgia coast. Usually unseen, and for the most part uncaught by most anglers, the number of sharks in the water at any given location could frighten some people. The list of species roaming the coast includes hammerhead, lemon, tiger, black tip, bull, sand tiger, and shovel nose. Some are more prevalent than others, but any of them are likely to be caught on any given day of fishing.

Successful shark fishing is a matter of timing the trip to match certain tide conditions. The tidal currents drive shark movement and feeding habits like clockwork. If you are in the right place at the wrong tide, chances are you may not see a shark. But, be there when the tide is right, and you may have more sharks than your tackle can handle. This was just the case on our trip to Ossabaw.

We took a leisurely ride out of the sound. The tide was outgoing and about half down, and we planned to fish the rest of the outgoing tide and then set up to fish the incoming side.

As we motored out the channel, Capt. David tied leaders for the heavy tackle we were preparing to use. Penn 4/0 and 6/0 reels spooled with from 50- to 80-lb. monofilament line and heavy rods were the order of the day.

Many shark anglers would use a six-foot, 200-lb. test, all wire leader —something that is a sort of standard in shark-fishing circles. Capt. David uses a different rig.

His leaders consist of from six to 10 feet of 200-lb. test monofilament with a heavy-duty swivel on one end and a wire brace crimped on the other. To the wire brace, he attaches no more than three feet of wire, and at the end of the wire leader he attaches a 12/0 welded eye hook. He sometimes uses circle hooks, but only after he opens the standard gap to make a wider bite. He also bends the circle hook to give it an offset, something he says helps in getting a good hook-up.

David specializes in putting big sharks in the boat, like the 200-lb. tiger that one of his clients caught on a separate trip.

The hooks used in this kind of shark fishing have to be strong. Most anglers have seen the toothy upper and lower jaw bones of a shark. Even a medium-sized shark has a relatively thick jawbone. It takes a hook with a gap wide enough to get around one of these jawbones, and strong enough to withstand the powerful crushing effect of a shark’s jaw.

Capt. David uses monofilament for leader material for a reason. An eight-foot shark can play havoc with your tackle, and an all-wire leader is very susceptible to being kinked during a fight. After losing many large sharks to all-wire leaders, he switched to the mono/wire combination. He tries to keep the wire as short as possible to prevent kinks, yet long enough to keep sharp teeth from cutting through the monofilament. Even 200-lb. test mono is no match for a shark’s mouth.

On the line above the leaders is an egg slip sinker. We used a 10-oz. sinker at this point because that was all we needed to get a bait to the bottom. In stronger current conditions, egg or bank sinkers up to 16 ounces are needed to get a bait down. Capt. David used only enough weight to get the bait to the bottom.

With four rods now ready and equipped with new leaders, we slowed at the end of the channel. The red and green cans marked the end of the inlet channel, and we set up to anchor just on the edge of that channel in water about 12 feet deep.

The outgoing tide was aided by a brisk, early morning, westerly breeze that quickly turned the boat into the outgoing tide as we set anchor.

What followed was a ritual of sorts. Two large ice chests full of king mackerel and barracuda carcasses from an offshore trip the day before were to be used for chum and bait. On the way out the sound, we carved meat and entrails from the carcasses and place them in two chum bags. The heads and parts of the body were left to be used for bait. They were bloody and meaty, just what the doctor ordered for sharks. The bags were then mashed and stomped upon to crush and detach small pieces of fish meat.

David has no problem catching these small black-tip sharks.

“I’ll take king mackerel and barracuda for shark bait over any other bait you can give me,” Capt. David said. “The sharks just seem to really like them, and they provide lots of blood.”

Sharks can sense blood in the water from a mile away and will swim into the current to find the source of that blood. That’s why a moving tide is essential.

The smaller king mackerel heads, with entrails still attached, were placed on two of the rods and sent to the bottom behind the boat. Two more rods were baited with white stomach meat and sent to the bottom. The stomach meat comes from the leftover on the underside of a king or barracuda after it has been fileted.

With four rods set out, we sat back to await a bite. The drags had been loosened to allow a hard-hitting fish to run without breaking the tackle in the rod holder.

It looked as if it would be a sit-and-wait kind of fishing, but Capt. David had other ideas. He went below and brought out two slightly smaller outfits with slightly lighter line. These 30-lb. outfits had leaders built the same way with two exceptions. First, they were not as heavy, relying on lighter monofilament and only a 9/0 hook, and second, they had no sinker or weight. Instead they had a Cajun Thunder float, the blue-water version, tied between the line and the leader.

Capt. David called this new rig his “Black tip special.” As it turned out, he was absolutely right.

A smaller stomach strip was hooked up as bait on these two float rigs and both were set out and allowed to float back with the current.

Blair Faulk and Adam Hedgecoth, who were along for the shark-fishing trip, each had a float rig in their hands. As the floats moved away from the boat, they popped the floats almost as if they were trout or red-drum fishing.

Capt. David showed us several floats that had huge teeth marks and told us how the black tips would actually attack the floats. The popping provided a clicking noise and moved the bait, which was six to eight feet under the surface.

The new tactic worked almost immediately. Chum bags had barely been placed in the water when one of the floats disappeared. Blair put the Penn into free spool and thumbed the line as it ran from the reel. Large baits need time to be swallowed, and this freelining provided that time.

After about 10 seconds of freelining, Blair put the reel in gear, reeled the slack up and set the hook.

The line sang as it tightened and the shark ran sideways to the boat, with the line cutting a wake where it met the water. Two or three short but powerful runs later, a black-tip shark was at the side of the boat. This first fish weighed about 30 pounds, relatively small as sharks go.

We caught several more fish like this before we hooked into a black tip in the 60- to 70-lb. range. Capt. David double-gaffed the fish and brought him aboard. As soon as this shark came aboard, Capt. David gutted it and allowed it to bleed on the self-bailing deck. The entrails went overboard into the chum line and the blood washed down and out the boat.

“Black tips are one of the best eating fish you will ever encounter,” he said, “but you must gut them and allow them to bleed. If you don’t get one gutted within about 30 minutes, you may as well pitch it, because the meat will acquire a heavy ammonia stench.”

This one went into the huge Igloo cooler to be taken home.

The action continued for another hour, but as the outgoing tide began to slow, so did the bite, and we prepared to relocate the boat.

We sat and talked with the crew as we moved west into the channel to set up for the incoming tide. Blair is Capt. David’s nephew and is a second lieutenant in the Marines preparing for a trip to Iraq this coming March. The trip today would be his last for a while, and he was happy to be fishing.

Adam is Capt. David’s able mate and has worked the boat all summer. This trip was a holiday of sorts before he heads off to school at Savannah State.

We next anchored along the edge of a drop that runs from eight feet of water on the north side of the channel down to 30 feet. The plan was to fish along this edge, one where Capt. David had been catching tiger and sand-tiger sharks in the 200- to 300-lb. range.

As the tide began to move in, lines were baited with larger king mackerel heads and sent to the bottom with heavier weights. We also put the float rigs back behind the boat.

We caught a few more black tips on the float rigs and two of the largest sting rays we had ever encountered. In all we caught 13 black-tip sharks from 30 to 70 pounds and those two sting rays. That’s not a bad deal for a short day of shark fishing!

We didn’t catch any monster sharks on this trip, but then we were not able to stay until the high tide — a time that Capt. Newlin says is prime time for big sharks. Impending thunder storms were on the horizon.

If you plan to fish for sharks on your own, there are several things you will need to remember. Take plenty of chum — bloody chum is the secret that brings in the sharks and the more the better. For those anglers who don’t happen to have leftover fish carcasses for bait, the ideal bait is pogies — menhaden shad. Many fishermen use a big castnet to fill a big ice chest full of pogies and then cut them up for chum.

Live pogies make ideal baits, but because they are not as bloody as king mackerel, a steady stream of chum is required. That means having someone cutting up pogies just about full time, and pitching them over the side. You can also fill a chum bag with pogies and then crush them under your feet to provide the “right stuff.”

As an added bonus, live pogies used as bait will often result in a tarpon hookup. Tarpon anglers fish the same areas with live pogies and have great success on tarpon with sharks as an added bonus!

The easiest way to go shark fishing is to let Capt. Newlin take you on the “Captain D.” He has all the gear, will put up with all the mess and will definitely put you on some sharks that will wear you arms out!

Give Capt. David Newlin a call at (912) 756-4573 or visit his website.


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