09. Catching and Releasing Sharks
After dropping your baits and paddling back to the shore, it is time to get ready for the fireworks. When your weight has had about thirty seconds to set, tighten the slack in the line and tighten the reel drag to about five to six pounds of pressure. Test the drag by pulling some line from the reel with your hand. Turn the reel clicker on so you can hear the run off. If it is dark, attach a glow stick to the line so you can watch your rod. In the day time, you might clip a trout float on the line to watch for strikes. Get your fighting harness out and place it close to your rod spike.
The pickup will usually come in one of two ways. Some sharks hit the bait hard and head out with a strong run, powerful run. All you have to do is grab the rod out of the rodspike, put your thumb on the spool, and run about 10 to 20 yards back, driving the hook home. Try to build up 15 to 20 lbs of pressure, and you will set the hook firmly. Next call for help, get your fighting belt on, get the video camera running, and get organized for handling the shark and shooting some photos.
Sometimes the shark will pick bait up and swim towards you. When you have a slack line, you have to grab the rod and quickly put line on the reel to “catch up” with the shark. If the circle hook has done its job, the shark is often lightly hooked and is dragging the weight around. When you have caught up with the shark, make a quick ten yard sprint towards the sand dunes and stick the shark two or three times to make sure you have a good hook set. Many times people say you do not have to set a circle hook, but you definitely need to firm up the hookset, since monofilament line has so much stretch. So again, run for the dunes and ram the hook through the jawbone.
Blacktip sharks strike hard, often starting with a good power run, sometimes burning fifty or more yards off the reel while heading for the deep water. On the other hand, spinner sharks go aerial upon hookup, exploding from the water. The most important thing to remember when a shark is making an initial power run is to let the shark burn some line before continuing to tightening down on the reel drag. When making the first run, a shark has the power to cut your line on the seashells in the sandbars. After the shark has finished the first run, slowly tighten the drag down sufficient to reel line in on the spool. If you need more drag, add it slowly. If there was a rule of thumb to follow, I would say do not put more than 20 lbs of pressure on the shark during the first 60 seconds he is on. About 20 lbs of pressure will set the hook firmly.
When you have a larger shark on, you will note the size of the fish as you tighten the drag down during the initial run. The reels we are talking for medium sized sharks can sustain 10 to 15 lbs. of drag over sustained periods. This is plenty to wear down a very nice eight foot shark. If the shark has taken 100 yards on you, he might be 7 feet or larger, so resist the temptation to lock the reel down. Let the shark run and have confidence in your gear. A nice 8′ shark might burn 200+ yards before you get him turned, but most of the time a Penn 6/0 wide or 9/0 class reel can stop some big fish.
Sometimes you will get a trophy shark hooked up on your medium sized gear. There have been many times an angler got lucky and landed a very big shark on a 6/0 wide or a 9/0. The important thing to do is not lose your cool and keep constant pressure on the fish. Sometimes guys choke and hammer down on the reel drag to early, and the line snaps. Just try to stay connected to the fish. You may have a two or three hour fight on your hands, but you might get that big shark anyway if you keep your cool. One of our members from South Florida, Nick Cipriano, got a 10+ tiger shark on a 9/0 that was run out 150 yards. Often if you can get a big sharks to run laterally down the beach, instead of heading straight out, you may have to fight him half a mile down the beach, but you can get him.
When a good shark starts a power run, put some drag on him but do not choke. It takes a lot of energy for a big shark to make a power burst and run 300 yards in the early stages of a fight. Later in the fight, the sharks make shorter and shorter runs. It takes a lot of force for a 300 to 600 lbs. shark to muscle a long power run. If a shark starts a long run, just let him go until he starts to slow down. As a shark starts to slow at the end of a power run, you have the opportunity to start taking line back and put the heat on the fish. As he recovering from the energy expenditure of a power run, you better put some line on the reel while you can. Try to recover 50 to 100 yards if you can. If your shoulders are tired, just hold the rod and walk backwards 10 yards at a time to keep some serious tension on the fish. Then run up fast and recover the line on the reel quickly. Keep repeating this to pack the line on the reel. This is the time when you will be very happy you spent money on a good fighting belt. Just keep some tension on the fish all the time and realize that if you rest, the shark is resting too.
Sometimes a shark will get a second wind if you do not fight strong enough. The end battle might be tough. As you fight the shark in, he may try to push his head into the sandbars. If the shark gets on the bar, loosen up on the drag, let the shark turn around and swim 15-25 yards, and then hammer him again and try to punch him over the bar. Stay on top of him, but do not panic and keep the pressure on.
As you get the shark in close, you will reel the line all the way back in to the topshot. When you are at the topshot, you will have only the heavier 80 lbs. line in the water, and you can increase pressure on the fish. But even at this stage, do not get to excited. We have broken many sharks off at the first bar by trying to horse a big fish in too quick.
Catch and Release
I can catch three to five hundred pounds of sharks in a weekend during the fall. I practice catch and release fishing when possible. Few thrills compare to being hooked up on a 5 ½’ blacktip shark as he bolts through the surf. If you are not going to eat that shark, a smart thing to do is let it go to fight another day.
Now I’m not a shark Nazi and I’m not going to call down a man who legally has the right to keep a shark. That is his business and I respect that. If you keep your sharks within the guidelines of the law, that is fine. Sometimes people catch the shark of a lifetime and want to keep it. If you catch a lot of sharks….a lot of sharks…by all means practice some catch and release. If I gave away all the sharks I caught I would be a menace. A shark released today is a treasure for tomorrow.
Landing and Releasing
This is when your crew shines. As you dig in your rods spikes and set your gear up, you need to remember to bring all shark handling equipment from the vehicle down to where your rods spikes are. I like to keep everything I will need to handle the shark in one toolbox. Other people like to use a bucket for their gear. Whatever your choice is, you need everything in one place when it is time to operate.
Here is what I keep in my tool box:
– Two instant cameras;
– Two pairs of piers;
– Heavy duty cable cutters;
– One very sharp knife;
– Two or three pairs of leather gloves;
– Bolt cutters;
– Four pound hammer;
– Several flashlights.
Before a shark is on the line is the time to plan shark handling. People need to be organized and have roles and responsibilities. Decide who is going to be the leaderman, who is going to be the camera man. If you are going to shoot video for the internet, remind people not to cuss or get in the way of the action. It is a real disappointment to have a great action shot that is lost because someone is screaming like an idiot or running their mouth nonstop.
While the shark is coming in close, your leader man needs to put on a pair of gloves and get ready to grab the leader. If it is at night, we need one guy putting a light on your shark.
We make the leaders 15 to 20 feet long, so it is easier for the leaderman to go out and get the shark.
The leader man grabs the leader, takes control, and pulls the shark within four to eight inches of water. (Many people bring their shark all the way out of the water and leave him on the sand. Sharks that sit on the beach without water over their gills for more than 45 to 60 seconds have a more difficult release.) As the leader man brings the shark in close, we call for someone to start shooting the camera as you put your rod back into the rod holder.
When a shark comes in green on the beach, it will have a lot of energy and may flip around. Smaller sharks are particularly active and dangerous. There is no reason you should get your hand bit by not paying attention and talking precautions to handle the shark with care. When handling a shark, two people are used to remove the hook. When you are ready to remove the hook, bring the shark briefly out of the water onto the beach and go to work. The first person controls the shark by opening the jaws and placing the hammer in the shark’s mouth to keep it open and accessible for hook removal. The second man uses pliers to remove the hook.
If the hook does not come out quickly, a small incision can be made to cut the hook out. Be careful because a small cut can often turn into a bleeder. If the hook is parked into the cartilage of the sharks jaw, we quickly draw the bolt cutters and cut the hook. The two pieces of the broken hook can be easily removed with pliers.
BOLT CUTTERS SAVE LIVES. IF YOU ARE A SHARK FISHERMAN, DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT THEM. My style is to look at the hook quickly, and if it does not look like an easy hook removal, the bolt cutters come out automatically. 20/0 circle hooks are relatively cheap at $1.50 each. As a practical matter I use bolt cutters on one third of the sharks I catch.
As soon as the hook is out, the shark is measured and the pictures shot quickly. To get the best shots, you have to get down to the sharks level, and squeeze off pictures at a height of 1 to 2 feet off the ground. After a few brag shots, move the shark back to the water and he should swim off-assuming you did not have him out of the water for three to five minutes. Many times sharks have had enough of humans and are ready to swim off, but you should be careful anyway.
Now for the shark with problems. When I landed my very second blacktip off the beach at South Padre Island, I was fishing by myself, with tourist helping hold my rod as I kayaked baits out. When I landed this shark, the hook was difficult to remove.
The shark was out of the water for probably five minutes…a disaster! My tourist friends handed me tools as I operated and they did all the photography. The shark was very weak as I drug it back to the water for the release. The shark seemed almost motionless as I walked it into the current in waist deep water. After about six to eight minutes the shark started to move its tail slightly. I continued to walk the shark a couple of minutes more and then shoved the shark forward and it swam off on it’s own.
The best way to release a shark is be organized for the pit stop and don’t be shy about using the bolt cutters. When you are quick getting the hook out, the sharks release with vitality.