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07. Shark Fishing Leaders

Christopher Deaver with Tiger Shark

My choice of reel for fishing for 5’ to 7′ sharks from the beach is the Penn 6/0 wide Senator mounted on a six foot rod. As previously mentioned, other good reels include the Penn 9/0 and the wonderful Daiwa 900H. I fill my Penn 6/0 wide reel with at least 500 yards of 50# test monofilament line, and a topshot of 50 to 80 yards of 80# test monofilament line. The heavy 80# test topshot is much more abrasion resistant to cuts from the sandbars than the 50# test line. I usually keep one 6/0 wide run out all day. If I have a lot of bait, I will run a second rod out with a different bait than on the first rod. I may run a mullet on one rod and a chunk of stingray on the second rod. Now whether you fish one or two rods out, you need to have a rod working all day, with the bait checked every couple of hours. At sunset, I may deploy a third rod out. Sunset tends to be the hottest bite of the day.

Components for our basic leader

Leader Construction for Medium Sized Sharks

With land based shark fishing, we like to construct our own custom leaders instead of buying them from a store. We buy components like hooks, snap swivels, and crimps in bulk from salt water tackle shops, and construct the leaders ourselves. We are presenting the construction of the stealth trace we have used for a long time, which is good for sharks to 8 feet. Pay close attention to this leader, it is one of the most effective designs which results in a very high hookup rate when targeting medium size sharks. There is no need to try to be creative here and reinvent the wheel. Make the leader exactly as you see it.

We like to using long leaders. The minimum leader size is at least 50% longer than the largest shark you expect to catch. The long leaders make it easy to handle sharks, especially at night. The top of my standard leader for medium sized sharks consists of a twenty foot section of heavy “weed eater” style monofilament line with a heavy 400# test barrel swivel crimped to one end and a heavy 500# test snap swivel on the other. The bottom of my leader is a six to seven foot section of #250 plastic coated stainless steel cable. The standard hook we use is a 20/0 circle hook. We fish the 20/0 circle hook exactly as it comes from the factory. We do not gap the hook or offset it. We coat all of the hook, except for the barb, and other exposed surfaces like the crimps close to the hook with electric tape to achieve a stealth presentation.

The crimps used are 1/16th inch (Sevlon 12AA crimps) for the 250 stainless steel plastic coated cable section, and 3/32nd inch for the weedeater line or heavy mono section. We like to used copper or alloy crimps, and try to avoid aluminum crimps (aluminum crimps will still work but are not optimal). This leader will handle most sharks to 8 feet and costs about $5 to make.

Basic Leader Layout

We attach an eight-ounce copper tube weight, and the six foot hook trace, to the snap swivel on the “weed eater” leader. Note the weight is fixed and does not slide on the leader (this is very important). My hook trace consists of a 20/0 circle hook double crimped to a six foot section of 250# test plastic coated steel leader finished on the other end with a 400# test barrel swivel. Many people use the expensive 400# test to 600# test monofilament leader material for their leaders. Use what you want. The “weed eater” line works fine for me and we have caught countless sharks with this system.

The leader picture above is my standard leader using 250# plastic coated cable and a 20/0 circle hook. The weight in the picture is very important. I use a “mouse trap” concept to nail sharks. Take note of this closely. The weight is constructed of copper tubing filled with poured lead. The legs on the weight are NUMBER 10 GAGE WIRE. A heavier weight would have legs that are NUMBER 8 GAGE WIRE. This weight is about eight ounces, but it will hold down a 10 pound chunk of jack run out 500 yards. The holding power of a weight is proportional to the gage wire used, and not the mass of the weight. The weight is not for sale in tackle shops, we make the weight ourselves.

Still taking notes? Here is how our stealth trace works. Monofilament lines stretch as you run them out several hundred yards like a giant rubber band. Monofilament line can stretch 15-20% before it breaks. After I kayak my bait out 400 yards and return to the beach, I will tighten down the star drag on my reel with about 5-6 pounds of pressure and reel all the slack out of the line until the line is tight, and your rod bends down under load. Don’t worry about the weight pulling loose – it won’t. Continue turning the reel handle, tightening the line until the reel pulls a little drag, about 5-6 lbs. of tension. Test the drag pressure by pulling the line with your hand and make sure you are happy with the amount of drag pressure. You have just set the “mouse trap”.

How does this mouse trap work? Imagine the leader laying on the bottom of the sea, with the copper tube weight anchored into the sand, and the 6′ section #250 test plastic coated cable with the 20/0 circle hook washing free in the water. When the shark swims by and picks up that bait, he will feel almost no resistance initially. When he mouths the bait a little and lifts the weight free, 5 pounds of drag pressure digs into his jaw. The shark freaks and runs for deep water, burying the hook deep. In other words, the shark springs the “mouse trap”. This method produces a very, very high hook up rate. This is one of the reasons we catch so many sharks for the little time we spend on the beach. For the mousetrap to work properly, your weight must not slide on the trace, it must be fixed.

Notice the electrical tape on the hook to reduce the magnetic signature of the trace. As mentioned here, the trace demonstrated is a stealth trace. The electric tape tip is from the great sharker Doug in Australia and will significantly increase your pickup rate. Some people claim the tape makes no sense. Try this out. Wrap at 20/0 circle hook with electric tape and bite down on it with your teeth. You will instantly understand why this works. The tape helps remove the magnetic signature, and the clunk of the metal as a shark bites down on a bait.

Rigging Baits

Some of the best bait rigging techniques are very simple. Often new shark fishermen create overly complex methods of bait presentation. The basics often work better than elaborate methods or innovations. 

The budget video demonstrates the rigging of a horse mullet. (In this video, I am using #1,000 lbs. stainless steel cable for the hook trace, instead of #250 lbs. cable, otherwise this is my standard rig. Normally I use #250 lbs. cable unless it is a special circumstance.) We thread the hook through the mullets gills, penetrate the gut cavity with the hook and pulls the hook back through the anal orifice. The hook is zip-tied in place to keep the hook exposed on pick up. This is not the only method of rigging a shark bait but it provides excellent hook exposure. A shark will usually hit the back half of the bait, so the baits need to have the hook barb placed towards the rear of the bait. Sometimes a new guy runs the hooks through the eyes, and when the shark picks the bait up, the shark cuts the bait in half just behind the gills, and misses the hooks.

stingray chunk bait

Another method is the chunk bait method, which we like to use with stingray baits. Take a small ray, maybe 10 inches wide, or a 1-2 lbs chunk of a larger ray, and hook into the side with a 20/0 circle hook. Simple as this is, this method of presentation results in a very high hookup rate.

Rigging Larger Stingray Baits for Larger Sharks

In the example coming up, I demostrate the rigging of a smaller stingray using a rigging needle. The rigging needle is a very important tool to have for rigging your big baits. With a rigging needle, you get a better hook placement.

In rigging a ray, I use a leader with 4′ traces so I can fig the bait easily. In the picture below we have a smaller stingray, about 12″ to 14″. I am going to load it with a couple of 12/0 J hooks. J hooks work best for this type of rigging.

Notice the rigging needle. I have run the rigging needle through the bait to set up the placement of my first trace.

The rigging needle has a grove that I can used to attach the loop in my trace. After attaching the loop to the rigging needle, I withdraw the needle, pulling the trace through.

Here is the hook placed in the bait.

Here is another hook placed in the other side of the bait.

Here I am building a brace out of a plastic rod to keep the hooks pointed up.

Here I have added the second hook. You can see how this will work. After completing this I pull the traced tight.

Here we have the traced pulled tight, and tape is used to secure the two traces together.

Final step in preparing a stingray is to chop some holes in it with a knife to get it bleeding.