Eye of the Guide

Saltwater Chronicles - part 20

Tom Travis - April 2015

Sysadmin Note
Part 19 can be found here

Saltwater Gamefish of the Sebastian Area: Sharks

In this installment we are going to sink our teeth into the Sharks that the angler might encounter while fishing in the saltwater and offer some suggestions on how to catch these toothy and dangerous sport fish.

Now before I go any further I am going offer some advice on fishing and wading around sharks. Over the years I have read several articles about fishing around sharks where the author fails to give a warning about the potential danger. Sharks are eating machines and they are dangerous creatures who should be treated with caution. Unless you want to suffer an encounter of the wrong kind which could really ruin your day I will offer this advice; Wading at dusk and dawn is unwise even in clear water as your visibility is reduced and this is a time period when certain species of sharks are out cruising and feeding. Wading in murky or discolored water at anytime is foolish and wading in any water with a stringer of fish attached to you is just plain stupid! Anglers have told me that they have waded all their lives and never have had any problems and my reply to this is that it only takes one bad encounter to ruin your day.

Are the shark's blood thirty predators? No, they are just natural creatures that are feeding in their natural manner and people are just in the wrong place at the wrong time or are doing something foolish. Therefore, treat them with respect for what they are and don't place yourself in their habitat with bait attached to your belt. I will discuss how to handle hooked sharks later in this narrative.

There are approximately 470 species of sharks found throughout the world and they range in size from the six and half inch Dwarf Lantern Shark to the thirty nine foot Whale Shark. Many species are denizens of the deep water and are seldom if ever seen by anglers, however there are many other species which are encountered by saltwater anglers in Florida waters.

Sharks have been around since the beginning of time and for any species to last that long is a testament to its adaptability and toughness. The best time period to target sharks with a fly rod are the months of May to October. However, I can tell you that sharks are available to the angler throughout the year, and often I have hooked sharks while fishing for other species.

Sharks in general are great fighters and will test your tackle and your stamina while fighting them; the larger sharks are best released at a distance or very carefully! Sharks are also excellent table fare and the smaller sharks are always the best for the table.

The most common sharks that are encountered in Florida waters are Bull Sharks, which are also the most dangerous to the wading angler as they are often found in the shallow waters in the Indian River Lagoon and in the St. Sebastian River. As an interesting side note, the Bull Sharks enter the Indian River Lagoon every year during the spring to drop their young, therefore small Bull Sharks are often taken by anglers in the IRL system. Sharks are a saltwater creature except for the Bull Shark which can be found in brackish and freshwater also Bull Sharks often employ the bump and bite method when they are feeding which makes them a danger to the wading angler. Personally I only wade in very shallow and clear water otherwise I use a boat.

Other species that are encounter are Black Tips, Hammerheads, Tiger Sharks, Bonnet Head Sharks, Smaller Nurse Sharks and Spinner Sharks. The annual Spinner Shark fishing off of Palm Beach during March is very well known. There are many other species that are found in Florida waters but these are the species that I have encountered on a yearly basis.

Sharks feed on bony fish, other sharks, turtles, birds, dolphins, terrestrial mammals, crustaceans and stingrays. All of the Sharks found in Florida waters are classed as good table fare however the smaller Black Tips are rated as very good as are the small Spinner Sharks and the smaller Nurse Sharks are rated as excellent comparable to Swordfish because of their major shellfish diet. However as with any species, make sure to check the regulations to make sure it is legal to harvest any saltwater fish including sharks!

Though sharks are often described as solitary hunters but often during good feeding opportunities several can be seen and on the flats of the Indian River the small sharks can often show up in great numbers when you are in the midst of a large school of Ladyfish.

I remember at incident where my son and I were fishing on the grass flats just north of Sebastian Inlet and the fishing for Jack's, Ladyfish, along with Spanish Mackerel was fast and furious when suddenly the small Bonnet Head Sharks appeared and some of the fish were lost to the sharks and some of the sharks took are flies.

These small Bonnet's were around two feet in length and the fight was astounding and fun, unhooking and release them was interesting until we found that they were easy to deal with once we turned them belly up. These small sharks were taken using streamer imitations on eight weight rods with sink tip lines. Now we did lose a fly or two to "Bite Off's" but really not a lot and we didn't switch to wire leaders.

Often I have hooked and landed sharks while fishing for other species however if I am targeting  larger sharks then I recommend using ten or twelve weight rods with leaders that are set up for sharks.

I remember my first sighting of shark as a saltwater angler and that took place while I was out with a friend in a fourteen foot Carolina Skiff and a rather large Hammerhead Shark swam along the side of the boat and the shark was about ten or eleven feet in length and that line from the movie Jaws came to mind "I think we are going to need a bigger boat", I didn't say it, but I sure thought it.

Now let's talk about fly fishing for these swimming appetites with teeth. Some think that anything that is an eating machine would be easy to catch, but many of the sharks are in fact spooky and will shy away from the boat however let's begin with the smaller Bonnet head Shark. A large one would be 36 inches in length but many are between 18 to 24 inches and they love to feed on the flats eating shrimp and crabs. They still have teeth but their much smaller mouth makes handling them much easier and unlike most sharks they have poor eyesight. Also I never use a wire leader with these guys, generally using a thirty pound bite tippet. Depending on the depth of the water I am using either a floating line or a sink tip on an eight weight rod system.

These smaller sharks are still strong and will give you a battle and more than once I have been fishing for other species and found myself hooked up with a Bonnet head Shark and they are fun to catch. Besides they are very numerous in the Indian River and are a great way to break into fly fishing for sharks. For the Bonnet head Sharks I use size 1/0 to size 4 flies.

Sharks have advantages that the angler must consider and these are rough skin, extremely sharp teeth and tremendous power so gear up accordingly with ten or twelve weight rods with reels carrying 250 yards of backing. They can run off line at an astounding rate and are easily as exciting as any fish you will ever hook including Tarpon.

The best flies are large imitations of small fish, with the imitations being six to ten inches in length and a full profile is needed, slender profiles will work on Barracuda but seldom work on Sharks. Therefore you need to carefully consider the materials you are going to use in the construction of these patterns. Remember you will be the one casting these "Baby Chickens".

Therefore consider your design and materials as you don't want to endanger yourself or your fishing friends with an imitation that is too heavy and hard to cast. Also remember that you may have to make a fifty or sixty foot cast with this monster fly!

If you find sharks like the Spinner Sharks along the beach you can anchor up near the patrol path of the sharks and cast ahead of head and then twitch and move the imitations as the sharks move within range of the fly, they will follow and turn off several times before taking the imitation.

Now there is another method to lure the sharks toward you and that is to hang a partially filleted Jack or some other oily fish by the tail off the boat and this will create a scent trial which will draw in the sharks.

Sharks are somewhat spooky so slapping it in the head with the fly is not a good idea; place the fly out ahead of the cruising shark. If the shark moves toward the fly you then can increase the speed of the retrieve.

The larger sharks are very strong and powerful and you may have to follow them once hooked but so do carefully. If you do subdue the fish and bring it to the boat if the fly is deep then cut the leader or use a long handled hook remover and keep your hands clear. Do not grab a shark by the tail as they are very flexible and they will turn and bite you!

Now I will share a couple of the patterns that I use and the leader that I employ for sharks.

A shark leader is made of 5 feet of 50 pound with another 4 foot section of 40 pound and then 12 to 16 inches of stainless steel wire using an Albright Knot to attach the wire to the monofilament and then using a haywire twist to attach the fly.

One of my favorite patterns for the Bonnet head Shark is a Tan Rabbit Shrimp and I also have had good results with an Orange Rabbit Shrimp (Crawfish Orange).

Tan Rabbit Shrimp

Salty Root Beer Shrimp

Orange & White Sharkie Streamer

Note: Upon completion of the imitation, comb out the body and then trim to shape

The pattern photographed is 5 ¾ inches in length. Some like to use a stinger hook on long flies of this type; however I find that a stinger is not needed with imitations for sharks as they are eating the whole fly instead of trying to bite it. This belief is based on observation and the knowledge of their feeding habits.

This pattern can be tied in several different color combinations and I have found these combinations to be effective:  Yellow & Orange, Red & Yellow and Silver & White.

Sharks are often overlooked as a gamefish and I think it is because the both frighten and fascinate us. However anyone who has ever taken a shark with a fly will understand the strength and fighting spirit of these outstanding fish. Give them a try you won't be disappointed.

Enjoy & Good Fishin' 

Sysadmin Note
Part 21 can be found here


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