The Sharking Lifestyle

The Sharking Lifestyle
Author releasing a summertime tiger.

I have dabbled in a great number of ways to fish – fresh and salt water, inshore, nearshore, and offshore. I have enjoyed and pursued all of it with passion. If you haven’t already noticed, land-based based shark fishing owns my heart and soul. This unique approach to shark fishing includes surf, jetty, and pier and I’ve landed sharks from each. The sand and surf, though, are my home.  

Perhaps I should tell you more about myself. Twenty years now I have been pursuing sharks from the Texas surf. During that time I have witnessed many incredible sights, landed incredible fish, and achieved angling feats some thought impossible. From an angling standpoint I am extremely blessed.

But my fishing strategies and productivity did not happen overnight, it took years for technology and methods to evolve. Nowadays, people getting into the sport can dump money for heavy-duty lever-drag reels, top-notch terminal tackle, and miles of braided line. Some of these fishermen (basically not yet knowing what they are doing) have been lucky enough to get a big shark under their belt very quickly. Others wait years. I was lucky to learn from some of the old-time pioneers of the sport.

The new millennium brought lots of technical innovation as methods of the 80s and 90s quickly went out the door. Sit-on-top kayaks revolutionized the placing of baits far from shore. Back when I first got involved, Penn Senator 4/0 through 12/0 reels were the hot setup. Workhorses, but hardly comparable to today’s state-of-the-art stuff. Star drags burned out very quickly, gearing was single speed and very slow. Spectra braided line was just hitting the market and prohibitively expensive for many.

High-end reels such as Avet came upon the scene – fairly-affordable with powerful lever-drags. Their one-piece frames withstood the strain and torque of braided line while the line itself was becoming more affordable. In addition to no-stretch properties, braid is much slimmer than monofilament of the same strength, which allows more line to be packed on a smaller reel. Along with no-stretch, the slimmer diameter aided greatly in battling nuisance sargassum fouling lines.  

Fishing methods evolved, too. Anglers learned to use floats on their leaders. If they got cut off, they could retrieve the valuable terminal gear. If anglers wanted to swap baits, they could paddle out, pull up the float and swap traces rather than reeling in and re-deploying. With Texas beaches being vehicle friendly, another drastic change was the number of anglers putting custom shark platforms atop their trucks. This kept lines higher, thus reducing chances of cutoffs on the closest sandbars. The name of the game is efficiency and, in recent years, anglers have become exceptionally efficient.   

I have experimented and developed methods over the years that have proven very successful. One thing that really has not changed though is properly rigging a large shark bait. Traditionally, anglers would stick a couple large J-hooks in a jackfish or stingray and it worked just fine. However, with the new regulations from Texas Parks and Wildlife becoming effective September 1, J-hooks are out and we can only use non-offset – non-stainless steel circle hooks for shark fishing in state waters. In some ways this is almost cataclysmic for fishermen. With the J-hooks out of the picture, anglers are scrambling to learn how to use circle hooks without sacrificing hookup efficiency.  

My typical shark trip begins with loading the truck (4WD necessary on most Texas beaches). The Beach-Mobile, as I call it, is packed full to the gills with gear, ice chests, and just about anything I might possibly need. Depending the time of year, I usually head down Padre Island National Seashore, my home stomping ground. I cruise the beach searching for the best water quality. Water quality includes clarity, temperature, salinity, and bait presence. Additional factors may include amount of sargassum weed and current. When I find a promising location I set about making camp. I almost always remain there for the duration of the trip. I believe it much easier to wait for sharks to come to you rather than searching for them.

I waste no time. The minute I stop I begin thawing baits with plans to run lines out as soon as possible. You can't catch fish if you don't have bait in the water. When running baits for sharks, I prefer three to four rods (50W or 80W reels), depending on current. I know guys that run more but hooking a massive shark can result in the whole spread becoming a tangled mess. Also important is not over-baiting an area. Depending size, my baits go out anywhere from 200- to 800-yards from shore, usually just beyond the third sandbar, about 400- to 500-yards. Capt. Billy Sandifer called this the shark highway, the same distance from shore where I have caught my largest sharks. I deploy my lines at an angle into the wind/current to reduce bow in the line. This helps keep the baits in position.

Preferred baits are jack crevalle, stingray, and bonito. Bait quality is of great importance; freezer-burned baits do not work as well as those properly preserved. Quite often with stingray, I rig the bait and let it dehydrate in the sun a few hours. Not sure why, maybe something to do with scent retention; feeding sharks seem to like it.

I use a single circle hook in most of my baits, placed at the very tail end. I also try to keep baits as streamlined as possible for ease to swallow. Targeting the larger of shark species, placing the hook at the end, your bait will still be good if a pesky blacktip bites the other end. A big shark has no problem consuming a big bait, even if it requires several bites. It might take a while, but a large shark will eventually consume the whole bait.

The bait is paired with one my quality leaders and terminal tackle. Always insist on top quality in leaders and terminal tackle. Leader setups can be up to thirty-feet or more with sections of 700/900lb mono and coated cable. My float clips to the top of the leader where it connects to the main line. Weights clipped to the leader swivel can weigh upwards of two pounds. All surf weights have “legs” that help them hold in the sand. This is essential as we always have a sideshore current on Texas beaches, running either north or south. When the bait is all prepped and rigged on the leader, it’s time to get in the kayak. I leave the rods in the platform rod holders and run each bait out individually. Then it’s time to sit and wait.

When a shark takes a bait I quickly hop up on the platform to prepare for battle. Every shark is different; it might take a few minutes or a couple hours. The shark will tire during the fight and eventually come to the first sandbar where I can grab the leader. I carefully pull it shallow enough for safe handling, keeping it in the water as much as possible. Quick work of hook removal, measuring, tagging, and photos is the goal. The vast majority of sharks, even larger ones, are released and survive, no problem. 

Shark fishing is my life. I track weather and surf forecasts daily in preparation for upcoming trips. When fishing the beach with charter clients I spare no effort to insure they will enjoy a productive outing. Educating them in the wonders of Padre Island National Seashore, the fishery, and conservation are always included to enhance the experience.

Adapting to change is a big part of shark fishing. Some of that is technology, some is Mother Nature, sometimes fishing regulations. Through it all Texas shark fishing is alive and growing and will continue so as long as we do our part in stewardship. The quest is all about adventure; fishing enables us to achieve it.