Mr. Turbo Side-eyes

Mr. Turbo Side-eyes
Another scalloped hammerhead just prior to being released.

The majestic scalloped hammerhead shark once frequented the Texas coast in great numbers. While not a mythical monster like its larger cousin, the great hammerhead, the scalloped hammer still earns ample respect among shark anglers. It is by no description an ordinary creature.

Scalloped hammers (Sphyrna lewini) are by far the most common hammerheads in all the world's oceans. They reach a maximum length of about nine feet, but reasonably large specimens occur abundantly. This species is known to congregate in schools of hundreds of individuals, and while they are relatively harmless singly, such a concentration of toothy critters can appear impressively menacing. Like other temperate and tropical waters around the globe, the Gulf of Mexico supports a healthy population of scalloped hammerheads. During parts of the year, they run through the shallows fronting our beaches, feeding on an array of baitfish.

The close of winter ushers in an exciting time for those of us who love to fish the beachfront. Along the shores of Padre Island, migrating scalloped hammers pass with the warming winds of spring. A historical almanac of shark fishing would say we should begin to see them begin to roll through our surf waters during the last week of March.

But, this prediction is based on the weather patterns of the previous year. Recently, Texas weather has been anything but consistent. Consequently, we've seen the scalloped hammers arrive both late and early over the past decade or so. While the exact timing of their arrival has become difficult to predict, one thing remains certain—they will appear at some time during spring. They might linger in decent numbers for two solid months, or be present and active for just a few days.

The late Captain Billy Sandifer enlightened me about the timing of the arrival of this species. He said if the water's too rough to kayak baits, but still looks clean and green, the scalloped hammers will be feeding close to shore. My old friend and mentor emphasized the importance of ALWAYS having a cast-out shark-rod ready for action; in spring, such a rig proves useful for targeting scalloped hammerheads. I have a collection of vintage Polaroids from Sandifer dating back about thirty years, when he regularly put his clients on these springtime specialties.

I've essentially modeled my spring guiding tactics after my mentor. In some years past, I haven't landed a single scalloped hammer; in others, I've landed multiple specimens on the same day. Among the sharks we target, this one ranks among the most unpredictable, adding to the prestige and mystique of landing one from the beach.

Like all hammerheads, these sharks have small mouths compared to the size of their bodies. The big eyes of hammers stick far out on both sides of their heads. Essentially, these predators' flat, wide skulls serve as rudders, allowing them to make sharp turns. The giant great hammerheads use their impressive headgear to pin large stingrays on the bottom before eating them.

In contrast, the heads of dainty bonnethead sharks (another hammerhead species) allow them to maneuver quickly and deftly to catch small baitfish and crustaceans, like shrimp. The intermediate-sized scalloped hammerheads can pick up and eat stingrays the size of a dinner plate, but they don't have the mass and power to prey on monster roughtail and southern stingrays. At times, they feed exclusively on fish. Large whiting and pompano are favored meals for this swift species, but they also attack schools of migrating sheepshead to quell their appetites.

These aggressive predators move extremely shallow when chasing their prey. Anglers hoping to catch a scalloped hammerhead can take a couple different routes. The first step is to procure a whole fresh whiting or sheepshead, then rig it on a 20/0 circle hook. Casting the bait into the first gut works at times, if it's deep enough, but a more alluring strategy is to kayak the baits into the deeper second gut.

 One thing to note when targeting these sharks, especially with whiting, is that blacktip and sandbar sharks savor these baits too. Sometimes, days and weeks of weeding through members of the other species pass before a scalloped hammer bites. When one does, the ensuing fight provides excitement and lasting memories.

I find these speed demons mystical and unique among hammerheads; Sandifer described them as pleasantly spiritual. It's just so intriguing to gaze into the eye of a scalloped hammer; it feels as if they're looking straight into your soul. Thankfully, unlike their bigger cousins, these hardy hammers regularly survive catch and release.

Pound for pound, Mr. Turbo Side-eyes ranks among the hardest fighting sharks we catch from the beach. Anyone who lands one should use time wisely when celebrating, taking measurements and photographs, and get the shark back into the water as soon as possible, to ensure the most successful survival rate after release. Over recent years, numbers of these sharks in Texas waters seems to have declined, making every encounter with one more special, and elevating the need for handling them responsibly.

I feel fortunate to have caught my share of these ultra-cool sharks over the years, and I now try to help others experience the joy of battling one of these majestic creatures during my charters. Anyone interested in chasing this side-eyed unicorn should come with me for a potentially epic journey. Imagine embarking on an adventure on the South Texas coast. The season is spring, the air pristine and clear, comfortably brisk. Bright sunlight slowly warms the morning. All feels perfect in the world.The finesse of nature's raw beauty fills the senses.

The wind shifting back and forth from north to south has allowed the water to clear. When the time comes to deploy baits in the aquamarine waves, they are deployed by wading; a whiting is lobbed into the distant gut from the shallows fronting the sand.For a while, a mesmerizing Zen-like state occupies the mind and spirit

Suddenly, all else is forgotten, as line begins to peel off the reel so fast it threatens to create smoke. The clicker screams like a racing Harley Davidson when the battle of all battles begins. After a long and contentious fight, a beast comes reluctantly to the beach, and we see the ominous and intriguing face of Mr. Turbo Side-eyes, the scalloped hammerhead.