Super Shark Trio
Up and down the Texas Coast, from Port Isabel to High Island, true to life sea monsters prowl the inshore waters. In the marine ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico, sharks reign supreme in the food chain. The toothy critters play an important role in maintaining balance in the system, by preventing other species from overpopulating and depleting resources.
Nearly half our shark species reach maximum lengths of six feet or less. But, we do have giants roaming the waters as well. Out of all these sharks, Texans are generally most proud of and fascinated with what we might call our Big Three. These are the big sharks most likely encountered by anglers in the Lone Star State. At various times, serious land-based shark anglers target each of the Big Three. Most would consider an encounter with any one of them a rewarding, treasured memory.
Of these Big Three, one appears before the others each year. Aptly named, this species has a reputation of being one of the most aggressive and dangerous sharks in the world. Bull sharks can display a downright menacing demeanor. Here in Texas, we have plenty of bulls; the opportunistic predators reside in our waters for about nine months of the year.
Bulls range far offshore, but also venture well into the backs of the bays and miles up the rivers. They're most abundant in the surf, where mature individuals normally begin to show up sometime in April. By May, our encounters with the largest bulls of the year become most frequent. Some of these sharks are pregnant, roaming and feeding vigorously.At the end of spring, female bulls drop their pups in shallow nursery zones where the youngsters find ample food sources.Some of these zones lie in the protected waters behind our barrier islands.
Bulls are not the fastest sharks, but they possess ravenous appetites. They aren't especially picky in their dining habits; they'll eat stingrays, jacks, and just about any other large prey they can find. Ironically, sharks are one of these monstrous carnivore’s favorite meals. It's not uncommon to reel in just the head of a five-foot blacktip that has been devoured by a hungry bull.
When fishing for these incredible predators, I like to run the biggest baits I can. Whole stingrays or large sections of jack crevalle have proven to produce plenty of bites from bulls. While bull sharks max out at just over nine feet in length and weigh a shade more than five hundred pounds at most, their relative abundance when compared with larger, more rare species, has earned them a spot on the podium with the other two members of our Big Three.
The great hammerhead is the evolutionary masterpiece among our trio of revered sharks. The longest coastal sharks we have in Texas, we see some specimens which measure more than fourteen feet in length. My personal best great hammer ranks among the largest land-based sharks caught in the United States―a 14' 8" monster caught in 2020.
Arguably the strongest, fastest fighting sharks in the world's oceans, giant hammers have stripped all the line off the spools of some of the world's largest reels. I've been spooled twice by powerhouse behemoths I simply could not turn. The last 13' hammer we landed on a charter was turned with less than fifty yards of line left on the reel.
The optimal baits I've found for mega hammers are large whole rays of any species. Great hammerheads love to eat rays of all kinds. When these giant predators move into the shallows late in the spring, their arrival coincides with the time when pregnant southern and roughtail rays bear their young. Both of these stingray species grow to weights exceeding 200 pounds.
The hammerheads use their flat, wide heads to pin down the rays and eat them alive, one gigantic bite at a time. We catch plenty of healthy hammers with multiple stingray barbs stuck in the corners of their mouths. While the hammers rank high among the largest sharks in the ocean, they're also somewhat fragile and must remain in the water as much as possible and released in a timely manner to enhance their odds of surviving after they're caught. Anyone experiencing the luck and luxury of landing and releasing one of these unique, regal creatures alive will have earned a thrilling, lifelong memory.
The last of our Big Three is the species of shark which sparked my interest in the sport, as it did for numerous other sharkers in the state. This magnificent creature is the tiger shark. Like bulls, tigers will devour just about anything.
This is the only species of shark known to be capable of crushing the shells of large sea turtles. Tiger sharks have teeth seemingly designed specifically for purposes like these. Their serrated fangs, when powered by their muscular jaws, can chomp right through just about any food source, even cut through heavy steel cable, if positioned right. Tigers are known to feed on birds such as gulls and pelicans. Decades ago, when these sharks were regularly killed and cut open on Texas beachfront piers, anglers found all kinds of birds, fish, turtles and other items in their stomachs.
In terms of mass, tigers are kings among kings. When they reach lengths around thirteen feet, they attain weights approaching 1,000 pounds. Last summer I helped a lucky client catch one of these mythical monsters. Like the hammers, the tigers venture into the surf during the summer months to feed on mature, birthing stingrays. Whole stingrays and whole or half jack crevalle have always been ideal baits for big tigers.
Smaller tigers have some brilliantly vivid stripes, while the larger, duller ones have massive, almost square heads and rows of long, jagged teeth. They aren't speed demons like the hammers, so they use their mass in the fight after being hooked, to go where they want, when they want. Sometimes, monster tigers stubbornly run parallel to the beach. All who manage to land a massive tiger and gaze into its wide, black eyes will likely feel energized, their souls connected with the creature forever. Many will become obsessed with sharking.
We're fortunate here in Texas to have such a healthy shark fishery. The Big Three have taken many hits over the years because of ignorance and negligence, but thanks to strong conservation efforts, their numbers are finally starting to slowly climb.Tigers have always been my reliable go-to shark species to target every year. But every time I land a hefty hammer or busty bull, I'm equally happy.
All three of these impressive species generate appreciation for sharks as a whole, the bulls with their nasty reputations and relative abundance, the great hammers with their sonic speed and unique design, the tigers with their mighty size and grisly smiles.I try hard to help my clients catch all of our Big Three. Though it doesn't happen often, we sometimes manage to land all the members of the Super Shark Trio on a single trip.