Compared to all the species that fishermen target, it’s safe to say that sharks are one of the least popular. Shark fishing on the beach is more of a lost art in the surf fishing world, where only a dedicated few seek them out. To many surf fishermen, disappointment often ensues when they see a shark at the end of their line. Why? Well, they tend to ruin rigs, ruin bait, break the line, and even take too much time to fight and reel in. Not to mention they have sharp teeth and have to be handled very carefully. In short—a nice shark can really cause a ruckus on a calm day. Well—it’s this bit of ruckus that attracts shark fishermen to the beach! When the big bluefish, redfish, and stripers vacate the surf during the summer months, some of the biggest thrills can come from a shark encounter. For a beginner, this a great time to be introduced to our prehistoric friends. With a little bit of wit and know-how, shark fishing is not difficult, and they offer a great opportunity for making a dull summer day on the surf come alive.
A Note on Shark Size
There are plenty of juvenile and mid-sized shark near the beach that the typical surf caster can catch on regular surf fishing gear. As long as you have a heavier braided line (explained in shark line section) and can manage your drag system, you can land shark up to the 5 foot range. With the tools and techniques we lay out, you can land at least half of them. However, once they get passed 5ft, you will likely not land the shark. To target the largest shark on the beach, you need to invest in heavier, off-shore gear. Mainly, an expensive open-faced reel that can spool 1000yds of 100lb test. You will also need a kayak to get the bait out. To get you started on shark fishing from the beach, we recommend targeting 3-5 footers with some beefed up line and rigs on your typical surf gear. If you target smaller shark consistently, you will get a shot at a larger shark. The likelihood of landing a larger shark is slim, but it is well worth the show when an 8 footer spools your 500yds of 30lb test!
Medium Size Shark Rigs
The fish-finder rig is perfect for shark fishing on the beach. This will help the shark swim off with your bait without feeling the full weight of your sinker, which can seem unnatural and alarming. When a shark bites your bait, it needs some time to chew and get the hook into its mouth. This depends on how big your bait is in comparison to the shark you are targeting. You need to make sure that your fish-finder rig is made of 40lb wire leader or heavier. Start by using a 4oz pyramid sinker for your rig. The bigger the bait you use, the more weight you’ll need to prevent the current from moving it. A good starting point for shark bait is a 1-2″ wide slice of cut bait on a 5/0 circle hook. Let’s dig deeper into baits and hooks.
When choosing hooks, you need to check your state’s shark regulations on hook specifications. Many common shark species are heavily protected, and ethical shark fishing practices often call for a non-stainless steel. You don’t have to worry about this if you are using our surf fishing kit, all our hooks are non-stainless. For sharks in the 3-5 foot range, use a 5/0 circle hook. If you think you’ll catch sharks larger than the 3 to 5 footers, we recommend a 12/0-14/0 circle hook. We recommend circle hooks that are forged to prevent bending and breaking. Hooks can bend and even break from a large fish.
All the surf fishing rigs, lures and tackle from this guide can be found in our Surf Fishing Kit
Cut Bait for Shark Fishing on the Beach
The best bait for shark fishing on the beach is natural cut bait. And not just natural bait—but the most oily fish you can get your hands on. The stronger the scent the better. Mullet in the gulf coast and Menhaden on the east an west coast make great shark bait. They have high oil content and they are readily available at Walmart and most bait shop. If you can catch your own bait with a cast net, even better. Other fish like bluefish, mackerel, and sting ray are very oily fish and used widely by shark fishermen. However, they are not as available as menhaden and mullet, so you’re better off catching them yourself. While the more oily fish are the preferred baits, you can use any fresh fish that you can get ahold of within regulations. Fresh chunks of cut up fish can always catch shark.
Fishing Line for 3 to 5 Foot Sharks
For a complete overview on our surf fishing equipment recommendations for a beginner, check out our Ultimate Guide on How to Surf Fish. If you haven’t bought a surf rod or reel, we recommend that you choose a surf rod and reel combo 8-10ft long spinning reel in the 6000-8000 size range. This reel should hold a minimum of around of 500yds of 25lb braided fishing line. This longer rod and larger reel will allow you to fish successfully for medium sized sharks as well as many other surf species. These are the ideal rod and reel specifications for surf species such as red drum, striped bass, bluefish, and snook.
As a side note, 500yds is a lot of fishing line, but it’s necessary. We highly recommend that you find a reel that can hold this amount of line and to fill your spool to its maximum capacity according to the manufacturer. When it comes time to spool up, you can either spool the reel yourself or have it machine spooled by your nearest fishing store. Large fish, especially medium sized sharks, can peel a lot of line during the fight, and one of the last things you want is to run out of line. It is very common for a 4-5ft shark to spool out hundreds of yards of line. I have lost multiple shark in my surf fishing career because they ran so far I spooled out of line. This will rarely happen on 500 yards unless you hook into a very large one.
Where and When to Fish for Shark on the Beach
Sharks are low-light hunters that rely heavily on their sense of smell. The best time to catch a surf-cruising shark is typically in the evening and into the night. The evening summer light often brings smaller fish like small bluefish, kingfish, croaker, spot, etc. into shallower water in to feed. You can be sure that when this happens, the sharks will follow.
Structure for Shark Fishing on the Beach
When fishing for 3 to 5 footers in the surf, you don’t need to do too much scouting. Structure and current play a much different role for these apex predators than it does for many other surf species. Simply look for deeper water or any trough that you can find and start fishing. To help find deeper water, look for where the wave action is minimal and the least turbulent. If there is a sandbar, you’ll see the waves break over the bar and then dissipate into deeper. This deeper water is called the trough. Fish either in the trough or cast past the sandbar to the deeper water on the other side if you can. For steeper shorelines that only have one or two wave breaks, walk out into the surf and measure trough locations in relation to your body. If there is a chest high area in the first or second trough, fish it. If there is a steady decline that gets to chest height after the sandbar, fish that as well. At minimum, target chest height or deeper.
How to Surf Fish for Small to Medium Size Shark
Once you find some deeper water, it’s time to put your rod holders in place. Since shark fishing is a waiting game, we recommend using two rods to help maximize the chances of a shark finding the bait. Cast one rig into the the nearer trough if it is chest high. Use a smaller piece of cut bait here. The 1st trough sharks are typically 2-3 feet. This location is also the primary feeding spot for larger game fish like red drum, so a smaller chunk of bait could open your options up. Cast your second rig in the 2nd trough if it is chest height. If it isn’t deep enough, walk out to the second sandbar until you get a steady decline up to your chest. Cast your second, larger bait as far out as you can. In the following section we cover cut bait preparation to give you a better idea of chunk sizes.
Preparing the Shark Bait
When cutting your bait, cut it into chunks no less than 2 inches thick. A medium sized shark can easily take a whole baitfish, but you want to cut it into chunks so that the blood and oil disperse heavily. Again, the more scent you can give off the better. A small piece of cut bait for the first trough is around 2 inches wide. A larger chunk of cut bait for the deepest section should be 3-4 inches wide. Below is an example of a 2-3 inch wide chunk. Make sure to check your bait periodically for freshness. Once the oils and fish substance washes out, you will need to replace it with fresh bait to keep it attractive. Start by reeling it in after 20 minutes to see how it looks. If it looks soggy and missing a lot of substance, then replace it. Use that to gauge how long you need to wait to check your bait from then on. A larger bait will typically take longer to wash out than a smaller bait. Even if your bait is holding scent, check it every half hour. Smaller shark and crustaceans will pick away at the meat at a very fast rate, leaving only bones and fins left on your hook.
How to Cast Your Shark Bait
When it’s time to cast, don’t whip the rod quickly in an attempt to maximize your distance; instead, use a gentle lob to cast the bait. This is what helps keep the bait on the hook. I walk through this motion in my surf fishing for beginners video. You don’t want to wait around for a shark to bite if your bait fell off the hook from the start. Keep in mind that the larger the bait, the more difficult it will be to cast. Try rigging one rod with a larger bait to cast while wading far out in the water, and a smaller bait to cast directly from the beach. Casting distance is the main factor in our 30lb 500yd braided test recommendation. While it would be ideal to fight a shark on heavier 40-50lb test, this diameter of line will reduce your casting distance. 30 lb is what we use when surf casting because it will add 10-20yds on your casts which makes a big difference. It is more important to get opportunities at 3-5 footers than it is to land 6+ footers. As long as you manage your drag while you fight the shark, you can land the majority of your 3-5 footers on 30lb test.
Set the Drag for Shark Fishing on the Beach
Once you cast out and set your surf rods in the rod holder, make sure to set your drag loosely. When a shark takes your bait, a loose drag will allow the shark to continue swimming away with your bait without feeling a big resistance from your stationary rod setup. Sharks typically peel out after they take bait. This peel out can last up to 30 seconds and the shark will travel 200-300yds by then. They are so powerful that a loose drag will prevent your rod from getting dragged into the water. Once a fish takes your bait, take your rod out of the rod holder and wait at least 10 seconds. Then proceed to tighten the drag until the rod bends and good pressure can be felt, but don’t tighten it fully. You still need the drag loose enough to give the shark line on its second run, but tight enough to have your rod put pressure on it.
Fighting the Shark
Set the hook as hard as you can while walking backwards 5-10 ft. Not only are you setting the hook into the sharks tough mouth, but you are turning the shark around to swim towards you. If the sharks runs again, let him take line. When he slows down, walk backwards again to turn him around and put pressure lifting the rod upwards. Never reel against your drag. Lift your rod tip up 90 degrees to pull it in, then reel down bringing your rod back to your waist level. Continue lift up and reeling down until you bring him in.
Landing and Releasing the Shark
As the shark approaches the shoreline, beach him against the incline that still receives wave water, but keep him in the water. Keeping the shark beached in at least 1-2 inches of water will greatly improve a healthy release, not to mention it is illegal in most states to take sharks out of the water. (A simple photo holding the wrong shark out of the water in a social media post can result in a fine.) Only handle the shark from behind, grabbing it by the base of tail with one hand and pressing lightly down behind its head with your other hand. Once it calms down, have a partner remove the hook with a large pliers from a hardware store while you are securing the shark. If you can get a safe hook removal done in less that 3 minutes, cut the the wire leader at the eye of the hook and release the shark. They are more likely revive and survive with a non-stainless steel hook in the mouth than they are after being beached for longer than 5 minutes. Drag the shark back out to the water by its tails so it is beached halfway under the water, yet deep enough for the waves to lap over it fully. This will give you enough time to let go and hussle around. The shark will kick off once the incoming wave submerges it fully.
Shark Safety and Regulations
Many shark species have been in a steep population decline over recent decades. As a result, many of these species are heavily protected and regulated to help ensure their survival. In fact, anglers are prohibited from landing and keeping protected sharks. You will have to research shark regulations and find the list of shark species from your state’s fish and wildlife department that are off limits. Many states require you to keep a bolt cutters to cut the leader before you get close to beaching the shark. If the shark is an endangered species, you need to cut the leader before it gets close to beaching.
Two commonly caught species are the black tip shark and bull shark. These are currently safe to beach in majority of US beaches. However, they are often confused with other endangered species if you don’t know what to look for. This can create a big problem. For example, a sandbar shark is a prohibited species in some areas but it looks very similar to a bull shark. You need to study the differences beforehand in order to make a quick identification. If you’re unsure which shark species you have, cut the leader when the shark gets into the first trough.
Ethics for Shark Fishing On the Beach
For releasing and handling sharks, there are precautions that should be taken to prevent injury to you and the shark:
1.) Do not remove sharks from the water. Work the shark into the white wash where you can safely handle it.
2.) If you’re going to maneuver a shark by its tail, stabilize the body with your other hand. Do not squeeze the gills. These are very delicate.
3.) Use a long hook remover or long pair of pliers to remove the hook. If the hook has been swallowed, cut the line as close to the hook as possible.
4.) Use non-stainless steel circle hooks. Circle hooks are designed to hook the lip of the fish instead of deep inside the mouth. Using a non-stainless hook allows the hook to corrode and rust out.
5.) Bring a pair of bolt cutters. You can use bolt cutters to cut the hook or the wire leader should the need arise. This goes for any large toothy fish.