It’s funny. Every angler craves a good fight, but not many target the biggest category of fish in the surf. With all the love that corbina and surfperch get, there’s little room for sharks in the spotlight. Are they worth a try? That’s for you to decide, I’m just here to tell you about them.
What’s the Best Fighting Fish in So Cal’s Surf?
Ask any surf angler. “What’s the best fight you’ve had from the beach?… What’s the strongest fish you’ve hooked?” Whether it’s one they’ve landed or one they’ve lost, the likely answer is a bat ray. I know, I know… not a shark. My point though, bat rays are bycatch of sharking, and both will put your gear to the ultimate test. Even though they pull harder than almost any fish you can catch from the surf here, there’s a certain stigma surrounding sharks and rays. The only way to really form an opinion though is to try it out for yourself.
Most anglers fish with the hopes of hooking into something big, something powerful, something that will test their gear. Sharks check all the boxes, and they don’t care whether it’s light or dark high tide or low tide, or much else. For this reason, choosing a time to target them isn’t very difficult, even if you work long hours during the daytime.
My first taste of shark fishing was an accident, I was fishing for corbina with a 7-foot rod, 15-pound test, and a small sand crab on a number two hook at the end of my Carolina rig. After a couple of hours into my outing, something big took my bait. I felt a couple of large head shakes and my spool began spinning as line flew off my reel! Some thirty minutes later, I saw it. A 5-foot leopard shark! As quickly as I saw it though, I jumped back in shock and my line snapped. That’s where it all started. Since then, I’ve made a few upgrades to my sharking setup, but the thrill of the fight and the never-ending unknowns remain unchanged.
What Kind of Gear and Tackle Do You Need for Shark Fishing?
Everyone has their own preference but if I’m solely focused on sharks, this is my go-to:
- Rod: Fiblink Moonsniper (13 feet)
- Reel: Penn Battle III 6000 or 8000
- Mainline: 50-pound braid
- Topshot: 100-pound nylon coated mono
- Shark Leaders (7/0 circle hooks and 90-pound wire lead)
- Weights: 6-ounce sputnik
Shark fishing is a different game, that’s for sure. It’s a bait-and-wait game. But the potential fight is what makes it so much fun. There’s no active wandering around involved. You don’t test areas much looking for the bite. You set up camp in an area that looks mellow and relatively deep and get to fishing. You can, however, fish light tackle while you shark. Here’s how I go about it.
How to Catch Sharks from the Surf
First thing is to get your gear all set up. Look at the gear above and if you have any questions on how to get it all rigged up, let me know in the comments section. Once you’ve got your gear ready, the next step is to get out there!
You have a couple of options for bait. My personal favorite is to start the day fishing for croaker and surfperch, but you can also buy mackerel at the bait shop or a fish market of sorts. If I get a croaker around 9-to-12 inches, I’ll keep that for bait. Surfperch, I’ll take one of those for bait too if they’re between 7 and 10 inches. Once you have one or two bait fish (no more), you’re ready to get sharking!
Cut your bait into 1-inch steaks and use one chunk at a time per hook. Most anglers just use a single hook rig which is what I recommend. Hook your bait, cast out, and set your rod in a rod holder of sorts. Make sure this rod holder is sturdy enough to stay firm in the sand when even the most powerful fish take your bait.
Set Your Drag and Wait
Once your bait’s in the water, it’s important that you set your drag properly. When a shark picks up your bait your drag should be set tight enough to provide good tension for a self-setting circle hook to do its job, but loose enough so that as your rod bends over, the line is able to be taken off the spool without your rod being in any danger of getting ripped out of your sand spike.
You’ll wait for your rod to start bending over sporadically and when it does, pick it up, tighten your drag about a ¾ turn, and lean back into it. Don’t set the hook. By just leaning back and applying pressure through the fish’s initial run, you’ll allow the circle hook to set itself right in the corner of the fish’s mouth. That’s what you want.
Settling Into the Fight
Once you’re settled into the fight, just do your best to keep up with the fish and let it dictate the fight. If the fish wants to run, let her run. If you start feeling it ease up a bit, lean back, and reel as you dip your rod forward. Fighting a shark can be challenging as there’s often a lot of change of direction. Especially if you happen to hook into a soupfin shark. These will often go airborne and change direction on a dime. One moment, they’re swimming toward you and you’re trying to maintain good tension, and the next, they turn and dart away as you attempt to back off and let it run.
Find your sweet spot with the drag so these sporadic movements don’t lead to a spat hook and you’ll be on a big one soon enough.
Tight Lines, Nick.