It is a well known fact that in the summertime many Sharks move from the deeper waters offshore into inland waterways and beaches. Why do they do this? Well the Sharks seek warmer shallow waters to carry out mating rituals and to either lay eggs or give live birth. So why is this important? It is very important if you are interested in swimming or in landing huge fish from the bank. There is no other type of fishing (that I know of) where the angler has an exceptional chance of hooking on to a 500lb plus fish while fishing from the bank.
Living near the Gulf of Mexico during my youth my family would take at least one vacation each summer to the beach. Week long vacations at the beach can sometimes get a little boring for a kid who grew up in the Hardwood Bottoms of middle Georgia. Fishing was the answer to my problems. I started off doing some light surf fishing but soon realized that there were truly bigger fish in the sea.
On one trip in peticular I was introduced to shark fishing as I know it today. A friend and I had made our way down to the Pensacola Beach Peir for an afternoon of catching Blues, Spanish, Kings and hopefully a Cobia. We fished like we always had with live menhaden and had an average day. A few spanish, a pretty hefty king and more blues than we knew what to do with. We began to gather our gear for the walk home when another fisherman was arriving at the pier. As the guy made his way down the pier I noticed that he was holding the biggest fishing rod and reel that I had ever seen. I had to approach the guy.
When I first approached the fella he was nice and friendly. But when I started probing him about his fishing techniques he quickly shut off. I could tell (from years of dealing with older wiser fishermen) that this guy had a secret about fishing and I had to know it.
Well Mike (my fishing buddy) and I had a meeting right there on the pier and decided that we would stay on the pier and watch the guy and try to figure out what he needed such a big reel for. So I made a quick trip back to the condo to inform my parents that we would not be back until late and for them not to wait up for us. After some haggling permission was granted. I loaded up on sandwich meat, bread, crackers, beenie-weenies and sardines for our all night fishing trip.
When I returned to the pier about an hour before sunset I was amazed that the guy had yet to put his hook in the water. He had been at the pier almost two hours and had not wet a line. When I approached the guy and inquired about why he was not yet fishing, he replied “..I only have one bait..”. Now I have been fishing all my life and I know that when you go fishing you need more than one bait. The guy had to notice the puzzled and confused look on my silenced face so he went into a little detail. He explained, as he opened a cooler, that in shark fishing it is good to have more than one bait but that he was so skilled that he only needed one. Upon opening the cooler the fella removed a Spanish Mackrel that easily weighed 4lbs. I said “…that’s a nice spanish, are you going to grill it or fry it?” He replied “It’s my bait”. “The whole thing?”, “Yep”.
Things were definately starting to come together now. I’ve heard of using big bait to catch big fish but this was a little extreme. Then I saw a way for us to ‘bribe’ this guy into teaching us how to fish for sharks. I offered him the Spanish Mackrel that we had caught earlier in the day. He instantly replied “What do I have to do for them?” “Teach us how to do what you’re doing”
We were in!! The guy lightened up and said at least he would have some company on the desolate peir. With extra bait the guy instantly began rigging up the behemouth pole. He withdrew a steel cable leader with a massive hook on one end and a swivel on the other. He began explaining in detail the ins and outs of shark fishing. “..the leader has to be at least 15 feet long or longer, I like mine at least 20′, and you can’t get this stuff at a bait store, you have to go to the hardware store…” I questioned him about the hook and swivel, he replied that they were purchased from a local tackle shop at $2-4ea. I was quickly realizing that shark fishing could get expensive quick. He glanced toward our 4/0 Penn Fishing Reels and scoffed “You guys are going to need some bigger tackle.” In disbelief I asked “Do you really need a reel as big as yours?” he replied “If you want to catch big fish you have to have big tackle”. His reel was a 14/0 Penn Senator and looked as if it would hold 5 miles of the braided 80lb test line that it was spooled with.
I suddenly was stumped. How was this guy going to cast a 20′ steel leader with a 4lb spanish mackrel hooked to the end of it? My question would be answered by means of kayak. The guy removed a kayak from his truck and began to paddle toward the end of the pier. Upon arriving at the end directly beneath us he instructed for us to “carefully” lower the spanish mackrel with a gaff-sized hook in it into his lap. We did as we were told and the guy was off paddling in a flash.
Ok, here is the situation: This crazy guy is paddling in a kayak toward the middle of the ocean, in shark infested waters with a 4lb spanish mackrel laying in his lap. At this point I began to question the guys sanity.
Paddling the bait out took no more than 5mins and very quickly the guy took his seat next to his reel. After fooling with the reel for a while, checking drag, engaging a clicker and securing the reel to the pier with a rope he sat back and opened a cold beer and said “Now we wait.” “How long?” I replied. “As long as it takes.” he firmly stated.
After several long boring hours of catching catfish and an ocassional foot long shark I was beginning to grow tired of waiting. Could Shark Fishing really be worth all this effort and time? Not even a single bite on the big pole. Then I heard the sweetest most spine tingling sound that a fisherman could possibly hear. Drag! And lots of it, More than I had ever heard before. The massive reel was producing the loudest most chilling sound that I could ever imagine. Line was being stripped off at a phenominal rate and the guy was just sitting there watching it. What was he doing? Obviously the Shark had the bait why wasn’t he setting the hook?
He slowly began strapping himself into what appeared to be a fish fighting harness. Calmly picked up the reel and strapped it in the butt holder and clipped straps from his shoulders to the reel. I realized that this guy was strapping himself directly to the reel! If something went wrong he would not be able to just let go of the reel, he was truly one with the reel.
With line stripping off as if it were tied to the bumper of a Porshe the guy engaged the reel and the demeanor on his face changed instantly. With the ferocity of a college line backer he began repeatidly setting the hook while almost running backward. When he reached the end of his walkway he would reel down on the fish and almost jog back to the edge of the pier. This process was repeated two or three times. Then the fight began!
For the first hour it appeard that he was going to almost be able to reel the fish directly in. Kinda like cranking in a boat with a wench. Boy was I wrong. Seemingly the Shark was just swimming toward the pier and did not know that he was even hooked. When it appeared that the shark was getting close he turned and headed out to sea. He ran and stripped drag for what seemed like an eternity. Line leaving the 14/0 reel a hundred yards at a time. With adrenaline pumping the excitement began to slightly subside. The guy was in a calm and focused mood with one thing on his mind. After a couple of hours fighting the guy (while still fighting the fish) asked me to reach into his cooler and get him a water. What? This guy wants to drink water while he is fighting this monster fish? He explained that in the course of fighting a big fish it was very important to remain hydrated. I asked how long the fight usually took. And he replied that the fight time varies greatly from one fish to another, some lasting only an hour and some lasting 12-14 hours.
The battle was one of constant give and take he would reel in 100 yards and the shark would take 200. An hour rolled into two, two to three, until all track of time was lost. Soon we were awakened to what time it was as the sun began to creep up from the dark abyss in the east. This guy had been fighting this fish from a little after sunset until sunrise with no vast improvement in line on the reel. My realization of the addictiveness of shark fishing came when the guy stated “… I hope this fish comes on in I have to be at work by 10:00am…” This guy had stayed up all night fighting this huge fish (which we hadn’t even seen yet) and he had to be at work in 5 hours. That is true Dedication and love for a sport.
It was about 8:30am when we got our first glimpse of the shark. The guy said it looked like a Bull Shark and was probably around 12 feet long. It looked more like 20′ to me. As the shark began to tire the question came to me “What are you going to do now?” I asked and he replied “What do you mean what am I going to do now, I’m gonna land this fish take some pictures and go to work…” Sounded like a good idea to me but we were 20′ off the water on the pier there was no possible way to hoist the thousand pound fish up onto the pier. Then everything began to come clear. The guy was making his way down the pier toward the beach. When he reached the end of the pier he made his way down to the beach. Us not far behind. The guy worked the shark past the first sandbar and up into the shallow waist deep water at the breakers. When the Shark appeared to have run out of energy the guy disengaged his reel and handed it to me. “If he starts running just hold on to the reel.” The guy removed a length of rope from his belt and began to wade out to the shark. With a loop in one end of the rope he grapped the sharks tail and secured the loop around it. With a grunt he began to drag the massive fish up onto the beach. With half the fish in the water and half out he removed a waterproof disposable camera from his pocket and handed it to me. “Take the whole roll with me and the shark.” I started snapping pictures and soon the roll was gone. I turned around and to my amazement we had drawn a huge crowd of people. Onlookers, tourist, kids, old people, even a few beach dogs and a mangy looking cat had been drawn to the fiasco.
With the film in the camera gone the guy measured the shark, untied the tail rope and walked the shark out to deeper water. He stayed with the shark long enough for it to regain its strength and let it go. The defeated creature slowly slumbered out past the first sandbar and onto the second. I was truly in disbelief. This guy had fought this fish all night with his own blood sweat and probably some tears only to let it go.
When I questioned him about this he simply replied, “Where else can you spend $20, catch a thousand pound fish and have a blast all night doing it. I do it for the fun of it. I catch fish people only dream about and I let them go so I can catch them again.” It was then that my outlook on fishing was changed forever. It is not about what you take home for the table, it’s what you take home for yourself. Don’t get me wrong I love fish and I harvest many fish each year to eat, but I let the big ones go. They have made it this far, why should I be the one to end it for them.
Then I realized something: It was all worth it, the reel, the rod, the bait, the hooks, line, money and time. It was all woth it.
Five months later after saving every paycheck from my summer job I ordered my first shark fishing reel a 16/0 Penn Senator for $300 from Bass Pro Shops. I also ordered line, 3000 yard of Braided 80lb test $250 and a rod to put it all on $120. Ever since that night on the Pensacola Pier I have a new addiction in my life Shark Fishing. I have been to beaches all over the South Eastern United States combing the beaches and peirs for just the right sandbar, just the right current and tide. I usually rent a kayak from the local Beach Supply Store and we usually camp or rent a hotel. The bait is hard to find and expensive. I have found the best places to find fresh fish is at a fish market and usually Asian fish markets have a much wider selection to choose from. My most successful baits are as follows: King Mackrel, Spanish Mackrel, Jack Crevelle, Bonito and lastly Mullet.
I have since caught many sharks and several over 10 feet long. All of them off of a Beach or a Pier. I have also introduced several friends to my addiction, they too have seen the light and purchased equipment. Shark fishing is something the whole family can truly enjoy. It’s not just about catching the fish. It’s about good friends, family and beautiful beaches.
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Buddy Bass has been an avid participant in Outdoor Activities since birth. He presents the good the bad and the ugly that all fishermen and hunters know. If every trip were perfect It wouldn’t be any fun.