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Shark Week in Florida

Guides advise how to hook some of the 15,000 migrating sharks

By: Cash W. Lambert,

A mile and a half off the coast of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., the only noise the crew of the Lady Pamela IV heard on the breezy afternoon was the slow troll of the engine and the sea slapping the side of the boat.

There was a sense that something was about to happen.

Suddenly, a line danced and tightened.

“Go, go go!” yelled J.J. Logan, handling the rods on the first deck, to Darin Tonks, who was in control of the 46-foot charter. Tonks gunned the throttle forward, pulling the lines tight. The reeling began, and soon a fin sliced through the water.

It wasn’t Jaws. Nor was it a great white – but the 4-foot silky shark on the line still provided an adrenaline-packed thrill. Such thrills are ordinary in Florida, particularly in March when thousands of sharks follow their migratory pattern through warm waters. March 2013 saw 15,000 sharks off the Florida coast – all at one time.

Click the image for shark fishing photos

Hunter sharks from the Eastern seaboard make their pilgrimage South from the Carolinas to Georgia and spend the winter south of Florida,” said Steve Kajiura, a biological sciences professor who runs the Elasmobranch Research Laboratory at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla. “And in the spring, they move back North, distributing themselves along the coast.”

Kajiura said that his team has been performing aerial surveys for the past two years, which enables them to calculate the shark population during the migration.

“Because the Gulf Stream is so strong, the sharks don’t want to fight the current, and they hug the shore,” Kajiura said. “If you stood on the beach, you could throw a rock and hit a shark.”

According to Geno Pratt, captain of Geno IV Charters in Boynton Beach, Fla., the annual influx of sharks doesn’t have a detrimental effect on the South Florida fishery.

Rules of the Game

Some of Florida’s largest shark catches came decades before regulations were enacted. According to the South Florida Shark Club, a handful of records are as follows: a 152-pound Blacktip caught in Sebastian in 1987, a 397-pound lemon caught in Dunedin, and a 686-pound white shark caught Key West in 1988.

Currently, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission lists 25 species of sharks as protected, including yearly Florida frequents such as the great hammerhead, lemon, longfin mako, silky, white and tiger Shark. Only natural bait is allowed when fishing, and sharks must have 54 inches of a minimum fork length to keep. The maximum take is one shark per harvester per day or 2 per vessel, or whichever is less.

Shark fining, a popular act fishing overseas in which sharks are killed for their fins mainly for shark fin soup, has been a large culprit in the depletion of sharks on a global scale. Estimates range from 30 to 100 million sharks are killed annually.

The act in Florida, as well as several other states, is illegal, because of its detrimental effects to the shark population. Several of the species, despite the regulations, are still overfished when compared to past averages.

According to the Florida Saltwater Fishing Regulations, “NOAA Fisheries determined the northwest Atlantic stock of scalloped hammerheads was overfished ... other species, including the great and smooth hammerhead and the tiger shark, have also suffered a greater than 50 percent decline in population numbers.”

As long as the rules are known, a day of safe shark fishing will go smoothly, and without consequence.

“We tell everyone to catch, picture, and release,” said William Fundora, the administrator for the South Florida Shark Club. “We can’t control sharks in other nations. We just have to set the standard.”

Inshore and Offshore Preparations

For Randy Meyers, author of Surf Fishing: The Quick Start Guide to the Exciting Sport, the key to shark fishing is simple from the beach: experience.

“There’s nothing like time on the water,” Meyers said. “Only then do you get a sense of what to do on a particular catch and how to react.”

The most important point to know, learned by Meyers on the water, is to be aware of the size of the leader.<

“The length needs to be 6 to 8 feet so line doesn’t get cut,” he said. “If you’re fishing with a 3-foot leader and you hook a 4-foot shark and it starts to tail whip, it could cut your line in a heartbeat.”

Meyers said to come prepared with a medium to medium heavy rod, along with braided line. Fishing at night gives you the best percentage to hook a decent shark as well.

During the night, sharks come in closer to the shore, and some may be in casting range,” he said. “For the bigger sharks that are further out, have a bait casting reel, along with a kayak, which allows you to go out and drop the baits.”

Any type of cut bait will suffice and, depending on the tide, you can throw out chum to attract more sharks. Rigs with a wire leader and sharp hook can be bought or made at home with the help of demo videos online.

Reeling in a shark offshore, especially on a charter, is “relatively simple,” according to Pratt. “Get in front of the school and put live bait on the bottom. Sharks also like to pick up dead bait blue runner Bonita, and blue fish.”

Feeling the Thrill

Once you’ve reeled in a shark, whether you bring it on the sand or into the boat, keep a distance between yourself and the animal until it calms.

In the case of the silky shark on board the Lady Pamela IV, Logan placed a tag on the endangered species, snapped some quick photos and released it.

Whether you reel in a protected species or snag a future record, you’ll see that there’s nothing like catching one the most fickle animals on the planet. 

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