Sharks on the Flats

When most people hear the words “flats fishing,” they think bonefish, tarpon, or permit—inshore fishing’s “Big Three.” However, many anglers have never thought about the other fish that prowls the shallow waters for which light tackle species are known: the shark. Shark fishing on the flats is quite different from conventional fishing, but possesses a new level of excitement and thrill that only accompanies reeling in a monster fish armed with razor teeth and an unpredictable nature. Today, I’ll highlight a few tactics and tackle associated with shark fishing inshore that will prepare any bold angler for a battle with one of these fearsome, but majestic, creatures.

When fishing for sharks anywhere, the first piece of the puzzle is luring them to your location, which involves chum. One of the most popular fish to use for chum is barracuda, which, when butterflied and submerged in the water, attracts sharks from miles away. To catch a few of these toothy baitfish, head towards rock piles, wrecks, or baitfish swarms and use live shrimp or fast surface lures.

With chum in the water, it’s hard to predict exactly what size shark will show up to investigate; it could be a small bonnethead or a massive hammerhead. To prepare for a variety of species, it’s smart to keep a few different setups on hand. For heavy-duty gear, a medium-sized, 30-pound combo and a heavier 50-pound combo are good setups to keep nearby. Two spinning combos—a 15-pound and a 30-pound—are advised, as is a heavy fly setup.

Utilize heavy leader with your line. 60-pound fluorocarbon is a good option, as its abrasion resistance will hold up well against the tough, textured skin that sharks are known for. Furthermore, two or three feet of heavy wire leader is smart as well, as it will withstand the rows of jagged teeth in a shark’s mouth. Lastly, a high-strength hook (circle hooks work well) and a ball bearing swivel at the other end of your leader are great ideas.

Once you’ve pulled on of these beasts to the boat, knowing how to properly handle them can mean the difference between a good day and being called “Lefty” for the rest of your life. For smaller sharks that can be brought into the boat or on its deck, keep their heads near the water and maintain a firm grip on both their dorsal fins and around their tails. This ensures that, if anything should happen, they can be quickly directed over the side of the boat and into the water. Large sharks should never be brought into a boat, and should be handled carefully in the water alongside the boat. No matter the size, though, sharks are aggressive fish and are prone to thrash and whip their bodies, and are notorious for heel and hand bites. Wear a tough pair of gloves that are made to protect against teeth and be alert at all times when shark fishing.

Take lots of pictures when shark fishing, but always try to practice catch and release with these amazing animals. Many species are dwindling in numbers and memories are really all you’ll need to remind yourself of all the fun and excitement on the water. Going head to head with a fearsome predator like sharks is an amazing experience and one that any inshore angler would try out at least once. Just remember to be careful, be respectful, and be smart when angling such a species. As I’ve said before, a trip to the hospital will ruin any day on the water.