shark fishing

WaterLine photo by Michelle Kinard

Capt. Josh and the teenagers, one of whom (no one can remember which one) caught this blacktip shark.

I like all sorts of fishing, and I’m usually down for whatever. You want to go catch trout and ladyfish in the flats? OK. Redfish and snook under the mangroves? Sounds good. Chasing tarpon off the beach? Oscars in the Everglades? Amberjack at the Mohawk? All of that sounds like a big steaming pile of fun to me.

But this particular trip was a little different. The mission: Take a group of minimally experienced fisherwomen out on a slow-poking pontoon boat for a day of gossip, adult beverages and sun worship. Oh, and also, they wanted to catch as many fish as possible, please and thank you.

At a time like this, my mind turns to one solution: Chum, and plenty of it. With this crowd, chasing fish was not really the way to go. I needed them to come to me, and the best way to do that is to set the anchor and get a slick going.

Next, I did what anyone in the planning stages of an expedition should do: I gathered intel. A light grilling of the staff at my favorite tackle shop and a couple charter captains revealed some excellent information. First, the sharks were abundant enough that they were making pests of themselves. Second, there were some cobia in the general area I planned to fish (the upper Harbor). Third, a school of big black drum had also made an appearance nearby.

Checking the tide, I saw it would be low at about 10:30 a.m. — coincidentally, about the same time we’d be arriving on the scene. (I did mention these weren’t hardcore anglers, right?) A strongly flowing incoming tide was good. It meant our chum slick would be able to cover a large area.

Now, to gather gear. Smaller sharks are more fun on light tackle, so a collection of redfish rods would be our primary weapons. Just for funsies I brought along a couple of heavier rods. One of them I rigged with a jig-and-worm combo in case the opportunity to cast at a cobia presented itself. A great big cooler with plenty of ice was lugged aboard (the girls were keen on grilling shark steaks later), and off we went.

I settled on the upper 20-foot hole (aka the radio tower hole) as our first destination. These deep holes are not what most people think they are — that is to say, they’re not deep holes. Think of these areas as depressions or low spots, because that’s really all they are. But they do change current flow enough to make them attractive to fish, and that’s why we headed there.

Our wind was out of the west and blowing about double the NOAA forecast (pretty standard). Since we were starting from Harbor Heights, we were headed right into it. Some of the bigger waves washed right on in. Fortunately, these were tough country girls. That kind of stuff doesn’t get to them.

After much chatter and giggling and some minor name-calling, we arrived at the spot. I dropped the anchor (with a crab trap float tied to the end of the rode in case we hooked a big one and had to chase it — always a good plan for sharking) and the chum bag. Time to get some baits in the water.

We were fishing three rigs, each one set up differently. The first rod had a 2-ounce sinker. The second got a float but no weight. The third was rigged with a large float and a 2-ounce sinker, with the float set so the bait would be about 3 feet off the bottom. Each rig had 5 feet of 80-pound mono, an 18-inch cable steel leader, an 8/0 VMC inline circle hook (with the barb mashed down to a bump), and a chunk of frozen fish. We used sardines, thread herring and mullet — never know what they’re gonna want.

And then … we waited. We weren’t bored. There were sandwiches, chicken wings, and teenage girls making TikTok dance videos. If you’re chumming to bring fish in, plan of having some way to stay entertained while the chum does its job.

I was about as far away from the rod as I could get when it suddenly went off, drag screaming. Suddenly all eyes were on that rod. I grabbed it, made sure the fish on the other end was firmly connected, and handed the rod off to one of the teenagers as I reeled in the other two rigs. The shark swam right at the boat, and I told her to keep the line tight no matter what. Then he swam past the boat, and a Chinese fire drill ensued.

See, this particular pontoon has two Bimini tops. That provides plenty of shade, but also means if a fish goes around the boat, you’re handing the rod around the outside and hoping everything goes right. It’s not my preferred way to fish, but the boat sure is comfy.

After making a full lap of the boat, the shark decided that was so much fun that he’d do it again. This time he jumped as he swam past, and we could see it was a blacktip of about 20 pounds. Once he completed the second lap, he was out of steam. Sharks are fun to catch, but they poop out quicker than most other gamefish.

I reached out, grabbed the heavy mono leader (it makes a very good and safe handhold) and hauled the fish onto the boat. If you want your sharks to be edible when you get back to the dock, they need to be handled correctly. Warning: If you’re squeamish, skip the next paragraph.

A shark needs to be gutted if you’re keeping it. Like, right now. Holding the shark firmly behind the head right at the gills, and with a second hand at the base of the tail, I instructed one of the girls to take my pocket knife and slit the fish open from the vent to the chin (I already told you — country girls). I then had her remove the internal organs and drop them overboard, while I continued to hold the shark so it couldn’t bite anyone. The gutted shark was placed in the cooler and the body cavity packed with ice.

One in the bag and time to get another. I dropped another chum block into the bag and put fresh baits out. We figured that now there were sharks in our chum, the wait would be shorter.

We figured wrong. It was over an hour before we got another run. I contemplated moving, but the boat was so slow I didn’t want to waste time running. Just about the time I was trying to come up with a hail Mary, one of the floats disappeared. Fish on — finally.

It was another blacktip, pretty much a carbon copy of our first fish. And it even pulled the same trick of running us around the boat, although this one did it only once. After that it was more standard: Run away, get reeled back, run away, get reeled back. I asked them if they wanted this one for the grill as well, and they did. Three minutes later, we had two gutted sharks in the cooler — the boat limit for these fish.

We put the baits back out, but I could see the teenagers were getting tired and even the adults were a little fidgety. I said we’d give it 15 more minutes and pack it in. No more runs. Oh, well — the mission had been a success, and we had the proof on ice.

Back at the dock, I steaked the sharks while we discussed recipes. It wasn’t the most action-packed day of fishing I’ve ever had, but it was a good time and a great break from all this time we’ve been spending going crazy lately. If you have an opportunity to get out, I highly recommend it.

As the Fish Coach, Capt. Josh Olive offers personalized instruction on how and where to fish in Southwest Florida. Whether you’re a complete beginner or just looking to refine your techniques, he can help you get past the frustration and start catching more fish. Lessons can be held on your boat, on local piers or even in your backyard. To book your session or for more information, go to FishCoach.net, email Josh@FishCoach.net or call 941-276-9657.

As the Fish Coach, Capt. Josh Olive offers personalized instruction on how and where to fish in Southwest Florida. Whether you’re a complete beginner or just looking to refine your techniques, he can help you get past the frustration and start catching more fish. Lessons can be held on your boat, on local piers or even in your backyard. To book your session or for more information, go to FishCoach.net, email Josh@FishCoach.net or call 941-276-9657.

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