By now, you’ve probably heard about the guy who was bitten by a shark while fishing in Boca Grande Pass. (If you haven’t, go to https://www.yoursun.com/coastal/boatingandfishing/tarpon-angler-bitten-by-shark/article_a69958aa-70f7-11e9-ba12-439e208e871a.html and read the story. I’ll wait.)
OK, now that we’re all up to speed: There’s been a lot of fussing and complaining about the sharks in Boca Grande and nearby waters. People whine about the sharks eating “their” tarpon, about how there are way too many of them, about how we ought to be killing more sharks because the population needs to be thinned out.
The folks talking like this clearly don’t understand how nature works. Let’s do a little learning.
First off, why so many sharks? There are two main reasons. First, that big gathering of tarpon naturally brings in a lot of tarpon predators. It’s just like when the big herds of antelope are followed by hyenas and cheetahs — you’ve got to go to where your food source is.
When you see all those predators in one area, there are a lot fewer of them in other places. It’s the same with sharks here. During the period of time the huge hammerhead and bull sharks are here in large numbers, there are very few across immense stretches of the ocean. They gather here from all over.
The second reason they come here is because Charlotte Harbor is a shark nursery. This is a place where baby sharks can grow up in relative safety, in shallow protected waters that have few big predators. (We’ll talk more about those juvenile sharks next week.) Pregnant females drop their pups in the Harbor, then move back out to where the tarpon are the most abundant to load up on calories.
Our big sharks aren’t a curse — they’re a blessing. We’re very lucky to have them, especially considering how many sharks have been killed over the past decades by longliners, both as bycatch and targeted for fins and meat. We need to be focused on the conservation of sharks, not planning to kill them because they’re eating tarpon (which they have been doing since before our ancestors climbed or fell out of the trees).
But that doesn’t mean we can’t fish for them. In fact, they’re at the very top of my list. Targeting these big girls takes specialized tackle and techniques, and we’re just going to brush the surface of it here. If it’s something you’d like to pursue, you probably should have an in-depth discussion with an experienced shark angler. If you’d like to come by the shop, I’d be happy to talk with you.
First off is your tackle setup. Tarpon gear isn’t going to cut it. You’ll need a large conventional reel, one that can hold at least 250 yards of 80-pound monofilament line (that assumes you’re fishing from a boat; from shore; you should consider 500 yards to be a bare minimum). Match that with a standup rod in the 50- or 80-pound class (not a jigging rod; they don’t have the lifting power).
If you’re fishing at anchor, have a buoy attached to your anchor line so you can toss it over and follow your fish. Rig that up ahead of time — it will be too late if you try to do it on the fly.
Obviously, a steel leader is needed. Many anglers use leaders that are way too long. I prefer a shorter piece of steel (about 2 feet), backed up with 12 to 20 feet of heavy monofilament to resist abrasion from their sandpaper skin. A large J-hook is my preference, although a debarbed circle hook works also. Circle hooks will be mandatory in a couple months, so if you’re just getting started you might as well get used to them.
Every shark fishermen has their favorite bait. Popular options are whole or cut jacks, bonito, stingrays, ladyfish and other fish. Some folks try whole chickens or chunks of mammal meat. They find out pretty quick that stuff doesn’t work. Our sharks are used to eating fish, and that’s what they want.
If you are fortunate enough to reel in a shark — it’s not at all guaranteed, despite the large numbers around — you need to have a plan for what to do when it gets to the boat. A pair of long-handled wire cutters is your best friend here. Use them to cut the wire as close to the hook as you can. Alternatively, long bolt cutters can be used to cut the hook itself.
Don’t bother trying to retrieve the hook. It’s expendable, because the risk to both you and the shark is too high.
Those are the basics. Like I said, if you want the details — and there are lots — let’s talk. You know where to find me. And in the meantime, remember these simple rules to avoid being bitten by a shark: Don’t go in the water with them, and don’t bring them onto land or the boat where you are.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor and at 14531 N. Cleveland Ave. in North Fort Myers. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.