Most shark fishermen will tell you that summer is the time to target these toothy predators. So why would some crazy local guide be writing a column encouraging readers to go shark fishing at the end of January?
Well, I’m here to tell you something: Contrary to popular belief, shark fishing in Southwest Florida is most definitely a year-round sport. With this being one of the warmest winters in recent memory, learning to shark fish now would not be a bad idea. In a worst-case scenario, you’ll be ready for the summer free-for-all a few months early.
Now, I don’t want to put any false hopes in your minds. If you’re the kind of fishermen who only like the fast and furious shark fishing of summer, or you only consider fish over 100 pounds worth your time and effort, then winter sharkin’ may not be for you.
But, if you’re the type of angler who just loves to bend a rod, and the thought of a hard-fighting finned speedster on light tackle makes you tingle all over, then winter shark fishing might just be what you’ve been looking for — even though you’ll have to work for every run.
Most anglers know that wintertime fishing means slowing things way down. It also means you’re going to have to work a little bit harder to catch fish that are not quite as large, or plentiful, as fish in warmer months.
Shark fishing is no different. The majority of the sharks you’ll catch this time of year will be of the smaller species, like the blacknose, blacktip and Atlantic sharpnose. There are a few of the larger species of sharks around as well, including sandbar, nurse and bull sharks, but they can be elusive on some days.
The shark action is strongly driven by the weather this time of year. If a front comes through and drops the temps more than 15 or 20 degrees, the bite may turn off completely. The water will warm back up after the few days and the fish should start chewing again. It is winter, remember, so fast and furious may not be in the big picture — but slow and steady just might pay off.
I’m really not one who likes to chum very much, but in the winter I do find that it can help get the bite going. If you have an area that you feel should be holding sharks, I’d suggest anchoring upcurrent from the spot and hanging a couple of chum bags overboard.
It will take a little while for the chum do its thing, and while that’s happening you’ve got time to start rigging up the rods you want to use for the day. A 7-foot medium-heavy rod with a 5000 size spinning reel spooled with 30-pound braid should do just fine. Don’t use too big of a rig — that takes all the fun out of it. But don’t use gear that’s too light, either. Can you say “spooled?”
A 6-foot piece of a No. 7 single-strand wire is a good choice for a leader, and you can’t go wrong with an 8/0 inline circle hook attached to it with a haywire twist. Inline circle hooks are legally required for shark fishing because the hook lodges in the corner of the fish’s mouth. I like them anyway because they keep the leader away from the teeth, which stops bigger fish from biting through the wire.
I have always been big on using only top-of-the-line hooks and swivels — there is nothing worse than losing a big fish because a hook straightens or a swivel breaks. Brand-name only here, folks, and you get what you pay for.
Bait can be anything from store-bought frozen sardines to fresh-caught ladyfish. Just about any fish will work. I do not recommend using smelly rotten baits. Sharks like fresh fish; catfish like stinky fish. Try soaking one of your baits on the bottom and the other one up a few feet using a bobber or balloon.
You will need to put a little time and effort into winter sharkin’, but with just a little patience, the payoff will be worth the time you put in — plus you’ll be one step ahead of the game come summer.
Capt. Mike Myers, owner and operator of Reelshark Charters, is a full-time Charlotte Harbor guide, and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Having fished the waters all along the Southwest Florida coast for more than 40 years, he has the experience to put anglers on the fish they want. His specialties are sharks, tarpon and the nearshore Gulf waters. For more info, visit ReelShark.com or call Capt. Mike at 941-416-8047.