Inshore shark fishing has come a long way from the search and destroy mission it used to be. Thanks to innovations in light tackle and better informed anglers, some species of sharks have achieved gamefish status. For blacktip sharks and spinners, it is recognition that is well deserved.
A three foot, 15 pound blacktip is a formidable gamefish in it's own right. It will out jump, out pull, and eat with impunity most fish that anglers consider more glamorous.
Blacktips and spinners are very similar in appearance, and disposition. Both are incredible fighters on light tackle, and both will hit artificials if you can get the lure where the shark can see it. This means a precise cast, because neither shark sees very well.
Live bait or cut bait is another story. Sharks have an incredible array of sensory apparatus. They can pick up scent and vibrations of distressed prey, such as a baitfish wriggling on a hook, at great distances.
During fall and winter, blacktip sharks provide some of the most consistent action in tropical waters. In clear water, you can sight-fish blacktips on a flat just as you would redfish, snook or tarpon. Blacktips are one of the few species of shark that will readily pounce on artificials. I have caught them on metal spoons, bucktail jigs
, and even jerkbaits
. A stout piece of wire leader
is required. On a recent day, with a good shark bite going, I ran out of wire and tried to substitute 100 pound monofilament with little success. Even a two-foot shark has razor blades for teeth.
In Florida, blacktip sharks have a great reputation as gamefish and also as table fare. The catch is strictly regulated, with only one fish allowed per angler, or two per boat - whichever is fewer.
My approach to inshore shark fishing is to use my flats tackle. I rig a three-foot leader of 90-pound wire for fishing live bait and cut bait. As with most fish, live bait will usually out fish everything else, but there have been times where cut bait has worked incredibly well. Ladyfish and threadfin herring are my favorite baits for shark - dead or alive.
In clear water, a lure that casts well will take blacktips if you can hit them in the head with it. A slow, jerky retrieve will trigger strikes.
Any hooked shark should be handled with care. Even a two-foot long spinner will bite you, and from personal experience I can tell you the event is painful and bloody. Never, ever pick a shark up by the tail. They will try to bend back and bite you. As with cobia, sharks have lots of muscle. Keep that in mind before you put one in the boat. They will do an incredible amount of thrashing around, and they can and will smash tackle. Above all, do not net a blacktip or spinner. They chew through the mesh of the net like it's tissue paper. Gaffing is also a difficult proposition because the shark's hide is so tough. If you try to gaff a shark, make sure the gaff is well pointed and sturdy, and strike the fish hard. Nobody said this would be easy.
In murky water, live bait or cut bait will produce the most strikes. My best day of shark fishing came one December morning in the hot water outflow of a power plant. The water was roiled and visibility very poor, so I was fishing chunks of ladyfish. Three-foot blacktips were so thick that I couldn't get two baits into water. When sharks are this thick you go through lots of tackle. Somehow they get above the wire leader and cut you off, no matter how long the leader. I theorize that a shark other than the one hooked is trying to get at the bait in the other shark's mouth and cuts you off. I know I lose a lot of tackle when sharks are thick, and the line appears to be cut, not abraded.
I prefer fresh bait to frozen, but I have indeed caught plenty of sharks on frozen bait, and have found that fresh bait is more productive on a slow bite.
Hooks should be matched to tackle. You will have a hard time setting a 7/0 hook with a light rod. Sharks are tough mouthed, so I opt for a finer, forged bronze hook in 2/0. Barbless hooks make a lot of sense with shark fishing even if you are fishing for dinner. You will usually get multiple hookups if the sharks are there, and the barbless hook will penetrate better. With or without the barb on the hook, pressure on the shark has to be constant.
I like fishing live bait on floats because the float keeps the baitfish off the bottom where he tends to be uncomfortable because there is no place to hide. The float works well if sharks are scattered, but if they are schooled and you hook up, chances are that another shark will hit the float. The solution is to rig floats with wire; the sharks may ruin your float, but at least you won't get cut off.
The table quality of a blacktip shark is excellent, but this fish requires immediate care once caught. My method is to make a deep cut on either side of the tail to bleed the shark, and then get the fish on ice quickly. Steak the fish, soak the steaks in milk overnight, then marinate and charbroil for an incredibly tasty shark dinner. Shark meat can also be cubed and substituted in scallop recipes. I also like it in Scampi as a substitute for shrimp. Shark can also be filleted and skinned, then the fillets can be cut into fingers and deep fried, or broiled whole. As long as proper care is given to the shark as soon as it is caught, the result is wonderful.
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