A mile and a half off the coastof Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., the only noise the crew of the Lady Pamela IV heard onthe breezy afternoon was the slowtroll of the engine and the sea slapping the side of the boat.
There was a sense that somethingwas about to happen.
Suddenly, a line danced andtightened.
“Go, go go!” yelled J.J. Logan,handling the rods on the first deck, to Darin Tonks, who was in control of the46-foot charter. Tonks gunned the throttle forward, pulling the lines tight.The reeling began, and soon a fin sliced through the water.
It wasn’t Jaws. Nor was it agreat white – but the 4-foot silky shark on the line still provided anadrenaline-packed thrill. Such thrills are ordinary in Florida, particularly inMarch when thousands of sharks follow their migratory pattern through warmwaters. March 2013 saw 15,000sharks off the Florida coast – all at one time.
Click the image for shark fishing photos
Hunter sharks from the Easternseaboard make their pilgrimage South from the Carolinas to Georgia and spendthe winter south of Florida,” said Steve Kajiura, a biological sciences professorwho runs the Elasmobranch Research Laboratory at Florida Atlantic University inBoca Raton, Fla. “And in the spring, they move back North, distributingthemselves along the coast.”
Kajiura said that his team hasbeen performing aerial surveys for the past two years, which enables them tocalculate the shark population during the migration.
“Because the Gulf Stream is sostrong, the sharks don’t want to fight the current, and they hug the shore,”Kajiura said. “If you stood on the beach, you could throw a rock and hit ashark.”
According to Geno Pratt, captain of Geno IV Charters inBoynton Beach, Fla., the annual influx of sharks doesn’t have a detrimentaleffect on the South Florida fishery.
Rules of the Game
Some of Florida’s largest shark catches came decades beforeregulations were enacted. According to the South Florida Shark Club, a handfulof records are as follows: a 152-pound Blacktip caught in Sebastian in 1987, a397-pound lemon caught in Dunedin, and a 686-pound white shark caught Key Westin 1988.
Currently, the Florida Fish and Wildlife ConservationCommission lists 25 species of sharks as protected, including yearly Floridafrequents such as the great hammerhead, lemon, longfin mako, silky, white and tigerShark. Only natural bait is allowed when fishing, and sharks must have 54inches of a minimum fork length to keep. The maximum take is one shark perharvester per day or 2 per vessel, or whichever is less.
Shark fining, a popular act fishing overseas in which sharksare killed for their fins mainly for shark fin soup, has been a large culpritin the depletion of sharks on a global scale. Estimates range from 30 to 100million sharks are killed annually.
The act in Florida, as well as several other states, isillegal, because of its detrimental effects to the shark population. Several ofthe species, despite the regulations, are still overfished when compared topast averages.
According to the Florida Saltwater Fishing Regulations, “NOAAFisheries determined the northwest Atlantic stock of scalloped hammerheads wasoverfished ... other species, including the great and smooth hammerhead and thetiger shark, have also suffered a greater than 50 percent decline in populationnumbers.”
As long as the rules are known, a day of safe shark fishingwill go smoothly, and without consequence.
“We telleveryone to catch, picture, and release,” said William Fundora, theadministrator for the South Florida Shark Club. “We can’t control sharks inother nations. We just have to set the standard.”
Inshore and Offshore Preparations
For Randy Meyers, author of SurfFishing: The Quick Start Guide to the Exciting Sport, the key toshark fishing is simple from the beach: experience.
“There’s nothing like time onthe water,” Meyers said. “Only then do you get a sense of what to do on aparticular catch and how to react.”
The most important point toknow, learned by Meyers on the water, is to be aware of the size of the leader.<
“The length needs to be 6 to 8feet so line doesn’t get cut,” he said. “If you’re fishing with a 3-foot leaderand you hook a 4-foot shark and it starts to tail whip, it could cut your linein a heartbeat.”
Meyers said to come preparedwith a medium to medium heavy rod, along with braided line. Fishing at nightgives you the best percentage to hook a decent shark as well.
During the night, sharks comein closer to the shore, and some may be in casting range,” he said. “For thebigger sharks that are further out, have a bait casting reel, along with akayak, which allows you to go out and drop the baits.”
Any type of cut bait willsuffice and, depending on the tide, you can throw out chum to attract moresharks. Rigs with a wire leader and sharp hook can be bought or made at homewith the help of demo videos online.
Reeling in a shark offshore,especially on a charter, is “relatively simple,” according to Pratt. “Get in front of the school and put live bait on thebottom. Sharks also like to pick up dead bait blue runner Bonita, and bluefish.”
Feeling the Thrill
Once you’ve reeled in a shark, whether you bring it on thesand or into the boat, keep a distance between yourself and the animal until itcalms.
In the case of the silky shark on board the Lady Pamela IV,Logan placed a tag on the endangered species, snapped some quick photos and releasedit.
Whether you reel in a protected species or snag a futurerecord, you’ll see that there’s nothing like catching one the most fickleanimals on the planet.