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How to catch shark: from tiny surf sharks to Jaws-size monsters

How to catch shark
There are many different shark catching techniques depending on the water (Image credit: Getty)

There are nearly 500 species of sharks and many can be targeted by anglers using relatively simple catch-and-release tactics. For ease of explanation, we’ll split the subject into shark fishing from the beach (also known as surf fishing), shark fishing from pier or jetty, and boat fishing for sharks.

Each requires a different approach and offers varied opportunities for different types of shark to be caught. But there are some general rules to follow when thinking about how to catch shark. We'll address those first:

Shark fishing basics

Welcome to shark school. 

First lesson: always use a wire leader (a length of flexible metal wire line, often nylon-coated) to attach the hook to the mainline. Most sharks have teeth and will easily chew through mono, fluorocarbon or braided line when hooked.

If you’re targeting sharks, it’s your responsibility to not leave a fish swimming around with a hook in its mouth, and using a suitable wire leader ensures you land the fish and take the hook out! Practising catch-and-release is usual for almost all shark species so caring for your catch through proper handling is important.

Second lesson: The type of hook you use is also crucial. Circle hooks have an unusual looking round bend and in-turned point that’s designed to only hook the fish in the corner of the mouth or lip – this really helps when you’re unhooking a shark of any size. Using a circle hook ensures you don’t deep hook the fish, which can happen when a hungry shark takes the bait down.

Lots of companies make good quality circle hooks, surf fishing rigs with wire leaders (like carolina and pulley rigs) and end tackle items suitable for surf shark fishing, so have a look to research what’s recommended online and match the tackle to your target shark species.

Talking of tackle, getting the right rod and reel is important too. For surf fishing, a large surf spinning reel or good quality conventional reel with a strong drag loaded with 300-600 metres of 40-80lb braided mainline is a good bet.

Combine this with a heavy-rated 10-15ft (3-5m) spinning or conventional rod and you’ll have a good combo for targeting small to medium-sized surf sharks, depending on your local species.

Pier and boat fishing for sharks often involves targeting larger fish with conventional tackle (set-ups with the drum-like reel on the top) and shorter, stronger rods loaded with many hundreds of metres of 50-200lb braided line.

Often, a harness, fighting belt or plate is employed to gain leverage on the fish when using heavy tackle like this due to the extreme drag pressure involved and strong sharks.

Other items to have include a suitable surf spike (PVC tubing works well) to hold the rod if beach fishing, some heavy wired surf sinkers to hold bottom or normal sinkers and party balloon floats if boat fishing, heavy-grade pliers and wire cutters, a proper unhooking tool, gloves for handling the rough skinned-sharks and fresh, a measuring tape and bloody baits on ice.

How to catch shark

A wire leader is a must-use (Image credit: Getty)

Surf fishing for sharks

This is a great way of getting into shark fishing and nearly every coastline has shark species of various sizes to catch from the beach. The first task is to locate the shark’s likely feeding areas – and the simple rule here is to find the bait fish the shark likes to feed on. The predators won’t be far behind the food.

On the beach, this might be where a shoal of fish like to congregate or maybe a spot that’s popular with people catching smaller species the sharks like to eat. Features such as marinas, harbors, reefs or tidal river mouths are also attractive to surf sharks, which are often from the houndshark family.

As mentioned earlier, make sure you use a strong wire leader and circle hook plus several feet of strong monofilament line tied to your mainline between this and the wire leader.

This strong mono section – sometimes called a rub leader – is essential for absorbing the abrasion from the shark’s rough skin. Often, a shark will roll on the line or hit the main line with its tail during the fight – if this happens to the weaker main line, it can easily break. The stronger, tougher section of mono ensures this doesn’t happen.

A large, freshly-caught bait kept on ice is always a better choice over frozen options and favourites include mackerel, mullet, croaker, tuna sections, chunks of stingray, fish heads or any other bloody fish local to where you’re fishing.

Observing the tide cycle over the course of a calendar month will show larger and smaller tides – check out our guide to the best fishing times – and surf sharks love larger water movements such as the big tides because it carries food item signals and bloody scent trails straight to their sensory organs, making locating prey (and your bait!) easier compared to slacker tides.

how to catch shark

Follow Ben's advice to land a shark like this (Image credit: Ben Hervey-Murray)

Pier and jetty fishing for sharks

Similar tactics work for pier and jetty shark fishing but stronger tackle – somewhere between that required for boat and surf fishing – is usually required. Often, a medium-rated conventional set-up is a good option.

A technique called sliding, which involves first casting a large sinker and then attaching the baited shark rig to the line with a quick release swivel and sliding it down the mainline into the water, is a common way of catching big sharks from structure. But the same rigs and baits that work in the surf will also work off the pier.

Often, the fish are larger due to the deeper water and it’s possible to land giants from the pier – however, catching and releasing fish from a tall structure is tricky. Making sure you have a plan for safely dealing with whatever shark you’re likely to hook is an important part of pier fishing.

How to catch shark

Boats allow you to access deep water sharks (Image credit: Getty)

Boat fishing for sharks

Using a boat to target deeper water offshore is a great way to fish for big sharks of any species, with almost every ocean home to many huge predators lurking in the deeps.

The best way to catch shark this way is to charter a professional fishing boat or join a group trip, unless you’re fortunate enough to have an experienced friend with a boat.

Targeting a big fish like a mako, thresher, tiger, bull, lemon or blue shark often involves, where legal, chumming the water with a bag of bloody fish guts to attract the target species.

A similarly-attractive large bloody hook bait suspended under a float or freelined on strong conventional tackle, to bring the shark to the side of the boat for a safe release, is usual. Heavy wire leaders and big, strong circle hooks are standard items.

Smaller shark species can also be targeted from the boat on strong spinning reels and rods – but hold on for an energy-sapping battle if you hook a big one!

Using heavy conventional tackle, it’s possible to land sharks to over 1000lb so fishing with experts who are experienced in handling fish of this size is important for safety, wherever you fish for sharks.

But with hundreds of shark species to target, there’s a size and difficulty level to suit fisherfolk of all levels of experience. Research what’s available locally, make sure you have some suitable tackle and enjoy the fight!

Ben Hervey-Murray

An obsessed fisherman since childhood, Ben’s career in fishing has taken him from working as a magazine writer and editor to running his own guiding business in California, where he targets salt and freshwater fish. Ben has decades of experience in selecting the right tackle and honing the best tactics to target all sorts of species, from surf sharks to freshwater catfish, and loves sharing this knowledge. His favorite fishing moments usually involve helping clients catch the fish of a lifetime – and not getting eaten by great white sharks while out on his kayak.