Big Game Fishing in the Gulf for Sharks!
by Eric Ozolins
Location: Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
Within the past 20 years, the introduction of sit-on-top kayaks have helped pave the way for a great variety of anglers to increase their on the water freedom. Originally developed for recreational exercise and fun, little did manufacturers know how important and large the market would develop within the realm of the fishermen. Kayaks are now rigged with all sorts of fancy gizmos and gadgets to accomodate them for their aquatic journeys.
Below: The Gulf of Mexico is home to countless species of Sharks...
Kayak Fishing for Sharks and other Gamefish !
Many of today's Kayaks are customized by the angler. Some have enhancements such as a fish/depth finder along with other gadgets. While you do not need any electronics on board of your kayak, at times it does help to have a fishfinder to detect bait down deep. When chasing birds and bait, it is important to stay near the action. If you keep track of the activity, more than likely baitballs that have disappeared will rise up to the surface where the next possible frenzy may happen. Sharks like most other predators are fast fish, and move fast. They can cover a large area pretty quick so it is important to keep a keen eye out for the next possible spot.
Below: A Feeding frenzy is a good sign of possible sharks currently roaming the area
Today… anglers are consistently catching Yellowtail off California, Reds and Trout out of the Gulf of Mexico, and Stripers from the upper Atlantic states. It seems that the boundaries are constantly disappearing and limits are being pushed by many individuals. There is a special appreciation all around for kayak fishing. Whether stalking Redfish on the flats or far offshore attempting big-game fishing, the excitement never fades and each journey is a unique and often rewarding experience.
Below: Kyle poses with a Blacktip Shark after a good fight...
I was fortunate to be part of a small elite group to that helped discover and take part in the exploration of big-game fishing from the kayak in the Gulf over a decade ago here off the Texas Coast. Good friend Curtis Mai and myself would chase birds and bait from the beach in old style Ocean Kayaks. Our first couple adventurous encounters on the water resulted in being exposed to mass feeding frenzies with a mix of Bonita, Mackerel, Jacks, and Sharks. The first few times when we were greeted by sharks put us in a nervous state of mind. After several trips, we were moved on and started TARGETTING sharks. This later introduced another good friend, TJ Pilgrim, to pursue Sharks and Bull Red Drum on the upper coast of Texas.
Below: Oz shows off a Blacktip of his own before the release.
Kayak fishing is not necessarily for everyone though. Being in great physical shape is at times essential. Hardcore anglers may kayak upwards of 5-10 miles in a single day, however most adventures may take place within less than a miles total paddle. There is a great deal of patience and alertness one needs to possess for many reasons, but none more important than safety. When on the kayak, anything can happen thus while a ‘buddy’ is often highly suggested.
Below: Curtis subdues a furious Blacktip Shark at the kayak
Fishing for sharks from the kayak may seem ludicrous… well, it is. However, since the dawn of time people of all desires have pushed the limits in their respected venues. It takes a special amount confidence and patience, and logical thinking to even attempt sharks out of the yak. You must know what you are getting into and immediately remove yourself of any fear and nervosity.
Below: Fresh Bonita are among the best bait for many different species of sharks...
Shark fishing is my calling. It’s what I’ve done for many years, encountering literally hundreds of sharks. While most of my encounters were from the surf, I dealt with and had my own battles offshore in boats. With an overall extended experience with sharks, I feel much more relaxed during a situation in the kayak.
So what are the basics of hunting sharks in the kayak? What do you look for? How do you go about rigging to catch them? There are many questions that revolve around this aspect of fishing. In short, use the appropriate gear, nothing too heavy, but nothing too light. Here off the Texas coast our most common sharks to catch from the kayak range from the smaller Atlantic Sharpnose just over 3’, to the more abundant Blacktip Sharks up to 6’, and the occasional Bull Shark that may reach over 8’ in length, but encounters over 6-7’ are usually rare. Conventional gear is usually utilized however coffee-grinder enthusiast do target sharks on spinning reels that are up to par for the job.
Below: Oz does battle with a shark on light tackle...
Next is location and bait rigging. Lets start off with location to target. During various times of the year baitballs will form off the beach, anywhere from the first sandbar out to a couple miles. Your most noticeable signs are the bird activity trying to get a free meal. Whether Anchovies, Menhaden, or Mullet…all these bait balls and schools will have some form of predators. The more dense and expanded the range of activity, the bigger the dinner-bell for your apex predators such as the sharks. If you can find the bait, you will find the sharks. Otherwise you have to take your chance and fish ‘blind’.
Below: Oz getting ready to release a large Blacktip Shark
Rigging baits can be quite simple. In fact, since we release all our sharks from the kayak (and highly suggest it), a leader of 6-10’ will suffice, with a heavy mono or wire drop to a small circle hook. Offshore, you would be surprised the size of a shark that would sufficiently get hooked on a small circle hook (12/0 mustad or smaller). I prefer to use a wire trace and often just cut the wire and give the shark the hook (to rust out in a couple weeks anyway). Baits will depend on your area, however use what is feeding in the baitballs. Skipjack, Bluefish, and Spanish Mackerel (if legal to use in your area) make for excellent bait. Try to rig live if possible, hook through the nose. After rigged, you can put the bait under a balloon or just drift. You should space your bait aways from the kayak for safety reasons. Blacktip Sharks are notorious for breaching the surface in acrobatic fashion.
Below: Hooked up! Another sleigh-ride begins...
If you are indeed in the vicinity of the activity, it shouldn’t take long. A shark will often pick up the bait and start swimming away, towing you with him. Get ready for the sleigh ride! Hang on and do battle! There is an advantage of fishing for big game in the kayak… fish expend a lot of energy towing you around, so fights may last as little as 10-15 minutes for 6’ shark. All fish are different and have different personalities so don’t count on anything consistent.
When you tire the fish and get the shark next to the kayak, it may decide to run or resist a few more times which is normal. Get the fish tired enough to where you can safely get it to the kayak for the release, but not too tired to where the fish can’t swim off. When you are ready, have your buddy take a photo while you have the fish next to the kayak… this photo will last forever and the encounter is guaranteed to be etched in your mind. When you are ready for the release, cut the the wire/leader as close to the hook as possible and give the shark a push with the dorsal fin. In all likelihood the shark shall swim off completely unharmed.
Below: A large Scalloped Hammerhead is fought and brought to the kayak
Shark fishing is a unique way of encountering and observing nature’s raw power and presence. Always be calm and realize the possibilities of every situation. Anything can and will happen in the water and the more you are prepared, the safer off you are and the more enjoyable the adventure will be. Have fun, be safe, and take plenty of pictures!
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