When someone goes fishing in the ocean for the first time there is always one fish they want to catch the most, sharks! Having a large shark ripping line off a reel is a rush and is typically a great experience. Sharks can be caught day or night from a boat offshore or from the beach.
After catching lots of sharks they become more of a hassle than the target species and often eat the desired fish while you are reeling them in. This is frequently called getting taxed by the taxman. Knowing the best shark rigs and baits will help you catch sharks.
Hammerhead sharks eating Tarpon and Dusky sharks eating tuna is not uncommon when fishing in the ocean. Most times you do not get to see the shark when you get taxed but the line starts peeling off the reel and then gets cut. Other times you reel in the head of a fish an know exactly what happened. Location and time of year are important factors that determine the number of sharks and the species of sharks that are around to catch.
Once you get a few miles offshore and put chum in the water sharks will generally appear. Fishing nearshore can be very seasonal so checking fishing reports to see when sharks are expected to be in your area is important. Often times sharks come around the same time every year and in big numbers.
Hopefully when a shark bites a steel leader is being used and the rod and reel are large enough to land the shark. Most shark species are protected and can not be harvested and the ones that can generally have to be a minimum of 54 inches in length to keep. In my experience, it is more fun when the shark is released safely. This can be done with a large de-hooker or by cutting the hook with a large bolt cutter.
Below I have listed the best shark fishing rigs and baits to catch big sharks. I have caught sharks in Florida, California, Alaska, New Jersey and in the USVI. The same shark rigs work in all of these places.
Here Are the Best Shark Rigs
1. Steel Wire with a Circle Hook
This is a 325-pound steel wire rig with a ball bearing swivel for the line to be tied. The circle hooks are size 15/0 16/0 and 18/0. For sharks 3-10 feet in length, the 16/0 hook size is perfect. If you are targeting really small sharks or really large sharks a different hook size would be better. These wire leaders are usually around 6 feet in length. In general, you want the wire length to be the length of the shark. If the line rubs against the abrasive skin of the shark body it will cut the line. Even the shark tail hitting the line could cut it. If you do not have a leader or a short leader and the hook is in the corner of the shark’s mouth you can often still catch the shark. You just have to tire the shark out while keeping the shark behind the boat. If you reel the shark in to quickly it will turn quickly which results in the line rubbing on the body of the shark and getting cut off.
If you do not know how to twist wire buying shark rigs like this will get you fishing. Below I will detail how to make your own shark rigs which is an important skill for a fisherman to know. I would strongly recommend filing the barb off the hook. This will make it much easier to remove the hook. These circle hooks rarely come out once the shark is hooked so the bard is not needed.
2. AFW Steel Wire Custom Shark Rig
Shown above is a shark rig that I made. This was made with #10 124 pound AFW wire with a 16/0 circle hook. I will list the details of this custom rig below and show how to tie the rig in a video.
The hands-down best bait for sharks is Barracuda. If we catch a barracuda I fillet it and cut it into about 4-inch sections. I put this bait about 20 feet off the bottom in clear water and about 5 feet of the bottom in murky water. Even without chum, this will still catch sharks on most fishing trips. I always ask people if they want to catch a shark. Some people do not know what is involved. Sharks are very strong and usually take over 20 minutes to reel in. This can cut into fishing time to catch dinner if that is what people are wanting on the trip.
AFW Stainless Steel Wire Leader
AFW stainless steel leader works great for most sharks. Generally, the leader is bought about 20 pounds heavier than the line being used. I always use #10 124 lb leader for shark rigs. Sharks are not that picky when it comes to the leader. Just have nice bait ready for the rig and if sharks are around they will typically bite.
Crane Swivel for Shark Rigs
Crane swivels are good to use with the wire leader. These are small are rated from 78 to 511-pound test. I would recommend getting the 511-pound swivels. These are not that big and it makes it easier when twisting the wire. One end of the swivel is attached to the wire with a haywire twist the other is tied to the line with your favorite fishing knot. I personally use a uni-knot to tie on the swivel.
Lead Weight for Shark Rigs
These egg weights or bullet weights are a great way to send the shark rig down deep. In the picture above you can see that I was using a 4-ounce weight that I tied with a dropper loop to the line. This is a great way to add weight to a shark rig. Some people attach the weight to the line with a rubber band. Other times I send the rig down to depth with a downrigger. The downrigger works well in a strong current but when there is little current the rigs can easily get tangles around the downrigger wire.
People often wonder with is the best depth to fish for sharks. If you are chumming it is good to have a line near the surface. In general, though sharks stay and feed near the bottom when you are in water shallower than 200 feet. When the water is clear blue water, I try and keep the bait about 20 feet off the bottom. In murky green water, I try to keep the bait about 5 feet off the bottom.
In the video below I show how to tie a haywire twist and the best way to tie a dropper loop.
3. Circle Hook with Cable Rig
This is a 10-foot shark leader with a 270-pound steel cable. The circle hook s a carbon steel size 16/0. I was worried that the anti-rust coating on this circle hook might take to long to rusk out of the fish if the line were to break off. I frequently see sharks with multiple shark rigs in their mouths. All of the big game circle hooks are made out of coated carbon steel or stainless hooks both of which I think will take way to long to rust out of fish. I could not find a non-stainless or coated steel circle hook large enough to catch sharks. I am not sure which of the two is better to use. The large size of these hooks means that it will take a long time to rust out.
Since hooks take a long time to rust the best option is to use quality gear to catch the shark and remove the hook. The first step in this process is to file off the barb of the hook in advanced. Once a shark is hooked with a circle hook it rarely gets off. To remove the hook from the shark use a large dehooker tool or bolt cutter to cut the hook. I explain how to use these tools later in this article.
4. Custom Cable Shark Rig
The cable comes in a variety of strengths. I would recommend using cable over 150-pound strength. Cable ends up being thicker than single strand wire. The advantage of cable is that it is more flexible. If you do not know how to twist wire then using cable is a good option because it can be crimped. Shark rigs over 8 feet in length are typically made with cable because it is easier to wind up and store a leader made with cable.
Mini Copper Double Barrel Crimp Kit
Mini Copper Double Barrel Crimp Kit 100 pieces. Sizes are .8,1.0,1.2 and 1.4mm 50 – 180 pound crimps. Typically two crimps are added at each crimp point. This adds strength to the crimp point in case one crimp were to fail. In general, crimps are very strong and are not common failure points.
Fishing Crimping Tool
This is a basic fishing crimp tool. This works with the single or double barrel crimps made from copper or aluminum sleeves. If you do not have a crimper you can use a large pair of pliers. Having a crimper allows the crimp to be compressed over the line evenly and with more force. Crimps are typically used on a steel cable and on monofilament line or fluorocarbon leaders over 80 pounds in line strength. This is because it is difficult to tie knots in thick lines.
5. Circle Hooks Shark Rig
Owner Super Mutu Circle Hooks. These hooks are bigger than they look in the picture. Size 10/0 is a good size for most sharks. Know what size shark is being targeted. If small reel with 50lb line is being used a 16/0 hook is probably not the correct size.
Circle Hooks are the way to go for most shark situations. These hooks help prevent the shark from getting hooked deep in the mouth or gut. Even with circle hooks, the drag should be tightened up the drag quickly once a shark is pulling line off the reel. In the Gulf of Mexico, circle hooks are always required by law. A good bloody fish type is the best bait to use for most sharks. We have had luck with most fish as bait with the exception of catfish, don’t use catfish as bait unless it is the only bait available. For offshore fishing, a piece of bonita is a perfect bait. The baits can be suspended off a balloon or waited with an egg sinker and sent to the bottom.
6. J-Hook Shark Rig
Mustad 3407 classic saltwater hook. Size 12/0 is a good size for sharks. Typically size 7/0 is used for mahi-mahi and tuna fishing. This hook is made of carbon steel which is better than stainless steel in my opinion because eventually, it will rust out of the fish if the line breaks. These hooks are zink plated and it still may take years to rust out. It is best to remove the hook or cut the hook with a bolt cutter. In some states, J-hooks are against the law to use for sharks like in New Jersey and the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. Check local regulations before using a J-hooks for sharks.
J-hooks work great when the shark can be seen from the boat and the bait is basically pitched to the shark. This way when the shark takes the bait the drag can be tightened quickly so it gets hooked in the corner of the mouth where it will be easier to remove the hook. If you do not see the shark using a large circle hook is the better hook option. This is because you do not want to shark to swallow the bait and get gut hooked.
DU-BRO Fishing E/Z Load Chum Bag, 14-inch diameter opening with a 6-foot rope.
A chum bag must-have when targeting sharks. Sometimes catching other fish brings sharks to the area but most times chumming is needed to attract sharks and other fish to the area. Once chumming starts sharks typically show up in 15 minutes to 1 hour. After 1 hour if no sharks show up it is a good idea to move to a different location. The boat should be anchored when chumming otherwise there will not be a good scent trail leading back to the boat. Try and have baits in the chum slick, neat the surface and deep near the bottom. Sharks can easily be missed if baits are not at the right depth. Fishing for sharks can be relaxing with some downtime while waiting for a shark to show up. Even though the chum is at the surface put baits at different depths. Baits near the bottom catch the most sharks.
ARC DeHooker Big Game 34 – Inch Hook Remover
DeHookers are a great way to remove hooks from fish. This is also true for sharks. Hands should never be near the mouth of a shark during the release. Use extreme caution when releasing sharks. Wear protective gloves when handling the leader. To remove the hook tension should be added to the leader line and the hook should then be pushed forward with the Dehooker. This should dislodge the hook. After the hook is free tension should remain on the leader and Dehooker while the hook and Dehooker are removed from the shark’s mouth. If this does not work cut the wire or cable as close to the hook as safely possible with large bolt cutters. Cutting the hook is another good option because the other half will likely slide out over time. Hooks do eventually rust away but depending where the hook is located this can still cause problems for the shark.
Bolt Cutter to Remove Shark Hook
Having this 18- inch bolt cutter on the boat is a great idea. You do not want to just cut the leader you want to cut the hook. Leaving hooks in sharks or any fish is a bad idea. Rather than wrestling the shark into the boat to remove the hook you can cut the hook with the shark in the water. Make sure this is stored in an area free from saltwater or the bolt cutter will rust.
How to catch Sharks
Sharks are typically caught by anchoring a boat and putting out chum to create a scent trail. With a nice current, the chum can attract sharks from miles away. If there are large schools of fish sharks are frequently found in the area. One bait should but put near the surface on a float or balloon. Another bait should be sent deep near the bottom. Most of the sharks I have caught were near the bottom. Sharks are caught higher up when scent or splashing gets there attention.
The bait should be put on a shark rig with steel wire or steel cable that is longer than the shark as discussed above. You do not need a huge hook to catch a large shark. That being said sharks are not typically shy of exposed hooks or thick leader lines. The key is to have fresh bait. Take a section of fillet off a barracuda or bonita and you have great bait. Live injured bait does get the shark’s attention and can get a bite if other baits are not working.
Use large fishing reels with quality drag and line over 50 pounds in strength. If you are using a small reel and light line the shark is going to break the line or spool you. The result is you do not catch the fish and that litter is put into the ocean. If you are going to fish for a shark do it the right way, catch the fish and quickly release it. The best way to release a shark is to cut the hook with a bolt cutter. If you are experienced you can quickly remove the hook with a dehooker if the bard is filed off the hook. Make sure to never wrap your hand around the leader because this is dangerous for multiple reasons. Wearing gloves during the release process is a good idea.
Frequently asked Questions
What is the best bait to use for sharks?
As I mentioned a fillet of fresh barracuda is the best shark bait in the world. Bonita also makes great shark bait because of the meat is bloody and has a strong scent. Any baitfish will work as well such as mullet, herring, pilchards, bunker etc. Most fresh fish will get them to bite. The only bait I have struggled to catch sharks with was catfish. Live bait works great as well. Many times shark will eat the live bait you have set out for other fish being targeted.
Is it legal to harvest sharks to eat?
I would strongly recommend releasing all sharks. There are both federal and state regulations for sharks. Some species of sharks can be kept to eat if they are over 54 inches in length. This length is to the fork in the tail, not the total length. If you are going to keep a shark to eat learn how to properly identify the shark. There are many species that look very similar to each other. One might be legal to keep the might be endangered. If it the fish shark you ever caught, let it go. It will be a much better experience for you and the shark.
What is the best time of day to catch sharks?
Most people think that night time is the best time to catch sharks. In general, this is correct. Sharks are more active at night. Shark fishing can be very location and tide dependent. Sharks are out deep during the day and can be easily caught if you put a bait in front of them. Changing times allows for better scent trails and more bites. The sharks are typically out deep during the day and might feed closer to shore during the night time. This is why many people surf fish for sharks at night.
Thanks for visiting Global Fishing Reports. I hope these suggestions help you catch more sharks!
If you have any suggestions for top shark baits, leave a comment below!
Captain Cody has worked on charter fishing boats in the Florida Keys, Virgin Islands and Alaska. Cody grew up in Pennsylvania and has also done extensive freshwater fishing including bass fishing tournaments. Cody strives to provide detailed information about the best fishing gear and tactics to help both novice and experienced anglers have a more productive and enjoyable time on the water. Cody also has a background in aerospace engineering and neuroscience but really only takes pride in being good at one thing and that is fishing!