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.
In this article, I will detail the best rigs and baits for catching sharks. Sharks are awesome fish and should be treated with respect. All shark fishermen should have a large bolt cutter to cut the hook in half when releasing sharks. I also recommend removing the barb off circle hooks with a file as the barb is not needed and makes it much more difficult to remove the hook. It is also best to use carbon hooks and remove the anti-rust coating in case the hook is left in the shark accidentally.
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.
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 the 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 conventional reel are large enough to land the shark. Most shark species are protected and can not be harvested and the ones that can be kept 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. Thin Wire VMC Circle Hook Shark Rig
Shown above is a shark rig that I made and is the best in most situations. This was made with number 10 124 pound AFW single strand wire with a 9/0 circle hook. In the video below I explain why this is the best rig and how to safely catch and release sharks. Wire rigs are used rather than monofilament because shark teeth are very sharp.
The 9/0 VMC circle hooks are the best for shark rigs for many reasons. First, this style hook is typically used for tarpon, barracuda, grouper, amberjacks, mahi-mahi, and most other gamefish. This means that in addition to catching sharks you will catch other types of fish. Second, the thin hook is easier to remove from the shark, especially if the barb is removed. Sharks rarely throw the hook and the barb is not needed. The thin hook is also much easier to cut in half with a bolt cutter.
In addition to removing the barb, the anti-rust coating should be scratched off the hook in a few places. The carbon hooks are stronger than stainless steel which is why they can be so thin. However, carbon steel rusts much faster which is why there is a black nickel coating. Removing this coating is a great idea for the cases where the hook ends up being left in the shark. Even though the hooks are very thin they still do not bend even with 40 pounds of drag applied to the hook. So unless it is a monster shark these smaller, thinner hooks are a great option.
AFW Stainless Steel Wire Leader
AFW stainless steel leader works great for most sharks. Generally, the leader is about 20 pounds heavier than the line being used. I always use number 10, which is a 124-pound leader when targeting large sharks over 5 feet in length. For smaller sharks, number 4, 38-pound wire and number 7, 69-pound wire are good options. Sharks are not that picky when it comes to the thickness of leaders. Just have a nice bait ready for the rig and if sharks are around they will typically bite.
These wire leaders are usually 3-8 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 wire 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 too quickly it will turn quickly which results in the line rubbing on the body of the shark and getting cut off.
Crane Swivel for Shark Rigs
Crane swivels are good to use with the wire leader. These are small and 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 and the other is tied to the line with your favorite fishing knot. I personally use a uni-knot to tie the mainline onto the swivel.
In the picture, my dad is reeling in a small mako shark that was caught and released in New Jersey.
2. Carbon Circle Hook with Cable Rig
This is a 10-foot shark leader with a 270-pound steel cable. The circle hook is a carbon steel size 16/0. I was worried that the anti-rust coating on this circle hook might take too 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 too long to rust out of fish given how thick they are made. This coated carbon steel circle hook would be better to use than large stainless steel hooks.
If you do use this rig make sure to scratch off the coating in a few places and remove the barb. This will make it easier to de-hook the shark during the release. I have switched to using thinner coated circle hooks and scratch the outer coating on part of the hook so it will rust out if the hook can not be removed. Most of the time the hook can be cut with a bolt cutter or pulled out using a de-hooker.
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 advance. 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.
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.
File To Remove Barbs and Coating on Shark Hooks
This file is 10 inches in total length and has a 6-inch file. When a shark gets hooked with a circle hook it is almost always secured very well into the corner of the mouth. Very very rarely does a shark shake a hook loose. For this reason, there is no need to have a barb on the hook. The barb makes it very difficult to remove the hook from a shark with a de-hooker. I have done it many times but it is difficult. The barb can also be crushed with a large pair of vise-grips or pliers.
Many online videos show people struggling to get hooks out of sharks. It is best to use hooks without barbs and have a bolt cutter to cut the hook in half when releasing sharks. If you do not do these two things you should not be targeting sharks. Most sharks are released and there is no reason the leave any tackle in the fish unnecessarily.
People say that large big game hooks will rust out but this is not true. These are large corrosion resistance hooks that will take many years to rust out. I have seen plenty of sharks while diving the reef with shark rigs hooked in their mouth. Also, sometimes when catching sharks they have three or four shark rigs hooked to them. It is most important for humans to stay safe when releasing sharks. Don’t do what you are not comfortable with but also don’t target sharks if you can not release them safely.
In the picture below my dad and I caught a large dusky shark. We were fishing about 20 miles offshore in the Florida keys. This is a protected shark and always has to be released.
3. Custom Cable Shark Rig
The multi-strand cable comes in a variety of strengths. I would recommend using cable over 150-pound strength. The 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 a multi-strand 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. The cable is thicker which makes it a bit easier to handle when releasing the shark. Just make sure number to wrap the leader and this can be very dangerous.
Mini Copper Double Barrel Crimp Kit
Mini Copper Double Barrel Crimp Kit 100 pieces. Sizes are .8, 1.0, 1.2, and 1.4 mm which are 50 to 180-pound test 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 unless the fishing rig is old.
Fishing Crimping Tool
This is a basic fishing crimp tool. This works with 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, monofilament line, or fluorocarbon leaders over 80 pounds in line strength. This is because it is difficult to tie knots when using thick lines.
In the picture, we caught a reef shark while fishing in the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. The shark was safely released.
4. Stainless Steel Circle Hooks Shark Rig
This is an Owner Super Mutu Circle Hook. Size 16/0 is a good size for sharks that are 8 feet in length or larger. It is a good idea to know what size shark is being targeted. If a spinning reel with an 80-pound line or less is being used to catch small sharks under 8 feet a thin wire circle hook would be the best option. It makes removing the hook much easier. When releasing the shark the hook should be removed or cut in half with a pair of bolt cutters. This hook is stainless steel so there is no coating on it. However, the material itself is corrosion resistant so it may take years to rust out of a shark.
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 quickly once a shark is pulling the line off the reel. In the Gulf of Mexico, circle hooks are always required by law.
The 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 off 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.
In the picture is a blacktip reef shark that we caught and released safely in the USVI.
5. J-Hook Shark Rig
This is a 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 zinc 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 in the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. Check local regulations before using J-hooks for sharks.
J-hooks work best 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 the shark to swallow the bait and get gut hooked.
In the picture is a large horse-eye jack that we caught in the USVI. While it was being reeled in a shark took a bite out of it.
6. Shark Rig with a Float or Balloon
This style shark float comes in a 9-inch Sea Strike version and a 6-inch AFW version. When a large weight is not being added to the rig a 6-inch float is a good size. If a large 8 ounce plus size weight is used the 9-inch float is a better size.
Shark floats or balloons are a good way to suspend and separate baits when shark fishing. Oftentimes baits near the surface are not the best but a bait can still be sent deep but placed on a float to help separate the fishing lines.
The reason I do not recommend doing this is because tension is often not quickly applied to the fish and it will get gut hooked. Floats are good to use in shallow water as anglers usually recognize immediately that they have a bite. So if using a float in deep water make sure to not suspend the bait too far from the float. I would say at most 15 feet.
7. Shark Rig with a Weight
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 what is the best depth to fish for sharks. If you are chumming it is good to have a line near the surface. In general, sharks stay and feed near the bottom 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.
Here Are the Best Shark Baits
8. Barracuda Shark Bait
Barracuda are frequently caught when fishing in warm water in Florida and the Caribbean. It also happens to be the best best for shark fishing. Some people eat barracuda but in the Caribbean, it is not eaten because of the risk of ciguatera poisoning. The fillets cut into 4 inches pieces are perfect when fishing for most types of sharks.
It has a strong scent that sharks are very attracted to and it stays on the hook very well. In Florida, only one fish over 36 inches is allowed to be caught per vessel so make sure not to keep multiple large barracuda. Each angler can keep two barracuda per day but they have to be under 36 inches. Barracuda fillets work well even after being frozen.
In the picture above are two chucks of barracuda fillets I made for shark fishing. These were placed on large circle hooks and fished near the bottom. Typically I would not even chum for sharks and would still get a shark to bite about once a day while primarily fishing for other types of fish. There are lots of sharks in Florida and in the Caribbean.
9. Bonito Shark Bait
Bonito and skipjack tuna are the favorite food of many offshore shark species. Some days it is difficult to reel in a tuna or bonito without it getting eaten by a shark. In the picture, my sister has a skipjack tuna that got bitten by a shark while she was reeling it in.
Bonito have dark red bloody meat that has a strong scent to attract sharks. When fishing with bonito a large chunk can be used or a piece of the fillet. Sharks are not typically picky eaters or leader shy when a good bait is in front of them. Don’t let the shark take the bait too long or they can get gut hooked which will likely kill the shark unnecessarily.
10. Bunker Menhaden Shark Bait
Bunker also called menhaden is a great bait for most predator fish and shark is no exception. This is a very oiling fish and the menhaden oil is commonly mixed in chum to help attract fish to the boat. Bunker swim in large schools and can be caught with a snagging rig or cast net.
11. Mullet Shark Bait
Mullet is a very common bait in Florida and in the Caribbean. It is one of the most popular baits for tarpon fishing but also works well when shark fishing. This bait can be butterflied by cutting off the tail and cutting a few inches of the fillets on both sides starting in the back. It can also be used as bait in chunks. Brined mullet can be purchased in sealed packages but fresh mullet is best. Mullet can be frozen and thawed out and still work really well as fresh bait.
12. Ballyhoo Shark Bait
Many people do not think of ballyhoo as shark bait but it certainly works. It is not uncommon to have small sharks bite ballyhoo while trolling on the reef for mackerel. Ballyhoo is a bait that is commonly found fresh and frozen in bait stores. If you can’t catch your own bait with a cast net then this is a good option.
13. Pilchards, Herring, Goggle Eye Baitfish
Sharks will bite most types of baitfish. Above is a goggle-eye, scaled herring, and pilchard. All of these will work dead or alive to catch sharks. When using smaller baits it is a good idea to use a smaller hook. Sharks are not leader shy but a minnow on a large hook does not look quite right. Using a small J-hook with number 4, a 38-pound wire would be good for sharks under 3 feet and number 7, a 69-pound wire would work for sharks 3-6 feet in length.
14. Squid Shark Bait
Another shark bait that many anglers overlook is squid. While it would not be my first choice it is not uncommon to catch sharks when fishing with squid for other types of fish. It is good to use a large piece of squid to get the shark’s attention. Frozen Squid is sold in boxes at most tackle shops.
Shark Fishing Gear
Shark Chum Bags
The DU-BRO Fishing Easy Load Chum Bag has a 14-inch diameter opening with a 6-foot rope.
A chum bag is a 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, near 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.
In the picture, we are using a dehooker to release a Silky Shark in the Florida Keys. The barb was on the hook making it difficult to release.
Bolt Cutter to Remove Shark Hook
Having this 24-inch bolt cutter on the boat is a great idea and should be required when shark fishing. 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 the bolt cutter is stored in an area free from saltwater or it will rust.
It is also a good idea to file the barb of the hook when shark fishing. This will make it way more likely that the other half of the hook will work itself fee. Also with a barb-free hook, the shark can likely be released with a large de-hooker.
ARC DeHooker Big Game Hook Remover
This ACR De-hooker comes in 24-inch and 34-inch sizes. De-hookers 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 hook in half with a pair of bolt cutters. The last option should be to cut the leader itself with a pair of wire cutters. Hooks take a long time to rust away and depending on where the hook is located it can cause problems for the shark.
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 their 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. Anglers 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 bonito and you have great bait. Live injured bait does get the shark’s attention and can get a bite if another bait is not working.
Use large conventional fishing reels with quality drag and line over 50 pounds in strength. If you are using a small reel and light line a large shark is going to break the line or spool the reel. The result is the fish is not caught and litter is put into the ocean. If you are going to fish for a shark do it the right way, catch the fish and release it safely. 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?
A fillet of fresh barracuda is the best shark bait in the world. Bonito also makes great shark bait because the meat is bloody and has a strong scent. Any baitfish will work as well such as mullet, herring, pilchards, bunker, ballyhoo, etc. Most fresh fish will get sharks to bite. The only bait I have struggled to catch sharks with was catfish. Live bait works great as well. Many times sharks will eat the live bait you have set out for other game 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 sharks. There are many species that look very similar to each other. One might be legal to keep and the other might be endangered. If it is 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 nighttime 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 bait in front of them. Changing tides 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 nighttime. This is why many people surf fish for sharks at night.
What is being taxed by a shark?
Getting taxed by a shark is when a shark eats the fish that you are reeling in. Hammerhead sharks eating Tarpon and Dusky sharks eating tuna are 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 and 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 when shark fishing.
Captain Cody has worked on charter fishing boats in the Florida Keys, Virgin Islands, and Alaska. Growing up in Pennsylvania Cody 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!