Bait and Rigging for Shark Fishing

One of the most important parts of ensuring success when shark fishing is bait and rigging. Fresh shark bait should be a priority when it comes to shark fishing. If you don’t always have access to fresh shark bait, a seafood distributer may be able to help you out. Locally we have a fish market and another place that gets fresh seafood on almost a daily basis. The fish mostly come in whole, so they don’t mind me stopping by to take a few small garbage bags of fish heads and carcasses. You can sometimes get decent shark bait at fish cleaning tables after the charter boats have come in. They will usually filet the fish for the customers and discard anything that’s not a filet. You can always offer a couple beers for their efforts. If you are shark fishing from a beach, you can always try to catch bait off the beach. I’ve walked the beach slowly with a castnet for when I come across a ray or skate laying along the edge, a couple feet from dry sand. The water needs to be somewhat clear and calm. Also you can throw your net at some passing mullet. Clear water can make this a very frustrating experience, so I prefer murky water to net up mullet, alive or dead, mullet work good for shark bait. If you can get on some blue fish or lady fish, they work great too. Bluefish would be my first choice. Some of my absolute favorite live shark baits are big blue runners, blue fish, lady fish, small jacks (under 4lbs), large mullet, white trout, smaller rays, skates, small false albacore, and spanish mackerel. All these make great cut bait too, but would also add king mackerel, barracuda, bigger jacks, and large false albacore. My #1 bait to rig for sharks are false albacore heads! The heads hold a lot of oil, blood, and scent. If you think the fish head has become a bit washed out over some time, bring it in and give it a nice stomp or two, and that should help release some more scent back into the water. After that I would start with a new head. I love the false albacore head as my #1 shark bait for many reasons. They are tough, hold a great deal of scent, and will drift with a more natural appeal. The toughness comes into play this way. The heads are usually too large for small sharks(under 5ft) to swallow whole. Most sharks 5ft or less can’t bite through the head because of its’ hardness. This discourages small sharks from taking your bait and having to re-rig. Small sharks may mess with it, but always realize they can’t consume the the entire head so they will drop the bait. This keeps you from wasting time on catching small sharks, exhausting meaty flesh pieces, and rigging up new baits. The small sharks can be a pain to weed threw, and they seem to kink the wire up more than larger sharks. To tell if a small shark is messing your bait you will hear/feel/see short small multi directional strikes. It’s like someone grabbing your line and making short tugs with it. To tell if you should be on high alert or not when experiencing a strike, the shark bait gets picked up and moves at a steady consistent speed. Like someone just hooked a car and it keeps the same speed as it drives away from you. That’s a great sign to start getting ready for a fun fight. The bigger sharks just casually cruise, open their mouth, inhale the whole head, clamp down, and keep swimming even against the drag. Here is the beauty of the head bait. The smell comes out of the back of the head, so that’s usually how the shark will approach the bait, from behind.  Following the scent trail. The aqua-dynamics of the head keep it facing into the current. Now a proper hook placement is key. The J or circle hook go in the same spot. In the dead center of the roof of the mouth about 1 inch inside the mouth. The hook should enter inside the mouth and the point should exit out of the top of the head. This is an extremely  hard/tough spot, so once the hook is in, it stays put. I mentioned you do not need large hooks.

False Albacore Rigged for Shark Fishing

I use hooks that are about the same size as most large mouth bass hooks, like on a spinner bait. The difference is that the hooks I use are 4-6 times thicker with extremely sharp points. This set up allows the bait to hang in the water with a more natural presentation. It will keep the shark bait from wobbling or spinning in the current and tipping off sharks there is something unnatural about this shark bait. With most of the hook exposed it makes for consistent hook ups and is less likely not to fowl the hook, or allow excess bait to get in the way of the hook up, letting the hook hit its mark. I keep my drag set to a strike pressure whether being a spinning outfit or conventional. The rod stays in a rod holder so when the shark swims away with the bait in its mouth, within seconds, the line comes tight, and with the drag engaged the hook immediately drives in to the inner surface of the sharks mouth. This doesn’t give the shark time to swallow the hook ensuring a clean hook set with easy removal. If a small shark grabs the bait it will soon feel the pressure of the drag and drop the bait. If I don’t have a false albacore to use, my next choice would be the largest blue fish I can catch. I still hook the head the same way. I usually cut the heads off at or around the same spot, behind the fin right past the gill. I use many different fish heads, something to keep in mind is is you use a head that has teeth like a bluefish or kingfish ect. It’s a good idea to cut the jaws out real quick before hooking.

KingFish head hooked threw the nose. Strong currents may cause a bait hooked this way to spin or move in an unnatural way, discouraging sharks from taking the bait.Cutting the jaws out of a blue fish head before hooking.The head can slide up the line when the shark hits the bait and the teeth can cut threw the line.Bait sliding up the line. If this were a toothy fish head it could cut threw the line.

Hooking Live Bait

It can be slightly more complex when hooking live bait. Most of the time the shark will bite the bait to just get ahold of it and adjust the fish to swallow or bite it in half. This can be tricky to find the right spot to place the hook. I’ll either hook the fish slightly forward from the middle of its back if drifting somewhat fast. If drifting slow then I will hook the fish slightly towards the tail from the center of the back. I fish one live bait at a time opposed to two live baits because they can swim all over and around the boat and make things difficult. A technique that works well is to cut some or most of the tail off the bait. This will slow them down a bit. Another thing to keep an eye on when using live bait, especially if you have a balloon attached, is if the bait swims in circles or around the balloon with excess line out. The line can become tangled and twist up around the swivel or leader. If drifting fast this is less of a problem. You must pay attention and keep the lines tight.  Taking the ballon off may help, or hooking the live bait threw the tail can also help prevent tangles.

Tip: best shark bait is FRESH! False albacore, blue fish, blue runners, jacks, barracuda, king or spanish mackerel, stingrays, mullet, sand trout, or often called white trout (soft flesh can make them hard to keep on a hook), are all great baits.

Rigging For Shark Fishing

A while back I fished with someone who had his 50 lbs mono main line attached to 100 yds of 200 lbs mono, then crimped to 15 ft of 400 lbs mono then crimped to a 500 lb swivel, then attached to the swivel, crimped 15 ft of 600 lb cable, then to three very large hooks each spaced about 6 inches apart. We were not fishing for makos, they weren’t even around this time of year. We were fishing for medium sized sharks on a reef. I know you cant always control what may devour your bait, but this rig was way too complicated.  This set up also was a pain to deploy because the last thirty feet couldn’t be reeled in, and was extremely too much heavy terminal tackle.  Also the addition of all the crimps, places a lot of metal in the water. Your wire leader needs to be stout because it plays a very important part in stopping the sharks teeth from cutting all the way through the wire. Your wire leader should be about 2 or 3 ft. The mono or fluorocarbon leader needs to be tough because it helps absorb shock and mainly abrasion from the sharks rough skin. This leader should be about 15-25ft. The best leaders to use at going to be ridged and stiff. Leaders that are more gummy and soft tend to break with quick snaps of force. Bull sharks sharking their heads, or black tips / spinner sharks jumping seems to put soft leaders to the test. As for swivels, they are coming in small compact sizes these days for the ratings they offer. It is good to be as stealth as possible, with compact swivels the small strong wire can put a small crimp in the mono. I haven’t yet had a breakage due to this but I feel it is something to be aware of.  I mostly use 230-330 lbs swivels. Most heavy duty drags only reach around 40-60 lbs of force. Your swivel will never see any pressure close to 200 lbs. I use small terminal tackle because I feel it creates less of a presence in the water. In other words I try to make my rigs as stealthy as possible.  One of the best fishing products I have bought is a rig bag.

Pre-Made Shark Rigs Organized in a Rig Bag

They come in a few sizes and can have as many as fifty individual rig compartments. In the winter time I go through and clean all my reels, inspect rods and rod guides, and take out all my tackle and reorganize it. I go through and replace damaged hooks on lures, prep new lures with better hooks, and make an inventory list of all the terminal tackle I used up last season that needs to be replaced. Part of this process is making pre-made rigs to store in my beloved rig bag. I make many different rig configurations for different fish and different sizes of fish. I make labels with a label maker with all the rig specs like the hook size and leader weight. I put these labels on a small card and place them into a small clear jewelry bag which I get at a local hobby store. These jewelry bags help keep moisture from making the labels hard to read. I store two or three rigs in each individual rig compartment. All rigs in each compartment all will have the same specs. Some rigs I use more than others and will have many compartments with all the same sized rigs, all labeled of course. I keep them organized from small rigs to large rigs. When I’m out on the ocean and need to put on a new rig or re-rig, I grab my rig bag, flip it open like a book, and quickly find exactly what I’m looking for with no doubt it is what I need. I feel that being organized has a great influence on success. I try to keep things as simple as I can. As for the three large hooks on one rig…NO! Multiple hook rigs for sharks is unnecessary. The extra hook usually swings around and hooks the sharks in the gill area making it dangerous and potentially lethal for the shark and the angler. I do not want a second hook to remove, and if it’s not hooked in the shark, then it is free to hook my hand while I am removing the hook or cutting the wire leader. All it would take is one head shake to imbed the free hook into my hand and be attached to the sharks head, too close to the mouth for me, and not worth the unnecessary risk. One hook per rig is all that is needed to catch and land sharks of all sizes.


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