“You caught that here? What are you going to do with it? You are not going to let it go, are you?” These are only a few of the many questions I cannot help but hear, but do not answer. My attention is totally focused on my catch and ensuring it gets back into the water as fast and as safely as possible. With the help of a friend and a pair of heavy-duty pliers, I carefully remove the 20/0 circle hook from the corner of the fish’s mouth. I take a few steps back to briefly catch my breath and embrace the moment.
She is well over seven feet in length and to me, one of the prettiest fish I have ever caught. As fast as possible, my buddy and I carefully but gently pull her back into the water and ensure she swims back out past the breakers. I take a few more minutes to relish the incredible feeling of successfully catching and releasing another unbelievable fish I had worked so hard to find. I take another deep breath, slowly turn around and prepare myself for the really challenging part; taking a half an hour to answer questions about the shark I just caught from the beach.
Yes, believe it or not, there are many species of sharks cruising along the Delmarva beaches. They are there during the day, during the night, in the summer and the winter. And guess what? They are there for a reason: To eat other surf dwelling critters such as skates, stingrays, kingfish, croakers, mullet, bluefish, jellyfish, sand fleas and other marine life. I grew up swimming, boogie boarding, surfing, kayaking and have never felt threatened by a shark, and only on a few occasions have even seen them when not fishing for them.
There are a lot of experienced anglers who prefer not to fish for sharks for one reason or another. For me, sharks are another incredibly fun and challenging critter to catch! I have taken quite a few folks to the beach and have shown them the techniques I have learned. The end result is almost always the same…
Initially, most people appear to be moderately interested when I explain out how close to shore the sharks feed, how large they can grow and how strong they fight when hooked. Some people have no intentions of hiding their excitement, while others act as if it will be just another day of fishing. However, I have yet to see anyone able to contain their enthusiasm the first time they tightly hold that rod, and are literally forced to take a few steps forward because of the unexpected strength of a six foot sandbar shark. Once the fight is over and the shark has been beached, I have a friend or two help me unhook and carefully return the shark unharmed.
It is always interesting to watch the reaction of the angler who just caught their very first large shark. I believe this truly eye opening experience helps shake off that media induced fear of sharks that so many people have been forced to believe.
It is truly unfortunate how so many species of sharks have all been labeled “monsters”. The shark’s reputation and livelihood have been greatly damaged from fictional novels turned into movies about an enormous, man-eating, Great Whites or a whole week of TV packed with suspenseful, re-created footage with very subtle, yet ominous background music. Sharks are very fascinating to watch on television, especially the excellent and rare video that captures the extreme moments when sharks do what everything else does… Eat.
Sharks play a very important role in maintaining stability in our local ecosystem by feeding on certain aquatic creatures. One of the main food sources for larger sharks is the stingray. For years, Cownose Rays have been a major problem for Chesapeake Bay oyster growers. Understanding the fact that sharks of all sizes help maintain that fragile balance is incredibly important.
To stand on the sand and go “one on one” with a shark that is larger than you and bring it to your feet is a powerful experience. But, before you go out and by the biggest hooks you can find with the intention on catching “Jaws” from the surf, there are several steps you need to take to prepare for beach shark fishing. This can be a very exciting way to fish the surf, but there are unique dangers involved and an inexperienced angler should always fish with someone who knows how to fight and handle a shark from hookset to release.
I highly recommend Mark Sampson’s new book “Modern Sharking” for excellent advice on shark fishing.
Personally observing a shark and understanding how it reacts on the sand, the sensation of touching the shark and comprehending the fact that you are in control of that creature’s life can be a very humbling experience. After releasing it alive, you may soon forget your preconceived ideas and find that original fear has replaced with great respect.