Fishing for sharks is something that may be on your bucket list if you have a taste for a good fight and an interesting time. ANGLR Expert Tyler Barnes is a guide based out of Emerald Island, North Carolina near Swansboro. He’s been there his whole life, growing up in the backwaters.
What was once a thriving fishing community has settled into small town USA. Barnes grew up in a commercial fishing household, so fishing was just a way of life. His Dad’s always been a commercial gillnet fisherman, going after flounder, redfish, trout, and roe mullet. They also went after shrimp in the summertime. He’s been shark fishing for 12-15 years.
We talked to him right after the January lunar eclipse, when he was out enjoying the spectacular view while doing what he loves.
While full moons are a real draw, “there are mixed feelings about what an eclipse actually does and doesn’t do,” says Barnes.
Fishing for Sharks: Monitoring Their Movements
We’ve started to pinpoint what time of the year certain species of sharks should be here. I have buddies that fish for grouper offshore, so I get reports on what’s going on in the weeks prior to them coming inshore. When they’re starting to catch sandbar sharks in 600 feet of water, I know we’re within three weeks of sandbar season here on the beach. Sand tigers or ragged tooths come in about that time as well. Those are most of the ones that you typically see in aquariums. Those are the first species we start to see here.
February and into April is when our season really starts to kick off, depending upon the weather, but April is when I really start to get the itch.
The sharks travel through the months up and down the coast, returning around the same time of year. I’ve had multiple sharks that I caught in North Carolina that had been in Florida three to four months earlier. They were healthy as can be and had new mating scars that they didn’t have on their way down there. That’s one thing that the authorities really pay attention to: how many scars they have on them. It shows the mature females and males. We take pictures of the significant scars to document.
Fishing for Sharks: Recording Their Movements
Everything I do, I write down. I have fishing logs that go back years. That’s why the ANGLR App has become so special to me. I don’t have to worry about writing anything down anymore. It’s been a substantial help to me, especially this time of the year when I’m starting to speckled trout fish and having to pinpoint where I am. In the summertime, it’s been really cool to see where all my sharks have come from.
I meet my charters at 7:30 pm because you can’t shark fish during the day; there’s too many people and they don’t realize that they’re swimming with them! Once my tagging really starts to kick in, I stay fishing the same pier. Once they’re there, they’re a resident for three to four months. They’ll come and go offshore, but they don’t go far.
We often see the same ones over and over. The sharks are frequently hooked by pier anglers that decide they don’t want to tangle with them, so they break the line off. “Local” is one that I’ve caught about four times within about a six month period. Then I caught her again a year later with hooks from a long-lining vessels still attached. The last time I caught her, I actually caught her hook to hook.
Fishing for Sharks: Tagging Sharks through NOAA
When catching a shark, first, you need to land it. Once it’s landed, the first thing we do is get a measurement from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail, then we sex it. The male will have what is called a clasper. The tags come from the NOAA through their Apex Predator Program.
They’re applied just below the top fin in the side of their back, about ¼-inch in and are not harmful to the fish. A piece of monofilament with a small capsule hangs out with their number. It holds a scroll, three in each capsule. It includes a 1-800 number to call-in with the information.
Fishing for Sharks: Having the Right Gear
Most of what I do is on 13-foot medium heavies and extra heavy rods rated for six to eight ounces casting weight. I’m currently using Penn Spinfisher VI 8,000 to 10,000 series reels. I also use Daiwa BG 8,000’s with 50-75-pound braided lines that go to a rig made with 400-pound leader. My cast baits use a 16/0 hook. My current rig is a 13’-6” rod using a Daiwa Ballistic that was custom-built for me in Hatteras, North Carolina for what I do.
Those are my cast bait style rods; what the charter clients see.
Those are meant for 8 to 10-ounce chunks of fish: fish heads, backbone sections, anything bloody and fishy. The bigger fish we catch, upwards of 12-feet, are on 80 wide reels. They’re rods rated for 250-300 pounds; basically a tuna rod. It’s the exact same setup I use for bluefin tuna fishing in the fall.
Fishing for Sharks: Selecting the Right Bait
The bait of choice I stock up on in the summertime is stingray. Any stingray I get comes home and goes in my freezer. We’ll use anything from a five-pound chunk, as big as a dinner plate, all the way up to 40- and 50-pound chunks. We use a 21/0 hook that looks like a butcher’s hook.
I take the 80-wide reel sitting on the beach in a rod holder and have someone take the bait 300 to 500 yards offshore in a kayak. They drop it in because there’s no way to cast that big of a bait to the zone where the big fish are. I’ve caught some big sharks that were pretty close to the beach, but most of the bigger ones are farther out.
I’ve seen everything from a six-foot tiger shark, seven-foot bulls, and even 12-foot duskys. They are an endangered species we get here that migrate amazing distances. They frequent Australia, staying out in the shipping channels where it’s really cold. But they migrate with the tuna so they go the South Africa route, all the way to the Bahamas, and the dusky’s follow. They say some of them travel all the way across the world, and some stay a couple hundred miles offshore here and come back every winter. They’re the meanest of the mean that we get here. They’re a tank, clocking in around 300-400 pounds.
Fishing for Sharks: Preparing for Battle
You put a fighting belt on, put a harness around your shoulders and you hang on! The circle hook does the work. It finds the corner of the mouth and grabs it. When you set pressure on it, it will pull itself into place. When they take off you just pretty much watch the reel, sounding like a chainsaw sitting on idle while he’s pulling out drag like a blue marlin would. You start applying more and more drag and when you get to the point where your line is completely tight, take a couple of steps backwards and let it lay into itself to finish that stretch and let it pop itself in.
You let that circle hook do its job.
I’ve had fights last 5 minutes, and I’ve had fights last 2 hours. Every time you get him close to the beach and he gets his head in the sand, and there he goes again. They’re fighting for their life at that point and survival instincts kick in. You get line when you can get line. Let them do their thing.
Once you let them start to relax a little bit and they’re not peeling off drag, then you keep solid tension and keep getting as much line as you can. I’ve seen some take 700 yards like it’s nothing. I’ve seen 80-wide reels start to smoke from the fish pulling the drag out that fast. I’ve had blisters on my hand from it being so hot. Sometimes we have to take bottles of water and dump them over the reel to keep them cooled down. Otherwise, it’ll start melting your line from the inside out, and line starts to fuse together.
Nothing’s worse than hooking a big fish and getting to the bottom of your spool and it being completely melted. Pop! It’s gone.
Fishing for Sharks: Everyone Has Their Fair Share of Mishaps
I got a bloody nose from a rod this year while out with one of my charters. I use weights that are almost like a five-prong grappling anchor with a heavy setter. If they’re left out there too long, they’ll get buried in the sand. If there’s a weak point anywhere in your tackle, they’ll break. My full 200# self was laid back into a rod trying to get one to come out. When the line broke, it drilled me so hard, my hat and GoPro were literally 10 feet behind me. I laid there on my back, all I could do was laugh. Turns out, it had split the center of my nose!
What you’ll learn with fishing for sharks is that there is never a dull moment when sharks are involved!