One of my recent charters reminded me of a fun but overlooked species to target from a kayak - lemon sharks. I had two female fishers who wanted to sight fish, but didn’t have much experience in the Keys. I suggested sharks and they were excited about that, so that became our focus for the day. They were not disappointed! While sharks don’t get the same attention as our shallow water glamour species (bonefish, permit and tarpon), they are a wonderful target species, especially for someone new to kayak fishing in the Keys. The shallow inshore waters are nursery grounds for many species of sharks, but the lemon shark is one of the most common and provides the most opportunities for a hookup and a thrilling fight with a manageable-sized critter.
When you think about it, lemon sharks give the flats fisherman tremendous sport, just like the glamour fish. You still have to hunt your target species, make a quality presentation to a moving fish, and endure some refusals. And with a few decent presentations, you get to see the whole scenario play out right in front of your eyes. The shark turns to pursue your bait. You employ the correct retrieve (slow). You get to watch as it opens its mouth and chomps down on your offering, at which point you set the hook and ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzz, the drag on your reel starts singing. Sharks run fast, fight hard, and will tow you around a bit as you do battle, many times circling the kayak and testing your skill level. Finally, you bring the shark alongside the kayak and release it, letting it swim away healthy, and probably a little smarter for the experience! A word of caution is in order, however. Bring along a LONG handled set of pliers and keep a sharp knife handy. Lemons have sharp teeth and will snap at your hands when you bring them alongside the yak. NEVER bring them into the kayak! Remove the hook with the pliers if possible. If not, cut the line as close as you safely can and keep all your digits intact.
A typical rig for these small (2 foot to 3 foot) lemons would be a rod rated for 12-20 lbs. and a medium sized reel spooled with 15 to 20 lb braid. Attach a swivel, a 6 inch piece of #5 wire, and a 3/0 circle hook and you’ve got a solid set up to handle small sharks in shallow water. For bait you can use any of a variety of chunk baits - ballyhoo, mullet, squid, or even leftover trimmings from the cleaning table. But trim your baits down to something about the size of your pinky finger and resist the temptation to use giant fish heads and such. The loud splash of large baits hitting the water will many times scare off your target, and frankly, it’s just not necessary to catch fish.
Part of the fun of shark fishing is the fact you will have MANY chances to cast and learn how the game is played. Your casting and fish fighting skills will improve quickly with all these opportunities. Contrast this with a slow day of bonefishing or permit fishing. Few targets, spooky fish, and no hookups. I feel it’s critical for the newbie to have some early success and to get the feel of the techniques necessary for this type of fishing. And it’s always fun to send some pictures to your land lubber friends up north of you taming a SHARK (cue Jaws theme) with a rod and reel.
And remember, if you need help getting the hang of catching Mr. Teeth from a kayak, I would love to take you out there and get you hooked up!
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