Sharks on the Flats

by Capt. John Sahagian

Sharks on the Flats

As I am writing this I am watching the wind blow for yet another week. In theory, the further into summer we go, the calmer the wind should be. Like all weather events, no matter the season, long or short term forecast, the wind seems to blow at the most inconvenient times. For those of us with the luxury of living in paradise, we can pick and choose the days that we venture offshore or delve into the back country for a bit of sight fishing. For visitors or others with a limited time to get out and fish, it is just a shame to lose out on time on the water due to wind.

One way to beat the wind and cross sight fishing with big game fishing is to target sharks on the flats.

The expansive flats found in the back country of the Florida Keys are home to much more than the elusive bonefish and permit. They are also home to some of the biggest meanest sharks around. To see a shark whose diameter is slightly more than that of the depth of water that they are cruising is truly a sight to behold. Lemon, blacktip, bull and hammerhead are not the only, but definitely the most common sharks on the flats. Six and seven foot sharks are quite the norm, and as far as sight fishing is concerned, seeing these guys come to the boat compared to seeing a bonefish in any conditions is not much of a challenge.

The first step in getting sharks to come your way is to start with the right chum. A favorite for getting the attention of the big guys is to start with a big bonito. Tie them right to the side of the boat with a piece of heavy chord. The bonito can be tied by the tail. The look should be much like that of peeling a banana.

This exposes the blood oil and other stinky juices into the water.

Position the boat so that you are chumming over and across the widest portion of the flat. If you are fishing an incoming tide you are good to go as far as positioning the boat to chum over the flat. Make sure that when you are positioning the boat on a falling tide that you will not be stranded as the water recedes. It should not take more than fifteen or twenty minutes before the big guys start to show up.

Flats straddled by deeper channels on all sides are most likely to have big sharks visiting.

I like to use fifty pound braided line like Spider Wire to allow for a lot of line capacity on a medium-sized spinning reel. For terminal tackle I splice on about twelve feet of sixty pound fluorocarbon leader with a uni to uni connection. For the fluorocarbon I like to use Albright and at least three feet of #8 stainless single strand leader. Finishing the rig is a hardened 6/0 short shank live bait hook. I prefer bronzed hooks because they will quickly rust out leaving the shark no worse the wear after your battle. As for bait you may simply use a palm-sized chunk of whatever you happen to be chumming with.

Next, choose between the cruising sharks behind your boat, give your bait a toss five or six feet in front of your target and let it settle. You can err on the side of too far rather than too close. It is easier to bring your bait in to get it in front of the shark than push it out to intercept your target. Once the shark picks up your bait wait a few seconds then set the hook. It may take him a few seconds to realize that he is hooked but once he does the fireworks really start. Mind you that we are talking about being in less than three feet of water so as the shark takes off there will be a spray of water, grass and mud as the fish runs off up to one hundred yards at a time.

It is up to the captain to decide whether or not to pull up anchor and follow the shark or if you can fight it from a dead boat. If the fish can be handled from a dead boat you will have an uninterrupted chum line and you may opt for fighting doubles or even more at a time.

The end game with fighting sharks on the flats is to get the fish to the boat side then take a few quick pictures and then snip the leader as close to the hook as you can safely get your hand. There is no need to gaff or to bring a shark aboard. If you wish to have a trophy made of your shark, reproduction mounts are easily acquired through taxidermists.  Most, if not all guides in the Keys, are happy to help you have a reproduction made to commemorate your fish. All that you need is the species sex and length of the entire shark. For that matter, the same can be said of any fish that you want to commemorate. If you do not know of any other captains here you are more than welcome to contact me and I would be happy to arrange to have a mount made.




Capt. John Sahagian
Capt. John Sahagian

Author

Offshore and backcountry fishing in the Lower Keys, Capt. John fishes out of Little Torch Key. Catch up with him at 305-872-3407 or on the web at fishingthefloridakeys.com



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