Surf fishing for sharks at night is one of the best times of day to tackle this apex predator from the beach. With the right tackle and a little bit of know-how, just about anyone can wrestle one of these large fish just a few feet from the shore.
When surf fishing for shark at night, you need to use the right tackle and gears to handle the massive action to land a shark successfully. You also have to know the best bait, weather, time, tide, and spot to surf fishing shark at night.
So how do you surf fish for sharks at night? In this guide, you’ll learn the following concepts:
- Types of sharks you can catch
- Bait for catching sharks
- Tackle and gear for catching sharks
- The optimal time and water conditions for shark fishing
- Where to find sharks at night
- Rules and regulations about catching sharks
- How to land a shark
- How to release a shark
- How to participate in shark conservation
- Tips and tricks for catching sharks in the surf at night
Shark fishing might be intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but if you’re properly prepared and bring along a friend for backup, you have a good chance of reeling in. Read on to find out more about how you can surf fish for sharks at night.
Types of Sharks You Can Catch While Surf Fishing
There are approximately 440 species of shark in the world’s oceans, but only a few of those are commonly caught from the beach. Here are some of the sharks you’re most likely to catch if you go surf fishing at night:
Found on both the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines of North America, these flat, brown sand sharks do not get beyond 3-4 feet in length. There are 23 species of angel shark.
Angel sharks (also sometimes known as monkfish) are commonly found close to shore, where they feed on mollusks, crabs, rays, and bottom-dwelling forage fish like whiting.
Due to their body shape, these small sharks bear somewhat of a resemblance to a stingray. Compared to some more strongly-flavored sharks, angel sharks are considered very edible.
Anglers should be wary because angel sharks are explosive ambush predators and are known to bite after being landed.
Blacktip sharks are a small shark with black-tipped fins commonly found in the surf zone along the coast and (like many small surf zone sharks) can be caught close to shore.
While this might not make recreational swimmers comfortable, it’s good news for surf fishermen.
Blacktip is also regarded as one of the tastiest types of shark for eating, so if you want to catch and keep for cooking purposes versus catch and release, blacktip is a good species to look for.
Bull sharks are one of the larger sharks that can be caught from the shore and can easily get over seven feet in length.
These large predators prefer shallow water that brings them very close to human proximity, making them one of the world’s most dangerous sharks.
While shark attacks are rare, bull sharks are more likely to attack humans than many other species.
Because bull sharks are tolerant of freshwater and are known to swim up into the mouths of rivers, these sharks can be found in saltwater, brackish, and freshwater environments. They are commonly caught at the mouths of estuaries.
Bonnethead sharks are often misidentified as hammerhead sharks due to their spade-shaped head but are a different species entirely.
Bonnethead sharks are a bottom-feeding species that can be found close to the shore, making them a good choice for surf anglers.
Bonnethead sharks prefer crabs as bait, as these are a primary source of its diet in the wild.
This is an edible type of shark, though many fishermen choose to tag and release them rather than eat them since bonnetheads are a timid species that are relatively harmless to humans.
These are more common sharks caught from the beach. But in some cases, larger sharks such as makos or hammerheads can be drawn close to shore while feeding.
This is why it’s important to bring a partner while shark fishing in case you catch something stronger than you can handle on your own.
With shark fishing, this is always possible, as seen in this video of a fourteen-foot hammerhead shark caught off the beach in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Vide credit: ABC13 Houston
Rules and regulations for harvesting any shark will vary on location, however. Check the regulations put forth by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to see which sharks can be legally harvested in your area.
Tackle for Surf Fishing Sharks at Night
Another essential thing to consider when surf fishing for sharks at night is to make sure that you have the appropriate tackle and gear necessary to land one.
As could be expected, even small sharks are powerful predators with a lot of muscle, and wrestling one onto the beach can take upwards of an hour to accomplish.
When getting outfitted for surf fishing sharks, you’ll need to consider the following pieces of gear:
- Rod and reel
- Fishing line and leader
- Hook and sinker
Let’s look at each of these tackle components a little more closely.
Rod and Reel
To handle a shark between 30 and 80 pounds, you’ll want to get a ten to a twelve-foot rod that could be classified as medium to heavy action.
You’ll need a rod that is relatively stiff to absorb some of the shocks of the shark as it is fighting to keep your entire rig from being dragged into the water (and possibly yourself in the bargain).
Sharks can be caught on either a spinner reel or a casting reel, but either reel must be able to accommodate three hundred yards of line with at least twenty-five pounds of drag resistance to tire the shark out and also give them some room to run with the bait.
The hook that is most recommended for use with shark fishing is a circle hook. This is because a circle hook more easily allows for both hook setting and a safe catch and release, which is vital when shark fishing.
Not all sharks are legal to harvest, and you have to be prepared while shark fishing to catch something you aren’t permitted to keep and return it safely to the water.
When fishing for sharks, you’ll want to look for a hook in the aught range. A 6/0 circle hook is a good hook for most medium-sized sharks found in the surf zone.
Braided line is the type of fishing line recommended for surf fishing sharks, as a reel can hold more braided line than monofilament, and a braided line has a higher tensile strength, which means it is less likely to break under tension.
In addition to a strong braided line, you’ll also need a few feet of monofilament line at the end rated to 400 pounds to help absorb the impact of a fighting shark, as well as approximately ten inches of stainless steel leader wire.
The leader wire is necessary because a shark’s jaws can cut through pretty much any type of regular filament fishing line during its attempts to free itself.
Wire leader is the only way to ensure you can keep a shark on the line long enough to get it to the beach.
When fishing in the surf zone, you’ll want to be sure to include a sinking weight on your tackle to keep your bait in one location so that the current doesn’t tumble it.
Sputnik sinkers are a good choice for surf fishing since the spiky protrusions on the sinker keep it from being rolled around on the ocean floor.
Best Bait to Use Surf Fishing for Sharks at Night
When it comes to catching sharks, bait is arguably one of the most important things to consider.
Sharks heavily rely on their sense of smell when hunting, and frozen bait has a much less pungent smell than bait that is freshly caught.
One of the best ways to get really fresh bait for surf fishing for sharks at night is to spend an hour or so at dusk catching a few forage fish such as bluefish, whiting, and menhaden for the live well.
These fish can then be used directly afterward as bait for shark fishing once the sun goes down.
Here are some of the bait fish you should use when trying to surf fish for sharks:
- Whiting: Whiting is a bottom-dwelling surf fish that feeds on the mollusks, sand fleas, and crabs that live in the surf zone close to shore. Whiting are a common prey fish of larger surf dwelling fish such as angel and blacktip sharks.
- Bluefish: Bluefish are commonly used as bait because they are considered too oily and fishy to eat by many anglers without certain culinary preparations, and do not keep very well either. However, this same oily flesh is a very good attractant for sharks, so bluefish is cut into large strips to use as shark bait.
- Menhaden: Menhaden (also known as spot or bunker) is a common baitfish used to catch many kinds of larger fish while surf fishing. Because they are a schooling fish found in the surf zone, menhaden are easily caught with a cast net. However, menhaden can be fussy and hard to keep alive in a live well, so keep that in mind.
Essential Gears That You Should Have
Along with your tackle, there are also a few other things you’ll need if you’re going to be hauling in sharks. These are some crucial pieces of equipment you’ll want to bring:
- Flashlights: To land a shark after dark, you’ll want to bring plenty of flashlights (and backup batteries) to make sure you can see what you’re doing even after Darkfall. Beaches are often poorly lit, so you’ll depend on a flashlight for baiting hooks and seeing any activity in the surf.
- Hook remover and pliers: For smaller catches or small-sized sharks, pliers are often sufficient to remove the hook from a landed fish, but for larger sharks, you’ll need a hook remover to get the hook out.
- Light tackle rod and reel: If you want to catch your baitfish for shark fishing at night, you might want to bring a second light rigged rod just for catching panfish and baitfish before you get into shark fishing for the evening.
- Wire or bolt cutters: These can help you remove difficult hooks or cut a wire leader if you end up having to leave a hook in a shark that is too deep to remove.
- Camera: If you end up landing a shark, you’ll want a camera ready and waiting to go for when it happens so you can get your photo for posterity. Remember that sharks can’t be kept for long before risking their survival, so any photos taken need to be snapped quickly to avoid damaging them.
Where and When to Surf Fish for Sharks At Night
Surf fishing for sharks at night is a good time to catch them since sharks are drawn close to sure at dusk by the feeding activity of forage fish in the surf zone with the moving tides.
Since this baitfish activity is most prominent right at dusk, night fishing for sharks should be done in the hours directly after this.
Be sure to bring a few bright flashlights so that you can re-rig line as needed or see what you’re doing when you land a catch.
Many recreational swimmers are unaware of this, but several species of shark come close to shore even during the day, especially at night, while feeding.
Here are some other considerations when trying to find optimal conditions for shark fishing:
- Warm waters: Sharks are much more active feeders in warm water, so the best months to fish for them are often late summer and early fall. In colder weather, sharks are more likely to migrate to warmer waters or to head for the deep ocean.
- Drop-offs: Inshore sharks like to hunt in the deeper troughs of water right behind the line of waves breaking on the beach, so check for stripes of water beyond the surf that are deeper green. These green stripes often indicate cuts and small channels that sharks and forage fish like to run along the coastline.
- Strong currents: Rough surf and strong riptides might not be good conditions for swimming, but these same conditions are often good conditions for surf fishing. Rough waters dredge up detritus that draws baitfish in to feed, and these baitfish then serve to attract larger predators such as striped bass and sharks.
- Don’t shark fish after the rain: Rainy days flush fresh river water into the ocean, and since some marine sharks are sensitive to salt, they will avoid this influx of freshwater by heading further offshore. However, certain species of shark are brackish and can be caught in either freshwater or saltwater conditions like bull sharks.
- Watch the lunar cycle: While anglers debate whether it’s better to fish a new moon period or a full moon period, almost all fishermen agree that the moon’s cycles do affect fish feeding activity. Try fishing for shark during either of these periods of the month for increased chances of a shark strike.
How to Land a Shark While Surf Fishing at Night
Landing a shark from the beach is no small feat, so it is recommended not to go fishing for sharks unless you have someone with you.
This is both for safety and for the best chance of bringing the shark in without having to cut it loose.
After a shark is hooked, it will begin to pull and fight on the line.
It’s crucial to be patient during this process and let the shark tire itself out, only reeling it in a little once in a while during the periods when the line goes slack, and the shark relinquishes pressure.
Once a shark has been reeled into the wading distance, one person should remain with the rod and reel while the other person wades out into the surf to handle the shark.
When grabbing a shark to pull it onshore, it’s best to take one hand on a pectoral fin and the other around the base of the shark’s tail and drag it gently through the surf backward so that its gills are still exposed to the oncoming tide as it is pulled onto the soft part of the shore.
Do not grab a shark through the gills to land it. This can fatally injure the shark.
Safety precaution: It seems self-evident, but you should always keep in mind that sharks are an apex predator, and even small sharks are capable of a fierce bite against a human handler. Several anglers have even bite after they were sure a shark was already dead. Be cautious around the toothy end!
Is it Legal to Keep Sharks While Fishing?
Catching a shark can be a great moment for an angler no matter what experience level or age, but some questions are surrounding whether it is legal to keep these animals once caught or not.
The truth is that whether it’s legal to keep a shark or not depends on the species of shark you’ve caught and the state you’re in when you do it.
For example, Florida allows sharks to be harvested from shore but requires a special shark fishing permit.
Because sharks are such an important ecological resource, courses are taught to make sure anglers know how best to return protected species of shark to the water unharmed, as well as voluntarily participate in apex predator tagging programs.
How To Catch And Release A Shark
When you catch a shark and bring it on land, you only have a few precious minutes to interact with the shark before the stress of being caught will greatly increase the chance that the shark will die as a result.
Since many species of shark are slow breeders, the loss of even one protected shark is a major blow to the environment it was fished from.
After landing a shark in the surf, the best option for keeping it alive is to leave it in the surf while you remove the hook. This allows fresh seawater to wash over the shark’s gills and allow it to breathe.
This also usually reduces the amount of thrashing and panic the shark exhibits, making it easier to remove the hook.
Once the hook has been removed using a hook remover (to minimize injury to the shark), the shark should be walked past the surf and guided gently into deeper water.
Here are some tips for releasing a shark more easily:
- Cover the shark’s eyes to calm it. This can reduce thrashing and make hook removal easier.
- Use wet gloves/rags or wet hands to handle a shark. This is less abrasive to both your hands and to the shark.
- Keep your hands away from the shark’s mouth while removing the hook. I don’t think we need to say why that’s a good idea.
- Do not poke the shark’s eyes or gills while handling it. This can cause lasting damage to the fish and, eventually, death.
- If a hook is caught deep, either cut it out in sections and remove it or cut the wire leader as near to the terminal end of the tackle as possible.
When working with a caught shark, move carefully, but remember that time is of the essence. If you take pictures and measure the shark or do any tagging activity, do it fast.
The longer the shark is out of the ocean, the fewer chances it has of recovering from being caught.
Shark Conservation When Surf Fishing
Catching sharks in the surf can be fantastic fun, but anglers who go after sharks need to remember how important sharks are as a part of the environments that they like to fish in.
While sharks can also be a tasty table fish and a great fight on the line, overfishing of several shark species has to lead to their populations being threatened.
Before going out shark fishing, be sure to familiarize yourself with the types of sharks you’re likely to encounter and whether they are a protected species.
If you get serious about fishing sharks as a hobby, consider looking into joining NOAA’s shark tagging program to help increase scientific awareness about these amazing creatures.
And if you catch a shark that has already been tagged, be sure to collect the tag’s information and turn it in.
Even if you are planning on fishing for sharks for food, it’s important to remember to respect these ocean predators.
Most sharks are gentle by nature and are rarely dangerous to humans, so even if we catch them for food, they should be treated with the same respect we afford to any other prey animal we harvest for our benefit.
Safety Considerations for Surf Fishing at Night
Surf fishing at night is slightly more dangerous than surf fishing during the day, for various reasons.
The lack of visibility makes rigging rods more difficult, and strong evening currents can make wading into the surf dangerous (not to mention the increased activity of sharks both large and small).
When surf fishing for sharks at night, keep these following safety tips in mind.
- Go with a friend. Shark fishing should be undertaken with at least one other person if you catch something larger than you can handle. Being near the surf is safer in groups in general, as you’ll be more likely to be noticed if you get swept in.
- Bring bright lights. Not only will bright flashlights make it easier for you to see what you’re doing when you’re going fishing, but it’ll also keep you from inadvertently getting bitten by a shark if you end up having to take one off the hook. Flashlights will also decrease your chances of simply tripping over something.
- Be careful of the tide. Riptides are dangerous enough during the day, but especially dangerous at night since if you are swept out to sea at night, it is much more difficult for rescue units to see you in the water. Be aware that any amount of surf above calf level can potentially drag you down. Do not turn your back on the ocean.
Surf Fishing for Sharks is Exhilarating
While most people probably don’t immediately think of shark fishing when they first consider surf fishing, sharks are one of the most exciting catches you can pull onto the beach.
Anglers should go out of their way to respect this powerful and important part of our marine ecosystems.