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Surf Shark Surf Fishing: The Complete Guide

Surf Shark Fishing
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The summer water temperatures that drive out many of the typical surf fish serve to draw in sharks. These sharks will often swim within casting range of beaches on both the east and west coasts. Surf fishing for shark can provide an angler with one of the best fishing battles of their lives.

To be able to catch a shark in the surf, you need to use the right tackle equipment, and also understand the rules and regulations in your area to catch these aquatic creatures by surf fishing from the shore of most beaches.

This complete guide will give you all the information you need to surf fish for shark, including:

  • California rules and regulations regarding shark fishing different species of sharks you can catch
  • Where to surf fish for shark
  • When to best catch a shark
  • Gear needed to catch a shark.
  • Live bait and lures used to catch a shark.
  • The best tactics to catch a shark
  • Catch and release tips
  • Safety tips

Surf shark fishing is a lot of fun. To be successful, you need to equip yourself correctly and try different locations along the shore until you find a place where the sharks are biting.

Knowing the rules and regulationsOpens in a new tab. will ensure that you have fun while catching sharks using safe and sustainable practices.

This article will outline everything you need to know about surf fishing for shark – and then some!

Rules and Regulations for Shark Fishing (California Regulations)

Both state and federal laws regulate surf fishing. Most states have informational websites that give their statutes. The (CDFW) CaliforniaOpens in a new tab. Department of Fish and WildlifeOpens in a new tab. has a set of rules specifically for pier and shore-based fishing.

The most notable regulations are:

  • Fishing License: You do not have to get a fishing license when fishing from a public dock, but you must follow all other rules, such as bag limits. Public owned property that is not a pier does require a fishing license.
  • Number of Rods: No more than two rods or lines can be used by one person from a pier.
  • Species-specific gear restrictions: No restrictions exist for shark, unlike other fish.

You may fish with any number of hooks and lines in all ocean waters and bays. However, some local restrictions do apply, such as the San Francisco and San Pablo bays.

The (CDFW) California Department of Fish and WildlifeOpens in a new tab. provides other information regarding what seasons are opened and closed, bag limits, and other additional resources

It is essential to check this site for updated information regularly as regulations can change and seasons can be opened or closed at the discretion of the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

When fishing off of the shore, federal requirements often do not apply. However, you cannot catch sharks that are listed as threatened, critical, or endangered on a national level.

You must comply with these federal regulations regardless of where you are fishing.

Different Types of Sharks You Can Catch

Great white Opens in a new tab.sharksOpens in a new tab. are protected and cannot be caught by boat or from the land. However, you can catch many other shark species.

California Fish and Opens in a new tab.WildlifeOpens in a new tab. provides an identification guide to the most common sharks in the inner coastal waters that will help anglers identify what sharks they see and catch.

Surf Zone Shark FishingOpens in a new tab. lists the most common sharks found in the surf:

  • Grey/Brown Smoothhound: is the rarest of the surf sharks. They can be caught in the surf and are edible.
  • Shovelnose: are the second most caught surf shark. Many Anglers consider them to be the tastiest catch. Shovelnose sharks can grow up to five feet in length.
  • Leopard Shark: is the most common of the surf sharks. They can grow to seven feet long, but most are caught on the surface, weighing around 30-50 pounds.
  • Other potential Opens in a new tab.sharksOpens in a new tab. include:
    • Blue shark
    • Shortfin Mako Shark
    • Common Thresher Shark
    • Spiny Dogfish

These sharks are legal to catch and keep. However, you can release them if you choose. It is always important to follow any state laws regarding open seasons and catch limits.

Protected Sharks

NOAA has created an informational video that discusses sharks that you are not allowed to keep.

This video explains the fishing license needed for fishing in federal and international waters, typically from a boat.

The video also shows clips of sharks to aid in identification.

Using a guide to help ID the species can be helpful with some sharks, such as the dusky shark, which is hard to identify correctly.

Credit: NOAA FisheriesOpens in a new tab.

Some of the sharks in the summer surf are protected. Remember to check both state and federal regulations. Any protected Opens in a new tab.sharkOpens in a new tab. that you catch must be released unharmed. Circle hooks make releasing the shark easier and improve its chance of survival.

To release a shark, follow these steps:

  • Pull it beyond the reach of the breakers.
  • This will make it safer for you and the fish.
  • Use long-nose pliers to remove the circle hook.
  • For deeper hooking: Use wire cutters to snip off the leader that is close to the hook.
  • After you remove the hook, release the shark.

It is the job of the angler to know the regulations and what sharks must be released. Lack of information is not a defense if authorities find you with protected sharks.

Remember: If you don’t know, let it go.

Complete Guide to Surf Shark Fishing

During the summer, many of the fish that surf-casters target has moved away from the surf.

Many surf anglers move to different fishing styles or stow their rods at this time of year and turn to other activities.

But, if you’re seeking a new adventure, summer is the perfect time of the year to surf fish for sharks.

Once you have started shark fishing in the surf, consider joining the ApexOpens in a new tab. Predator Tagging ProgramOpens in a new tab..

This federally funded program has been around for 50 years. The NOAA oversees this program, and the data is used to understand shark migration and growth. You can enroll through the NOAA website.

Where to Surf Fish Shark

Field and Opens in a new tab.StreamOpens in a new tab. report that sharks feed more aggressively in warmer water. This aggressive feeding in warmer waters will improve the chances of hooking a shark.

However, with patience and the careful selection of bait, you can still catch sharks in colder waters.

Tides impact shark populations differently. Calm slack tides offer more accessible fishing because your bait will stay in place.

The calm water will make landing the shark easier also. Locals can be a useful resource for recommending fishing spots.

Most sharks come much closer to the beach than you think. Areas to target are:

  • just past the first break and deeper trough running close to the surf
  • where the current or depth suddenly changes
  • near estuaries
  • near piers or bridges.

It is not necessary to attempt a long bomb cast. The best tactic is to cast just beyond the cresting waves. This is where sharks are often found feeding.

When to Catch Shark

Further reports that as summer weather warms the water, the sharks come closer to the shallows.

The best shark fishing is from the 4th of July to Labor Day. You should also consider the time of day when planning your fishing trip. 

The fading light of late afternoon brings fish into the shallows to feed.

During this late afternoon period, there is a spike in kingfish, croaker, and snapper bluefish in the waves on which the sharks like to feed.

Wherever you find these species, sharks will be close behind. The best time of day to catch a shark in the surf is through the first few hours of darkness in the late afternoon (field and Opens in a new tab.streamOpens in a new tab.)Opens in a new tab.. 

Dawn is another time when sharks move in closer to the shore. However, you can catch sharks at just about any time of day.

Just remember that landing a big shark is tricky in the dark, so wear a headlamp to help you see.

Gear To Catch Shark

In the article, “Surf Fishing for Sharks: Tip, Rigs, & TechniquesOpens in a new tab.,” Eli McGinty writes that shark fishing requires the same gear as other types of fishing. Surf sharks average 3 to 6 feet long and weigh around 100 pounds.

However, it is possible to hook a larger one, so you must be prepared. The key is to scale your gear up as needed.

It is better to have extra strength built into your rig than watching the biggest shark of the day getaway because your equipment failed you.

Some equipment that you should have for surf shark fishing includes:

Fishing Rod: An 8- to 12-foot rodOpens in a new tab. with a medium to heavy power rating will land sharks. Using a stiffer rod is better for battling them.

Saltwater Reel: A spinning reelOpens in a new tab. works better than a casting reel, but both will work. The reel will need to hold 300 yards of line to allow the shark to make a long run. The reel will also need to create 25 pounds of drag on the line.

Leaders: The hook will need to be attached to a length of steel wire leader; this is to prevent the shark from cutting through the line. The length of the wire will vary based on the size of the shark you are fishing for, but the longer it is, the heavier it will be, impacting your casting length.

Line: You will need to tie a 100- to 300-pound test monofilamentOpens in a new tab. shock leader between the wire leader and the mainline. This will provide the line with elasticity. The length again can vary from 1-3 feet up to 8-10 feet based on shark size. A 65-pound-test braided line then serves as the mainline. An FG knot makes a low-profile connection between the two sections. Braided lines create a more solid hook set because they allow little to no stretching.

Sinkers: The weight of the sinkerOpens in a new tab. depends on the current. A 4- to 8-ounce sinker provides a starting point, but heavier weights are needed in strong currents. The sinker will be threaded onto the monofilament portion of the rig with a slide to allow it to move freely.

Hooks: Circle hooksOpens in a new tab. catch the shark’s lips, making for easy removal. This causes less harm to the shark and increases survival rates for catch and release. Hooks ranging from 6/0 to 10/0 are typical but pick a size that matches your baitfish.

Rod Spikes: Surf shark fishing is not a quick sport. It takes time and patience to hook a shark. A sturdy, good quality rod holder and spikes can help keep your rig secure. Don’t forget this essential gear; no one wants to see a shark swim away with their rig.

Hook Removers: Pliers will work to remove hooks in smaller sharks. However, you will need hook removers for bigger catches. The removers also help keep fingers out of the area near the shark’s mouth to prevent injury to yourself.

Live Bait and Lures to Catch Shark

Sharks are not going to be attracted to the smaller pieces of squid and shrimp that catch other fish. For a big fish, you need big bait.

You should use whole fish or thick cuts of baitOpens in a new tab.. McGintyOpens in a new tab. explains that the ideal size varies based on the size of the shark. Typically, 8- to 12-inch baitfish are best.

Many types of baitfishOpens in a new tab. can be used and will vary based on what and where you are fishing.

Frozen bait produces a weaker scent and falls off the hook faster. Catching your bait allows you to use chunks of fresh fish that the sharks are currently hunting.

A shark will often bite more if the bait is what they are used to eating.Bluefish, whole squid, and menhaden are also excellent if you are not going to catch your bait.

Although most people use live bait, “Artificial Lures for Catching Opens in a new tab.SharksOpens in a new tab.” explains that it is possible to use artificial bait for shark fishing. 

The key is having clear water, as sharks will strike based on sight, not scent. Since sharks eat fish, the best artificial lures will resemble and move in the water as fish do.

You should cast into or near a school of baitfish and then move the lure as if it is an injured fish. This movement will attract sharks that are drawn to easy prey.

Tactics to Catch Shark

Fish Talk Opens in a new tab.MagazineOpens in a new tab. says that shark surf fishing takes time and patience. If you were, to sum up, the tactics into one sentence, it would be:

Place a large chunk of bait on a big hook, throw it into the water, and wait for a shark. The time it takes to get that first bite maybe 15 minutes, or it may never come.

Some people may want to chum the waters, such as offshore fishing, to speed up the process; however, most beaches have laws against this.

Patience is also crucial after you hook the shark. It can take time to battle a shark tiring it out enough so that you can land it. It may take time to fight them in some cases.

Be prepared as surf sharks will often hit the bait hard and fast. Setting the hook depends on the type of hook you are using:

  • J-hooks: Just like when fishing off a boat, it is crucial to let the shark take the bait for a good 3- to 5-second count before setting the hook. This waiting period allows the shark time to get the bait and hook firmly in their mouth.
  • Circle hooks: When using circle hooks, the hook does not need to be set. The rod can be left in a sturdy, well-buried sand spike. With circle hooks, you want to set the drag as light as possible.

Once hooked, the real battle begins. The fight may last anywhere from 10-minutes to an hour. The shark may “run” 200-plus yards while trying to hold its position against your pull. The key to bringing the shark in is keeping tension in the line.

How To Properly Land A Shark

When surf fishing, landing a shark on the beach is risky. You have to be very careful when doing this.

Shore Based Opens in a new tab.SharkingOpens in a new tab.” states that you will need to go into the surf and pull the shark up onto the beach to bring the shark in. 

This is not the time to be nervous, and you should only attempt this if you are confident in your ability.

To land a shark while surf fishing, you should do the following:

  • Do not attempt this maneuver in rough surf.
  • Move the shark with the waves so that the wave action helps you by pushing the shark towards the beach.
  • Once near the shore, grab the base of the tail as gently as possible.
  • Carefully slide the shark towards the shore using the wash from the waves.
  • Take care when you are landing the shark.
  • Sharks are usually docile once on the sand, but they can still move fast.

Most sharks will live about two minutes out of the water. Once landed, it is essential to snap any desired pictures and remove the hook quickly if you want to release the shark successfully. 

Remember: Sharks can still move fast on the sand and will bite at anything, such as hands, that are placed close to their mouths.

Catch and Release Tips

It is usually recommended to release all the sharks you catch. Circle hooks are the best to use, in part because they are the easiest to release.

However, with the right tools, J-hooks can also be removed.

To accomplish this, have long-handled pliers, wire cutters, and bolt cutters on hand for removal of the hook.

The proper catch-and-release technique is as follows:

  • Begin by positioning yourself face on with the shark.
  • Open its mouth by gently pushing the nose upward. This allows access to the hook.
  • When using J-hooks, you may need to cut them in half for removal. This will enable you to remove each piece.
  • If the shark swallows the hook, do NOT try and pull it back out. Snip the wire as close to the hook as possible.
  • Once the hook is out, ease the shark into the wash of the incoming waves.
  • When you reach about a foot of water, spin the fish so that it is facing into the waves to get the water running through his mouth.
  • Continue to ease it out into deeper water with its head pointed towards the ocean. The shark will usually take off quickly once it has water pumping through its gills.

Other tips from Save OurOpens in a new tab. Opens in a new tab.SeasOpens in a new tab. for catch and release are:

  • Use carbon or mild steel hooks: These will rust out in a few weeks if the shark gets free during landing or cannot be removed.
  • Do not use a gaff: Reel the shark in as close as possible and use the wave motion or a stretcher to carry the shark ashore.
  • Use heavy tackle: This will decrease the landing time when reeling in the shark. The longer the shark fights, the more likely it is to sustain serious injury, increasing recovery time.
  • Prevent organ injury: Shark’s cartilage skeletons do not protect their organs from being crushed when out of the water. Keep the shark in the shallows as much as possible.
  • Use caution when handling: Do not drag the shark over rocks and sand. More massive sharks will require two people to carry. Hold the shark by the tail and behind the pectoral fins. If possible, use a stretcher when returning the shark to the water.
  • Assist as needed: Some sharks will need to be held in the current for some time to help them recover. Once recovered, they will swim away.

Are the Techniques for Surf Fishing for Whiting Similar to Surf Shark Surf Fishing?

When it comes to surf fishing for whiting, the techniques can be quite similar to surf shark surf fishing. Both require using long casting rods, heavy sinkers, and fresh bait to attract the fish. Following a surf fishing for whiting guideOpens in a new tab. can help improve your chances of success in catching these popular species.

Safety Tips

Sharks can move extremely fast both in and out of the water. Their razor-sharp teeth are always capable of inflicting severe injury. It is crucial to follow these safety tips when shark fishing. 

Always stay alert and keep hands, fingers, and other body parts at a safe distance away from the shark’s mouth. Never assume that the shark is “beaten” and will not try to strike.

Fishing with a partner is the number one safety tip. Having a fishing buddy ensures that no matter the size of the shark, you have someone to help you land, de-hook, and release it.

Also, should you get into trouble, someone is there to offer aid and call for assistance.

Always consider the safety of others. When surf fishing, be aware of people swimming nearby. Be prepared for the possibility of attracting a crowd.

Always be respectful and ensure that you only land sharks a safe distance away from other people swimming or enjoying the beach.

Drone Fishing

BullbusterOpens in a new tab. explains that drone fishing has become a popular way to “beach fish” on the West Coast.

You can use remote-controlled drones or aircraft to deploy bait. Store-bought and custom-built units are both used. They need to be waterproof and able to lift heavier payloads. It is essential to know the weight limits of the remote unit you are using.

The drone will need a remotely triggered payload release system to prevent stability loss and crashing when the bait is released. Drones will work fine for smaller baits and can be very helpful when the water is rough.

However, they are susceptible to the wind making them erratic when used for longer distances on windy days.

Kayak Fishing

Kayaks are another option that is gaining popularity for dropping bait, especially in California.

The California coast lacks the “sand-bar” type beaches of the Eastern seaboard, resulting in only one set of breakers. 

However, they have a larger shore break that can exceed 8-10 feet in height and be well over the anglers’ heads. Kayak deployment of bait can help address the problems created by the shore break height.

Kayaks are a low-tech alternative to drones. The shore break can make launching them tricky, but it is possible with the right craft. 

Kayaks are considered more reliable than drones by some because there are no electronics that can fail. They can also carry heavier loads and often cost less than drones.

When using kayaks, safety is essential. The large hooks and lines can lead to injury if the angler does not stay alert. 

Safety tips for using kayaks include:

  • Always be alert and aware of where the hooks and weight are.
  • Always keep eyes on the breaking waves.
  • Never take the paddle out of the water.
  • Know your limits and don’t launch if water conditions are beyond them.
  • If necessary, bailout.

Dumping your bait or swimming for shore is better than getting hooked or knocked out of your kayak.

Remember, regardless of the deployment method, the idea is to get your bait to where the shark is.

They are often closer than you think. Drops past 200 yards are too far. Typically, 50-150 yards are the best places for bait drops.

Let’s Go Fishing

Surf shark fishing offers a summertime fishing experience like no other. Though many of the typical surf fish leave during the summer, it is the perfect time to fish for shark.

It is incredibly satisfying to know that you hooked, landed, and caught one of the apex predators of the ocean. Having the necessary knowledge provided in this guide will make the experience much smoother.

When fishing, it is vital to stay up to date on all the rules and regulations. This will ensure compliance with the laws. The main concern is knowing the protected shark species that must be released if caught.

If ever in doubt, release the fish to make sure you comply. Check videos and pictures to help with identification.


Zaldy G.

I love feeling the cool ocean spray every time I hit the beach with a rod and a bucket of bait. I love the thrill of feeling bites on my line whenever I hook a big one. And I especially love the pride that comes with cooking a fresh catch and sharing it with my friends and family. Thank you for stopping by. Let's go catch some fish!

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