In the movie “Jaws,” Capt. Quint takes on a 25-foot great white shark in his 55-foot boat, the “Orca,” and he loses.
Brad Knight tries not to think about that shark-to-boat size ratio while he’s out pedaling his kayak looking for a good place to challenge a 6- to 7-foot shark in a 14-foot plastic boat.
He’s no stranger to catching big fish from a kayak, and when it comes to sharks, has learned much by trial-and error, including where to fish.
“I don’t think you catch anything bigger by going out past the breakers,” said Knight, who grew up in the Belton-Honea Path area. “The best place to find a 5-, 6- — even an 8-foot shark — is a major inlet. Our coastline has plenty of inlets from Myrtle Beach to Beaufort, and all of the bigger inlets will hold sharks as big as you want to fool with in a kayak. Blacktips are the most numerous, followed by spinners, and on occasion, maybe a bull or tiger shark.”
Knight prefers fishing an incoming tide when targeting sharks. Although he might choose the reverse in a powerboat, an incoming tide keeps a big shark from towing a kayaker out to sea. He will pedal his 14-foot Hobie Pro Angler to a spot that offers a sandbar flanked by deeper water. This can be a hump at the intersection of two rivers or a drop–off where the tide has created a delta on the edge of a main channel.
“Ideally, I like to be sitting on a hump or drop that’s around 12 feet and positioning my baits down current into 40 to 50 feet of water — the deeper the better,” he said. “One of the keys to being successful is how you anchor your boat.”
Because of the swift current typical of most inlets, Knight will use a 12- to 14-pound Danforth anchor with about three times the rope as depth of water. He ties the anchor off to an anchor ball and then tethers his kayak to a 20-foot lead off the ball.
“You don’t want to be tied to the bottom,” he said. “As the tide comes in, it will pull you down, just like a crankbait. Tied to the ball, the tension is in-line at the surface and the boat will ride flat across the top.”
Knight fishes three different rigs at three different depths when he’s fishing for sharks from a kayak: a balloon- or cork-line on top, a free-line that will hang about mid-water column, and a weighted bottom rig. He then prays two big sharks don’t hit at once, though it has happened.
“A shark over 5 feet won’t tap, nibble, or peck the bait,” he said. “You go from a normal setup to a rod bent double and screaming drag in an instant. You then have to get your other two lines in, unhook from the ball, and start heading toward the fish before he dumps your reel of line.”
Tackle in the 30- to 40-pound class will suffice in a kayak, because the boat becomes part of the drag system. With the tide coming in over a deep hole, big sharks seldom head for shallow water or drag a boat very far against the current. After an aerial leap or two, it’s mostly getting the fish up, tiring it out, then figuring out how to unhook it.
“He’ll bump the boat about three times,” Knight said. “The first time he bumps you, he goes berserk and runs hard again. Repeat that two or three more times, and he’ll usually come alongside. Once they get still, they kind of quiet down. If you can grab a fin, roll him over, and he’ll go dormant. That’s when you take the hook out.”
Digging around in a 5-gallon bucket-sized mouth full of teeth is a risky but necessary task. Knight is not a fan of leaving hooks in, especially those trailing wire. He grinds down the barbs on his circle hooks so they’ll be easier to work loose. In hard-to-reach situations, he’ll use an extended pair of bolt cutters and cut the hook in half.
Baits for big sharks is an easy choice, Knight said. Of all the menhaden, croaker, bluefish, ladyfish and other cut bait he’s used, a live, 18- to 24-inch sharpnose shark beats them all, hands down. In fact, a good indicator that big sharks will be around is being in an area where he can catch the little sharpnoses on a light rod while waiting for his next big bite.
“Nothing else but another big shark will eat these little guys,” he said. “I catch one on a piece of shrimp, hook him through the bony part of the nose and then lay him open with a fillet knife, gills-to-tail. It won’t last long that way. If a big shark is around, he’s gone pretty quick.”