Hearing the word “Shark!” screamed may strike fear into the hearts of Lowcountry swimmers, but it is music to the ears of their angling counterparts, especially this time of year when the heat has slowed a lot of fishing action for many species.
Rob Bennett of Lowcountry Inshore Charters loves to pursue sharks off Edisto Island in the dog days of summer, with blacktips and bonnetheads prime targets in August. The action is often fast and predictable, and it results in some sizable catches.
“Catching sharks this time of year is usually not a problem at all, and with many families having the last vacation of summer, it can be a big thrill for kids that are about to head back to school,” Bennett said. “These trips can result in some of the most memorable fishing trips for folks, and it’s when many anglers catch the biggest sharks they’ll ever catch.”
As far as finding blacktips, Bennett said the fishing is as easy as finding a shrimp boat.
“These sharks follow shrimp boats throughout the day, and they are there to eat,” he said. “I like to pull up behind a shrimp boat that is trawling, put the boat in neutral, and cast a live menhaden behind the shrimp nets. It doesn’t take long for the sharks to hit, and when they do hit, it can be a fight that is every bit as thrilling as a fight with a marlin.”
These blacktips range from 30 to 150 pounds, and Bennett said one of the best things is that he doesn’t have to head far offshore for it.
“Most of this fishing occurs within 3 miles of the beach. You have to head to the Gulf Stream for fishing any more exciting than this, but ... these sharks right now, you can make some memorable catches and still be home in time for lunch,” he said.
Between Edisto and Kiawah, Bennett said large schools of menhaden usually lurk 2 to 3 miles off the beach this time of year, and he catches plenty each morning in his cast net. He said even once the shrimp boats have passed through, sharks can still be found in the areas the big boats frequent.
“Some days, the shrimp boats cruise through here several times a day. Other days, they may make one run through and move on,” he said. “I prefer to follow them when I can, but even when they don’t stick around, the sharks are still here, and will not turn down a live menhaden hooked through the nose.”
Using 8/0 hooks, Bennett likes spinning reels in the 4500 class, and spools them with 65-pound Power Pro braid. He then uses a leader of fluorocarbon and single-strand steel wire.
“I use a 3-foot section of 100-pound fluorocarbon, then a 3-foot section of wire, then the hook. You want the flexibility of the fluorocarbon, and you have to use that wire to keep them from biting through it. It also helps when they wrap around the line, which can cut it if not using steel,” Bennett said.
On the rare occasion that a shark doesn’t bite on a cast, Bennett will put the boat back in gear, catch back up to the shrimp boat, then try again. When the shark hits, it can be a violent strike, and Bennett prefers the rod to be in a rod holder.
After the shark’s initial run, he will have an angler remove the rod from the rod holder to fight the shark, preferably from the boat’s front deck. Bennett will follow the shark, allowing the angler to reel in slack.
“Once I get to within about 30 feet of the shark, I put the outboard in idle and let the angler and shark go at it. This is a thrill for the angler, and really wears the shark down, making it easier to land,” he said.
And blacktips, said Bennett, do more than just provide a good tug on the line.
“They put on a big show. Once they realize they are hooked, they will go completely airborne, and will usually jump five or six times. It’s an exciting show,” he said.
If it’s table fare you’re after, Bennett said blacktips don’t disappoint.
“Most shark meat has a really strong flavor, and a lot of it has to do with them having to urinate through their skin, which means you have to cook that out of them. Blacktips though, are one of the few species of sharks that have urinary glands, so they don’t have the urine smell or taste of most sharks,” he said. “Blacktip shark meat is as good, tender, and tasty as almost any seafood you can eat.”
Aside from blacktips, which must be a minimum of 54 inches long to keep, Bennett said his parties often catch spinner sharks and an occasional hammerhead.
Bonnetheads are also on the angling menu this month around Edisto, and one thing many of Bennett’s clients like about these sharks is that they can be caught inshore. The North Edisto River is one hotspot.
“The action can be non-stop for bonnettheads; the best places are along grass lines in shallow water. Many anglers make the mistake of casting to the middle of creeks, but you really want to concentrate on the same type areas that you would fish for redfish. That’s where bonnetheads will be hanging out,” he said.
Another great thing about bonnetheads, he said, is that they will bite throughout all tide cycles, with live blue crabs the preferred bait.
“Another mistake some anglers make is using half a crab. That’s usually a good bait for inshore fishing, but bonnetheads would rather pursue a live, moving crab than a hunk of meat lying on the bottom. They will leave those to spots, whiting, and other crabs,” he said.
Buddy Bizzell of Edisto Palmetto Charters also chases sharks this month, especially in St. Helena Sound.
“You can catch a variety of sharks here, and they aren’t picky about what they’ll eat. Any type of cut or live bait will usually work, but you want it to have some size to make sure you aren’t getting hit by the smaller, trash fish,” said Bizzell, who likes to anchor down in clear water close to dirty water.
“There is a distinct line in the sound. It’s unmistakable. You’ll see the line where clean water meets the dirty water, and that line can move slightly throughout the day. The sharks love to hang out near that line,” he said.
Bizzell uses hooks in the 5/0 to 8/0 range, and enough weight to keep his bait on the bottom.
“You normally don’t need as much weight as most people think, especially if you’ve got a sizable piece of bait on. You want to make sure you’re staying on the bottom, but you don’t want so much weight that it’s difficult to feel a bite. A lot depends on the current, but you can usually get by with 2 to 4 ounces of weight,” he said.
Bull sharks and blacktips are the main species Bizzell catches, but he said you really never know what you’re going to come up with.
“That’s one thing I love about shark fishing here. You just never know how big, what species or how long of a fight you’re in for,” he said. “Sometimes we chase them with the boat; sometimes we’re able to reel them in without moving. This area is so rich in everything sharks could want, so they are here in big numbers, and willing to bite.”
HOW TO GET THERE — SC 174 provides easy access to Edisto once in the general vicinity. US 17 provides easy access from the area to the north and south. A combination of I-77, I-26, and I-95 will put most anglers from the Upstate and Midlands on the right track.
WHEN TO GO — All summer months are great for shark fishing. With commercial shrimping season in full swing, it is a good time to follow them and catch sharks in their wakes.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Sharks are not particularly picky when it comes to baits. Big, live baitfish like menhaden are good choices, but crabs and a variety of cut bait will also work. Stick with big baits to stay away from too many bait thieves. Relatively heavy tackle is the rule, as sharks can easily weigh 100 pounds or better.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Buddy Bizzell, Edisto Palmetto Charters, 803-603-2781; Capt. Rob Bennett, Lowcountry Inshore Charters, 843-367-3777, www.kiawahfishing.com; Capt. Jimmy Skinner, Fontaine Charters, 843-270-8087, www.fontainecharters.com. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Wyndham Ocean Ridge, Edisto Island, 843-869-5154; Edisto Rental Realty, Edisto Island, 866-856-6538; Atwood Rentals, Edisto Island, 866-713-5214.