Sharks from shore

Land-based shark fishing has developed a large following over the past few years.

Grab your beach chair and settle in for some land-based shark fishing

Lots of other saltwater fish have better PR than sharks, and they don’t send bathers running for high ground at the mere mention of their name. Still, the Carolina coastlines boast ahealthy population of sharks. 

During the summer months, boating anglers frequently bad mouth sharks, namely for their tendency to occasionally remove the lower half of a nice redfish that was making its way to the boat, hence the name “Tax Man.”

In recent years, a growing number of surf anglers have not only dedicated themselves to catching sharks from shore, but to preserving the animals as well. One such angler is John Shytle of Myrtle Beach Surf Fishing Adventures. Shytle is in his third season as a surf fishing guide, sharing duties between the Grand Strand and Charlotte, NC where he works as a firefighter. 

He fishes and guides for everything that swims within casting distance of the beach. But he has a special affinity for land-based shark fishing. He offers 4-, 6-, and 10-hour packages for shark fishing, the latter being an all-night adventure. Shytle breaks his shark fishing trips into two main categories, 8 feet and under and 8 feet and over, tailoring the outing to the expectations and abilities of his clients.

Check the sandbars

Interestingly, Shytle doesn’t fish for sharks in Myrtle Beach, or anywhere else in Horry County, because it’s illegal, depending on which government agency you ask. Accordingly, all of his shark fishing takes place south of Garden City Beach in Georgetown County. He is confident that his tactics would work just as well up into North Carolina where the southern beaches and tidal flows are very similar to those in South Carolina.

Patterning sharks is a matter of understanding how they work the surf zone and relate to the available food there.

“We have zero hard structure off our beaches,” said Shytle. “These fish relate to sandbars – bars that may only rise a foot or two above the surrounding bottom. But this creates deeper water channels on either side of the bar.”

Getting a big shark beached, unhooked and back out to deep water is a skilled practice.

If you think about the other surf-oriented species you might catch from the beach, you have a good idea what sharks feed on. This includes croaker, whiting, spots, bluefish and an assortment of baitfish like mullet and menhaden. Hand-sized chunks of horse mullet, whiting, and bluefish are his go-to favorites due to the oily content of these fish and their scent-producing capabilities, which allow the sharks to hone in on them.

Shytle prefers to fish times and locations that don’t have him crossing paths with bathers. A typical shark fishing trip starts about two hours before sunset and goes into the night. He will set up shark camp in his chosen location and get ready to set baits – an array of cut baits, preferably of the same variety found just beyond the breakers. He has a unique way of placing baits that makes him a very effective land-based shark angler.

“I use a drone and drone-set all my baits,” he said. “The particular one I use has an 8-pound payload. So if you deduct the approximately 2 pounds of weight I use to hold the bait in place, I can place baits up to 6 pounds.”

Drones are legal to use for this task in South Carolina, but North Carolina’s law states that drones can not be used for fishing.

Shytle uses level wind, high-capactiy reels with heavy braided line when fishing for sharks.

Gear up

Another advantage to the drone is pinpoint accuracy in bait placement. He keeps track of the sandbars he’s targeting based on their distance from shore. He can free-spool enough line behind the drone to allow him to drop the bait precisely in the deepest channel that he can reach. Sharks patrol these channels in search of food, so accuracy is important to garnering bites.

Understandably, land-based shark fishing is tackle-intensive. Shytle is sponsored by Rogue Reelz Fishing which supplies him with all his shark fishing tackle. For the 8 and under set, Shytle uses 12-foot Ninja Dagger rods paired with 8000 Penn Reels spooled with 60-pound braided line. Rogue makes a variety of shark fishing rigs using up to 12/0 circle hooks on the business end.

Shytle is a firm believer in the use of sputnik sinkers to hold the baits where he places them. He prefers those made by Redfin Fishing. He typically deploys four rods from his setup point, angling each one in a different direction to provide an adequate spread of baits, each rod tucked into its own sand-spiked holder that he gets from Surf Hippie Phishing. Then it’s a waiting game.

The best shark fishing takes place within two hours of dark, or during the night.

Big variety

“You’d be surprised at the number of different species of sharks we have,” said Shytle. “Blacktips are probably the most common, followed by sandbars, Atlantic sharpnose, and bonnetheads. But we also catch sand tigers, lemon sharks, bull sharks, and even hammerheads and tiger sharks right off the beach. I’m sure I’m leaving several others out as well.”

When he’s hired to go for the big ones, or for the occasional land-based shark fishing tournament he competes in, Shytle will break out the big guns. Heavier Ninja Dagger rods, but paired with 50-wide reels and 150-pound braided main line. His rigs employ 800-pound steel leaders and 17/0 – 18/0 circle hooks. His bait of choice is a big mackerel head or some other oily fish. He typically will have a couple of bait rods out for fresh fish, but he’s also equipped with anything he can glean from the local fish markets.

Hiring a surf fishing guide may seem a little off-kilter at first, but Shytle points out that it’s not just a boat you’re hiring when you sign up for a boat trip. It’s also the knowledge of the Captain and mates that spell the difference between success and failure. He’s not that secretive of his fishing spots because sharks tend to roam and travel great distances looking for food.

“For folks who’ve never shark fished before, I give them the same advice I give anyone who fishes with me. If you want to try this on your own, start out small. Target fish in the 3- to 5-foot range and get comfortable with the tackle, the rigs, and most importantly, handling and releasing the fish,” he said. 

Removing the hook from a shark’s mouth is always a priority over simply cutting the leader.

Protect the resource

It’s very important to Shytle and all of his shark fishing buddies to protect the resource. Sure, anglers face danger when trying to surf wrestle a 10- to 12-foot shark into shallow water, especially one that weighs three times that of the angler (or more). But there’s also a real danger to the shark. 

It takes some know-how to get a big shark in, get the hook out, (which Shytle attempts to do at every turn, rather than just cut the leader), and get the fish back into deep enough water to move water over its gills, then get it back on its way.

Hopefully, this sentiment will prevail over the argument of “rights of way” between anglers and bathers, as well as local jurisdictions who believe that shark fishing poses an imminent threat to beach goers.

“I spend hours and hours, placing the absolute favorite food of a shark directly in its path, and often have a hard time getting one to bite,” said Shytle. “I don’t believe fishing for sharks creates any additional danger for swimmers.” 

About Phillip Gentry 823 Articles
Phillip Gentry of Waterloo, S.C., is an avid outdoorsman and said if it swims, flies, hops or crawls, he's usually not too far behind.

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