Large sand tiger shark vacations in O.C.

Capt. Charlie Horning on the Fish Whistle had a great overnight trip to the Wilmington Canyon. He trolled horse ballyhoo and brought back a total of five bigeye tuna and two yellowfin tuna. The heaviest bigeye weighed 197 pounds while the heaviest yellowfin weighed 50 pounds. Shown are Billy Gebhart of Lancaster, Pa.; Bill McMahon of Lewes; Bob Dunn of Kensington, Md.; Trent McMahon of Brookville, Md.; and Johnny Horning of Laytonville, Md. SOURCE HOOK EM AND COOK EM
August 9, 2014

There has been a good deal of excitement over a large sand tiger shark that pinged its satellite tag in Assawoman Bay behind Ocean City, Md. The big female was tagged in South Carolina and, as sharks are known to do, she swam pretty much wherever she pleased, and that included inside the bays west of Ocean City. The latest report has her back in the ocean and on a northerly track.

Sand tiger sharks have a very scary appearance. Their jagged teeth define the phrase toothy grin, and even when they close their mouth those several rows of choppers are visible. Considering this particular fish was 13 feet long and weighed around 1,000 pounds, I am sure she would have scared the bejesus out of anyone who encountered her.

Fortunately, sand tiger sharks are unlikely to attack humans. They make their living scouring the bottom for whatever they can find, with a particular fondness for skates. This is not to say one won’t bite you if the shark believes you pose a threat or you are stupid enough to fool around with one in the water.

A few years ago, a man fishing along the shoreline of Indian River Inlet hooked a large shark and then went into the water with the fish in an attempt to land his trophy. The shark, I am sure, could not believe its good fortune in having his tormentor join him in his element. The result was shark one, man zero.

As I understand the report, the young boy who was bitten by a shark earlier this summer may have accidentally put his arm directly in or very close to the shark’s mouth. The boy was lucky it was just a juvenile shark, or the wounds might have been more severe.

Last Wednesday, Taylor Deemer and I were anchored up along the Outer Wall trying to catch triggerfish, without success. A free diver was also in the water, and we would see him pop up every now and then. When he was directly in front of our position, he came flying out of the water and up on the rocks at a speed that would have put a seal to shame.

He was shouting, “Shark, big shark.”

I asked him what kind of shark and he replied, “Sand tiger, I think. A big sand tiger.”

While his identification may have been less than perfect, he had no doubt about the size. It was a big shark.

The folks in the boat from which the diver had entered the water had to back up to the rocks to pick up their friend. There was no way he was getting back in the ocean.

Joe Morris told me a diver who works the Outer Wall and brings his fish to Joe to clean said he had two spadefish on a stringer hanging from his belt and a big shark helped himself to one. I would have thought Diving 101 would begin with "Don’t hang dead fish from your belt."  I think this guy was lucky the shark didn’t take both fish for dinner and help himself to a little leg for dessert.

A few boats running out of Lewes make short trips to the ocean where they fish for sharks. These are usually four-hour trips with families or tourists. The captains set up a chum line for sharks, attracting a variety of specimens including sand tigers. All sharks are released, and circle hooks are used to prevent damaging the shark by gut hooking.

On occasion the boats are visible from the shoreline at Cape Henlopen State Park, and this has raised some concern that the boats will draw sharks to the beach. First, let me assure you there are plenty of sharks swimming with you; they just don’t have any interest in making your acquaintance. If anything, the boats fishing for sharks are drawing these fish away from shore, and that should make swimmers feel better.

Fishing report

Flounder fishing continues to be good at bay reef sites and in the ocean over reef sites, along the rough bottom between B and A buoys and at the Old Grounds. Limits of nice fish have come from all these locations. Fresh fish strips made from croaker, spot, sea robin or bluefish and placed on a bucktail or Delaware Bay Green Machine have accounted for most of the flounder.

Croaker are pretty much everywhere. Spot, small blues and kings have been caught along with the croaker. Nothing beats a bloodworm for croaker bait, but cut fresh fish is a close second.

Offshore action for tuna has been good. The canyons hold yellowfin and bigeyes while a few bluefin remain on the inshore lumps.

  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age.  Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast.  He has been the regional editor for Salt Water Sportsman, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and the Fisherman Magazine.  He was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine.  Eric is the author of three books; Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits.  He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at

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