Some tips for shark fishing

June 17, 2017

Fishing seems to be in a summer pattern. There have been some big sharks caught between the 20- and 30-Fathom lines, flounder are beginning to show up at the Old Grounds and inshore reef sites, and the Lower Bay holds kings, spot and croaker with the same fish available from the fishing pier at Cape Henlopen State Park. Surf fishing has been slow, as have flounder catches out of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, the Broadkill River, Indian River Inlet and the Back Bays.

Sea bass numbers remain high, but the number of keepers has dropped off. The Katydid had a sea bass limit last Monday, and one angler checked in two citation sea bass at Rick’s Bait and Tackle, a 3.85- and a 4.1-pounder, caught on clam at the Del-Jersey-Land Reef.

Looking at the weekend weather, it seems the ocean might be a bit bumpy, but if you have a boat that can safely handle the chop, I think the inshore reef sites and the Old Grounds may be the best locations. Don’t expect nonstop action, but if you work at it, you should be able to box a few flounder and sea bass.

I would use a heavy bucktail sweetened with a strip of squid, fish or Gulp! About 12 to 18 inches above the bucktail, I would add a dropper loop to hold a circle hook that is decorated with a fly, bucktail hair, Mylar or some other attractor. To this I would add a live minnow, small spot, squid or Gulp!

This rig must be moving up and down to work properly. You cannot rig up, drop down and put the rod in a holder. You must become an active participant in the sport of fishing. This is not to say I don’t know anyone who fishes with his rod in a holder, because I do, and I know he catches fish. I just think you will catch more fish if you keep total control of what is going on at the end of your line.

Shark fishing should also be good this weekend. Makos and threshers have been caught between the 20- and 30-Fathom lines, and there is no reason to think they have left.

Catching big sharks does take a bit more preparation than catching flounder and sea bass, but there is no reason that anyone with a 20-plus-foot boat can’t be successful.

You will need at least two, and even better three, high-quality, 30-pound outfits. These are not cheap, but you don’t need Penn Internationals. I have used Penn Senators in 113 and 114 sizes for many years and have yet to have one fail. There are many good rods on the market, and if you ask around, you will find there are good-quality rods for a reasonable price. By the time you fill the reels with mono line and pick up a few shark rigs, you will have invested close to $1,000. The good news is everything but the shark rigs can be used for trolling for tuna, dolphin, striped bass and big bluefish.

I look for a drop-off from a shoal and try to keep the boat along the edge. The 12-Fathom Lump is close to the Delaware Lightship Buoy, and there are a few wrecks just a bit inshore of there. A little farther out there are the Hot Dog, the 20-Fathom Fingers and Massey’s Canyon. I use Captain Segull’s Charts that are available at most tackle shops.

You are going to need chum, and most tackle shops carry a supply. It is always a good idea to call ahead to make sure your favorite shop is well stocked before showing up and discovering they have sold out.

Fresh bait is always best, but difficult to find. Frozen mackerel and bluefish have been used with good success when fresh is not available.

There are several shark rigs that will work. I like to make mine with single-strand wire to the hook, followed by 200-pound mono leader to the Bimini twist in my 30- to 50-pound running line. I use 400-pound black swivels to connect the leader to the running line and the wire to the leader. A large circle hook works best.

Set out two or three lines at different depths and distances from the boat. I put one bait close to the chum bucket, one about halfway to the bottom and one pretty close to the bottom. The deeper the bait, the farther from the boat it is fished. We used to use balloons, but today there are floats designed just for shark fishing.

If you decide to give shark fishing a try, make sure any shark you plan to keep is very dead before you bring it aboard.

  • 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