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Captain’s Log: Fishing for Kid-Size Sharks Can Be Big-Time Fun

These sharks can be caught in shallow water and without traveling for hours to get to the best spots.

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Capt. Tiffany Vague of the WaveWalker displays a leopard shark. The color and patterns on leopard sharks show how they got the name. (Capt. David Bacon / Noozhawk photo)

I recently wrote about grownup-size sharks, but there are sharks made just for children, too. Wide-eyed kids head to sea on their earliest fishing adventures, sometimes just old enough to turn the handle on the reel, as long as a grownup is holding up the rod and assisting as required. This salty charter captain long ago learned that kids have a blast pulling on sharks their own size.

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Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)
When relatives or friends with children, from inland states or counties, visit some of my regular charter clients, we often take them out and specifically look for small sharks to catch. A child from Kansas, for example, becomes the hero of his or her school when they go back home talking about shark fishing on the West Coast. They can tell stories about catching several sharks, and feel great about it.

Kid-size shark species include smoothound, pinback, shovelnose (guitarfish), leopard and sand shark. These sharks can be found and caught in shallow water and without having to travel hours to get to the best spots.

When targeting sharks for kids, a good plan is to head out of harbor and fish near-shore kelp beds and reef zones. These species spend much of their time in shallow water, less than 80 feet deep, and tend to forage along the edge of structure such as kelp beds and reefs. Drift or anchor just outside of a kelp bed, and fish the bottom.

If bites don’t come within about 20 minutes, move on to the next spot. Shallow reef areas are likely places to find sharks, and they tend to forage over sand spots adjacent to a reef.

Most of these sharks are attracted to a variety of baits, since they are primarily scavengers. A lively bait, such as a sardine, anchovy or smelt, often will tempt the largest sharks in the neighborhood. When fishing live baits, a reverse dropper loop works extremely well, because the bait has sufficient free line to swim about enticingly, yet a short enough leash to allow the shark to catch it easily.

The weight should be heavy enough to keep the bait right on the bottom where these sharks forage. A three- or four-ounce weight is usually sufficient, unless there is a fast drift or extremely strong current.

Small sharks are great fun. They tend to hang out in schools, so when one is hooked, you can usually count on more in the vicinity. Most of these sharks have white tender flaky meat, which is pretty decent table fare. It is best to clean the shark at sea, then take it home and soak it in hot tap water for about 10 minutes. After a soaking in hot water, the skin will come off easily, and ammonia has leached out of the flesh.

My preference is to marinate small shark meat in citrus juice, such a tangelo, and barbecue it.

Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a new nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need.

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