Story by Tom P

And the bays, too!

“Holy bleep!” puffed the exhausted, sweat-soaked, overweight and muscle-flabby rod holder (me) as the fish made yet another run out and then southward down the beach towards Ship Bottom. The exchange had just nudged past the 20-minute mark, and the finned submarine at the business end of the wire leader had no intentions of calling it quits yet.

Perhaps it was a prayer from my cardiologist that was answered by a higher authority, but the creature mercifully cut in towards the sands and was soon in the wash, its dorsal fin poking into the moonlit night.

“A brownie, probably 55, maybe 60 pounds,” announced the tanned savior as he dragged the fish onto the wet beach and wrested the hook from the tooth-studded jaws with a set of long nose pliers before turning it around and loosing it back into the suds. An authoritative wiggle and thrust of its tail, and the brown shark was gone. I was on my knees doing a novena by then.

Such was my introduction to after dark “beach sharking” during the summertime swelter way back in the mid-Nineties, courtesy of a surfer dude who would occasionally see browns while on his board during dawn and early evening wave running sorties. He and a couple of compadres soon figured that the predators patrolling the shallows were searching for sustenance, and with some tweaking and fine-tuning to tackle and baits, they began catching sharks from terra firma.

Actually, seeking sharks in the suds has been going on a long time, catching on along Garden State beaches in the early Nineties. California, Texas, Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas…all were surfside hotspots for the likes of brown, dusky, tiger, sand tiger and hammerhead sharks since the Sixties, maybe even earlier.

To imply that the popularity of the big-game-from-the-beach is growing exponentially along the Jersey coast would be an understatement, as sands from Manasquan to Cape May host increasing numbers of anglers looking to mix it up with browns, sand tigers, giant smooth dog fish (sand sharks) and maybe the rare-but-there thresher or hammerhead. A kid mako? Maybe.

“Anything is possible after dark in the surf. And even during the day,” observes Jim Fee, editor of On The Water magazine who pioneered shark fishing from a ‘yak just beyond the breakers, again, back in the early Nineties while working the counter at a big-time tackle shop in Ocean City.

Continued Fee, “If the tourist mommies knew what was swimming within 75 to 100 yards of the beach, they probably would not let their kids in the water!”

What’s it take to tangle with sharks along the Jersey shore? Stout tackle in the form of a 10 to 12-foot rod, a guts-laden reel such as the Penn Clash or Slammer that can hold 250-350 yards of 65-lb. test braided line, a long surf spike and a rig sporting a wire leader attached to an 8/0-10/0 circle or J-hook. Sinkers, based on conditions, will range from 4 to 8 ounces, sometimes 10 ounces when it’s especially gnarly.

Bait is in the form of fresh or salted bunker, salted mackerel, whole squid or bluefish chunks.

The rod is situated in a long (at least 36-inch) sand spike, and the drag set a bit loose to give the telltale buzz of a take. Then, the fun starts.

Not all toothsome action is relegated to after hours. Taylor (see photo), along with fellow shark sister Colby, catch browns while clad in bikinis from the Surf City suds soaking fresh whole calamari under the midday sol. Away from the designated swimming areas, of course.

Says Taylor, “Search out the deeper sloughs and holes and get a bait in there. Sharks are cruising all the time and prefer the deeper spots. They’ll grab a bait if it’s there. Sun, surf and shark fishing. It doesn’t get any better than that!”

Bayside Bullies: Bobby Erickson (see photo), a pro staffer for the Temple Fork Outfitters rod company, a part-timer at Surf City Bait & Tackle, and surf sharker supreme reminds all not to ignore the big fish opportunities afforded by Barnegat and Great bays.

“Sand tigers and browns will run the channels at night. Some channels can be reached on foot slogging over the marshy salt meadows, and others by boat. And live eels are the best bait in the back,” he advises.

Contacts: For additional information about this dynamic hot night fishery, call the following.

Grumpy’s Bait & Tackle (Seaside Park): 732-830-1900; Surf City Bait & Tackle (Surf City): 609-494-2333; Fisherman’s Headquarters (Ship Bottom): 609-494-5739.

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