The rising water temperatures bring in hordes of bait, including glass minnows, threadfin herring and large pilchards, all of which will take up residency in the nearshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico and along passes and outside islands. While the sharks are not necessarily feeding on these baitfish primarily, they certainly find the fish chasing these baitfish to their liking. Spanish mackerel, bonito, kingfish, jacks and host of other predatory fish have the sharks' interests.
The basic tackle setup is fairly easy and relatively moderately priced. Tackle is certainly key as you need to properly outfit yourself to not over-fatigue the fish or cause harm to yourself, so definitely have some stout spinning gear ready. One or two combos in the 7-foot range that can accommodate a 6000-to 8000-sized reel spooled with 50- to 65-pound braided line will suffice. On the working end of your braided line, look to have a 3-foot wire leader with a quality offset circle hook, 9\0 or larger, that has a large gap size to the hook. Keep in mind that if the gap of the circle hook is too small, your hook runs the risk of turning into the bait resulting in missed hook ups.
Now that your gear is in order, bait and chum are paramount, so put in the time to acquire it. Spanish mackerel, large mullet, jack crevalle and ladyfish are all excellent shark baits and can be some fun fishing to aquire, especially with kids aboard. Remember that Spanish mackerel must be at least 12 inches and remain in whole condition. Once loaded up, have a few chum blocks and/or some of the many liquid or dry chums that are now available on the market. These alternatives to traditional frozen chum blocks are less messy yet just as effective if not more so.
Stake out transition areas that act as highways for baitfish and predatory fish. Large passes and bottleneck openings with deep water access and current flow are excellent choices. Areas such as Dismal Key Pass or the areas in and around Whitehorse Key quickly come to mind as top summertime shark spots, as do the countless river mouths to the south of the region. Once in your area, set anchor to allow your baits to drift with the tide and deploy your chum so that your slick is taken by the tide. An outgoing tide in these areas is tough to beat as the chum slick will make its way offshore to draw sharks from the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Such a tide will also flush the bait out of the backcountry to waiting predators.
If conditions are right and chum is flowing well with the tide, it should take less than 30 minutes to get your first hookup. I generally set my rods in a rod holder and as the fish picks up the bait and makes its initial run, simply remove the rod from the holder, keep a nice bend in the rod and simply let that fish run. The initial run is generally the strongest and if your drag is set properly and your rod angle is correct, the rod and the reel's drag will do all the work. Once that fish tires and/or turns, now is your time to employ your angling skills and retrieve some line. Remind yourself and anglers on board not to reel against the drag as the fish is running and to only retrieve line when the shark allows you. The old angling method of "reel down" and "pull up without reeling" is a tried-and-true method when battling large fish, including sharks.
Once the shark is subdued and boat side, take pictures with it in the water. These are certainly sufficient and recommended if you have little to no experience handling sharks. I highly suggest purchasing a long, quality hook remover rather than simply cutting the leader. I have long believed that the old saying, "The hook will rust out," is less of a truth than a false comfort. It is my belief, supported by documented catch-and-release data, that while a circle hook can indeed rust out, it may take years to do so. So please, take the time to properly remove the hooks from these apex predators.
BEST BET 10,000 ISLANDS
The nearshore permit bite should be strong all month, so take advantage of it by hitting the many public wrecks and reefs in the region. Focus on those that have a bit higher relief such as the Kidd to find the most active populations of permit. It is hard to beat the tried and true choice of blue crabs as a bait selection when targeting these drag screamers, so call around to area bait shops to see who has an ample stock.
Caption: Mike and Jeanette Campos caught the beautiful snook on a live pilchard off the beaches of Marco Island.