By Paul Lewis
Salmon season has been in full swing, gorgeous chrome is being caught in the saltwater as well as the rivers in our area. As for me, well those that follow the NWFR magazine know that I have been in Charleston, South Carolina recently, meaning I am missing one of my favorite seasons, Salmon plunking! Plunking for salmon is a fantastic way to spend a morning or afternoon relaxing with the family on a sand bank, maybe make some food and then wait for a beautiful fish to bend your rod in half. Although I spend most of my time actively fishing in rivers with hardware or drifting, when my family goes to the riverbank to spend an afternoon, I always bring a plunking rod to throw out, and often get lucky.
In Charleston, plunking for salmon isn’t exactly an option, but there is still plunking to be had, so I changed my gear, grabbed some heavier rods, and went down to the beach to plunk for a different type of chrome, sharks! Shark fishing meets all the boxes of enjoying a day on the riverbank. It is relaxing, calming, and in the blink of an eye, things go from calm to crazy!
My shark adventure began just as a fantastic day plunking for salmon does, by clocking out of work, picking up my girlfriend, and heading down to the beach to spend a few hours sunbathing, enjoying a picnic dinner, and seeing if we can entice a shark into biting. Before we could eat dinner, we had to catch ourselves some bait on the light spinning gear we brought along. Our bait of choice was Southern kingfish and croaker, which we found willing to bite right in the surf line. Catching the kingfish and croaker is the same technique as surf perch fishing back home. We used a high-low rig with a small piece of shrimp or a “Fish-Bite” artificially scented bait strip to hook these fish, and once we had a few it was time to chunk them up and throw it out there! As a bonus, croaker and kingfish are delicious, so whatever bait we had left over became a future dinner.
Our rig for the shark was quite intimidating, as it consisted of an 8-ounce weight on a fish-finder rig, 6 feet of 100-lb mono leader, 8 inches of wire, and then finally a 9/0 circle hook. Needless to say, this was one challenging rig to cast. After wading out into the surf, wielding my 10-foot rod above my head, and casting towards the horizon, we were fishing! I put my rod in my sand spike, loosened the drag up so my rod wouldn’t be pulled into the Atlantic, and began the wait. By the size of the gear, it is understandable to think that we are fishing for giant sharks, but the 100lb leader is to save the braided mainline from the tail whip of a shark, which due to their rough skin abrades away quite easily without any shock leader. The target was sharks in the 25–50-pound rage, which we knew were in the area.
After about 15 minutes of soaking ½ a whiting, my rod bent in half and started screaming drag. I ran over, tightened down on the fish, and began to do battle with a beast! The first fish did not feel very much like the target species, but it was BIG. Sharks tend to take off fast on big runs, and this fish was suctioning to the bottom and only taking runs on occasion, which meant one thing: big stingray. After a quality fight, I landed a big southern stingray who engulfed the bait. A quick photo, careful work to remove the hook while minding the stinger on the tail, and a fast release, then it was back in the game for a shark.
After some fresh bait, and a tiring shoulder from casting 8-ounces over and over again, the wait was back on. About an hour later, the rod slammed down hard and drag was peeling. I went to tighten down, but not matter how hard I tightened down, drag kept peeling off. SHARK ON! It was an incredible battle, drag screaming, people watching, and finally, a gorgeous blacktip over 50 inches was on the beach. A fast photo and dehook, then a clean release, and it was mission accomplished. Being careful and working fast when handling shark is paramount to keeping the sharks healthy and alive after release. And just like that, it was mission accomplished. With another hour to be at the beach, my girlfriend and I elected to toss out a couple more baits and ended up landing another nice shark (fine tooth 45+ inches) and another fantastic ray.
It was a perfect relaxing evening on the beach, capped off with a gorgeous blacktip, a fine tooth, a couple rays, and a bunch of whiting and croaker in the surf, all while getting tan and enjoying a picnic dinner with my girlfriend, all in three hours. This shark adventure was the exact thing I needed to get my plunking fix while I am away from our fantastic salmon rivers. The gear was a little different, the rod was a little stiffer, and the general fish size was a little heavier, but it was the same principle and general technique was the same, bringing be back to the riverbank with my family. If you have time to plunk on the river this year, I highly recommend it! NWFR has some fantastic information on their website with plunking and river reports, give them a glance then hit the water!
Tight lines all!