Welcome to our “How to Catch Sharks Guide” where we cover shark fishing in Florida from a boat, pier, and shore. Is it legal to catch sharks and keep them in Florida? It is. There are regulations that must be followed, but there are a few species that you can target because they are plentiful in the Gulf and Atlantic side of Florida. Catching sharks is exciting and a bit dangerous, so many people want to try it. Here is your complete guide.
[Page Updated – 26 July 2021. Bookmark this page (Windows CNTRL+D, MAC CMD+D) so you don’t lose it.]
SHARK FISHING GUIDE
- Size: 10/10 stars
- Fight: 10/10 stars
- Difficulty to Catch: 8/10 stars
- Taste: 0/10 stars
INDEX to Sections in this Guide:
- Shark FACTS
- Legal Sharks / Prohibited Sharks
- WHY catch them?
- WHERE are they found?
- What do they EAT?
- HOW to catch them?
- WHEN is best to fish for them?
- GEAR? (our best recommendations)
- Shark LAWS in Your State
- Does anyone COOK and EAT IT?
OH – and don’t miss the SHARK STORY I have for you at the bottom of this page.
Legal Species to Target: We cover the range of legal sharks to catch in Florida. See below.
Appearance: Sharks have their own look and you’re probably very familiar with their general shape. They have a large head that holds their usually massive jaws, and they are usually thicker than other fish in proportion to their length. Body morphology is easy to notice. Sharks have large tails and very strong fins and range from a foot long (at birth) to 25 feet and possibly more.
Coloration is usually some shade of grey, ranging from light to dark. Some have dark bands, like the Tiger Shark.
Some sharks have unique features that help identify them, like the Thresher which has a long whip-like tail it uses to stun/kill prey.
Length: Hammerheads can grow to 20 feet long and weigh over 1,000 lbs. Tiger sharks can reach up to 25 feet in length and they can weigh 1,900 lbs.
Weight: The heaviest Great Whites can reach over 5,000 lbs. according to National Geographic, though their length peaks at about 21 feet. These are some thick sharks.
Range/Distribution: All over Florida coastal waters.
Habitat: What kinds of areas do they prefer to live? Sharks have adapted to many different ocean habitats. Some prefer shallow regions like popular beaches, where they cruise slowly over sand. Others prefer reefs and other structure. Others like the Great White will roam thousands of miles over the course of a year. Have you ever seen the Great Whites with GPS trackers on them? Check out this map of where a big Bull Shark has traveled recently. Kind of scary to see it so close to shore, isn’t it?
It was this species of shark that I had a run-in with while wade-fishing with my girlfriend at a state park in St. Petersburg. Read about it at the bottom of the page.
Diet: Sharks eat what they can find and feed on easily. This means anything dead or dying as well as smaller fish and invertebrates like octopus and squid — especially injured and bleeding marine life. Large ones can prey on seals and big turtles.
Which Sharks Can You Catch Legally?
Books to help you Identify Florida Sharks: #1 | #2 | #3 Identifying them can be very difficult. It is probably best to choose about five of them to know very well and hope you catch one of those if you want to keep it. Otherwise, the fines are steep for not identifying correctly and choosing to keep a prohibited shark.
GROUP #1 – No minimum size limit.
- Atlantic Sharpnose (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) – small shark up to about 3.9 feet.
- Blacknose (Carcharhinus acronotus) – a small shark up to 4.3 feet.
- Blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus) – maximum length 4.9 feet.
- Bonnethead (Sphyrna tiburo) – maximum length about 5 feet long. These sharks have different headshape for males vs. females (sexual dimorphism).
- Finetooth (Carcharhinus isodon) – grows up to about 6.2 feet.
- Smooth Dogfish (Mustelus canis) – also called the Dusky Smoothound Shark that grows up to 5 feet long. Pic.
- Florida Smoothhound (Mustelus norrisi – also called the Narrowfin Smoothhound Shark grows up to about 5 feet long.
- Gulf Smoothhound (Mustelus sinusmexicanus) – grows to about 5 feet long.
GROUP #2 – Minimum of 54 inch (nose to fork in tail) length.
- Bull (Carcharhinus leucas) – grows to a maximum length of about 11 feet.
- Nurse (Ginglymostoma cirratum) – grow to a maximum length of about 9 feet.
- Spinner (Carcharhinus brevipinna) – maximum length of 9.8 feet.
- Blue (Prionace glauca) – maximum length of 12 feet.
- Oceanic Whitetip (Carcharhinus longimanus) – maximum length about 13 feet. Pic.
- Porbeagle (Lamna nasus) – maximum length about 8.2 feet. Pic.
- Thresher (common) (Alopias vulpinus) – maximum length at 20 feet. Pic.
GROUP #3 has One SHARK – Minimum of 83 inch (fork length) minimum length.
- Shortfin Mako (Isurus oxyrinchus) – maximum length of 13 feet. Pic.
IUCN Redlist Status: All the sharks listed above are classified as “Least Concern (LC)” at the IUCN Redlist, the organization which keeps track of endangered and threatened species around the globe. The sharks listed exist in a healthy population with high numbers around Florida, otherwise, official Florida websites would remove them from the legally targeted list.
Because IDENTIFICATION is so difficult, here is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission page for 21 Sharks you may catch in Florida. This is STILL not enough information to identify most of them, so you will need to get one or two of the books listed above.
Prohibited Sharks for Harvesting in Florida Waters
Atlantic angel (Squatina dumeril), Basking (Cetorhinus maximus), Bigeye sand tiger (Odontaspis noronhai), Bigeye sixgill (Hexanchus nakamurai), Bigeye thresher (Alopias vulpinus), Bignose (Carcharhinus altimus), Caribbean reef (Carcharhinus perezii), Caribbean sharpnose shark (Rhizoprionodon porosus), Dusky (Carcharhinus obscurus), Galapagos (Carcharhinus galapagensis), Great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran), Lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris), Longfin mako (Isurus paucus), Narrowtooth (Carcharhinus brachyurus), Night (Carcharhinus signatus), Sandbar (Carcharhinus plumbeus), Sand tiger (Odontaspis taurus), Scalloped hammerhead (Sphryna lewini), Sevengill (Heptranchias perlo), Silky (Carcharhinus falciformis), Sixgill shark (Hexanchus griseus), Smalltail (Carcharhinus porosus), Smooth hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena), Spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias), Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), Whale (Rhincodon typus), White (Carcharodon carcharias).
As you can see, the list of prohibited species is longer than the list of those allowed to be kept while fishing. There are very few of us (myself included) that will bother to learn how all of these fish look and be able to expertly identify them when caught. However, Florida State Law demands this of anglers. So, if you’re wrong, you’re wrong and the fines are always very high for taking illegal fish.
Just another reason not to keep them at all.
Keep in mind, all of these sharks must not come out of the water, their gills must remain submerged during the letting go process. You will likely need long-handled hook remover in addition to the mandated wire cutters to cut wire leader or hooks to quickly release these prohibited species.
The largest shark ever caught in the world was a 3,450 lb. Great White Shark caught off the coast of Montauk, New York by Donnie Braddick. Unfortunately, the gigantic shark didn’t qualify for a record because the strength of the line was too great (150 lb. test) and the governing body, International Game Fish Association (IGFA), ruled that the record still belonged to one caught in Australia in 1959 that was 2,664 pounds because the maximum strength line allowed for the record is 130 lb. test. Seems a bit silly, doesn’t it? The 130 lb. test limit was chosen arbitrarily… but I guess they used that standard for decades and so now cannot change it.
The biggest one to ever be caught and recorded in Florida waters was off the coast of Pensacola and it was a big Tiger Shark. The shark was caught by Richard Baggs on June 20, 1981 and weighed 1,069.06 lbs.
What is the Biggest Shark to Ever Swim the Ocean?
The Megalodon was a massive 60 foot long shark that existed here on earth up until around 3 million years ago.
Why Catch them at all?
They will put up a great fight. They have a lot of energy and they can get heavy, as in REAL HEAVY. Keep in mind, if you want to go for a record, don’t use any line heavier than 130 lb. test or the IGFA will invalidate your catch!
Through bioaccumulation, they can build up dangerous levels of mercury—a toxic chemical that affects the brain and nervous system of humans. They eat many smaller fish and animals that have mercury in them and they accumulate the toxins. It’s probably not a good idea to eat them except once or twice as a novelty.
Catching sharks is a real adventure, and some people love to head out on the water for a few days at a time and target the big ones. They are very elusive and require a huge commitment in time, money, and perseverance.
Catching smaller ones is as easy as loading up your beach rod with a dead catfish and a big hook and strong line. I’ve caught many of them on purpose and by accident while fishing inshore around Tampa Bay, Clearwater, Ft. Desoto, and piers around our lovely state.
Where To Find them?
Around shore. You can find them within casting distance of the shore in many places. Just about anywhere in a bay, you can find them. I’ve caught so many without even targeting them that they’ve become annoying at times. Especially while wade-fishing and catching small hammerheads. That’s a weird feeling. Where is momma hammerhead?
I think the best place you can find sharks from the shore is from a pier. Many people fish with cut bait and dead fish, and the sharks come into the pier to pick up all they can eat. Many anglers aren’t using line strong enough to reel one in, so their bait is stolen and they swim around with hooks in their mouths. Not ideal, but that’s the state of the hobby, isn’t it?
My favorite way to catch a shark is to catch a ladyfish or some other trash-fish of some size. I kill it and throw it on a huge hook and use my Shark rod – a super-strong heavy action rod with a PENN baitcasting reel and 300 yards of 80 lb. braided line. Freshly caught dead fish will work best for them in my own experience, but I haven’t tried much else because I always caught them by accident on that.
If you’re looking to catch huge ons like Tigers, Bullsharks, and even Great Whites, your best chance will be taking a boat out into deep water (100 feet or more) and stop over a reef or other structure. Start chumming to bring them in. Another way you can do it is to look for whale carcass. Big sharks will feed off a whale carcass for days, even weeks because it’s an ample source of food that isn’t going anywhere or fighting back.
When Is the Best Time to Catch them?
Generally summer when the water is warming up and all fish are more active in Florida waters.
What Do they Eat?
The best bait for is a fatty, oily fish like Spanish Mackerel, ladyfish, bluer runners (bluefish), or mullet. You could really use any fish if you mangle it up a bit and dip it in some menhaden oil. Sharks love an easy meal like any injured or slow moving fish, a squid or octopus in the open, an eel, or anything already dead. Fish, squid, crabs, crustaceans. I don’t know anyone catching them on artificial lures. It’s always best to use something bloody or bleeding, soaked in chum, and a big hook like starting at 9/0.
How to Catch them – Techniques
From a Small Boat, Kayak, Canoe, or Skiff
Though not recommended, many anglers get the biggest thrill by catching impossibly huge fish like marlin, tarpon, and sharks from a kayak or other small boat. I’ve caught big fish by accident on my Kayak and I couldn’t get out of my head just how dangerous it was to have the big bleeding fish next to the boat while figuring out how to pull it in without capsizing. I think it’s less than ideal, but you might be keen on it.
Use a strong baitcasting reel with at least 60 lb. test braided line (I’d use 80-100) and a strong 100 lb. wire leader and toss out a dead mullet or ladyfish or something else you aren’t going to eat. Freeline it if the current isn’t horrible. Add a heavy sinker if the tide is ripping. I’ve caught sharks on the bottom and topwater, they’re pretty much everywhere in Florida, though I have more luck fishing the bottom for them.
You may want to chum, but I think better not to from a small kayak. The last thing you want is your kayak surrounded by Bulls or some other aggressive big species. Have you seen the video of the guy chased by what he calls a huge Tiger?
Here are a couple videos that might make you reconsider shark fishing from a small boat:
Fishing from the Shore
As I said earlier, just throw on a dead fish and toss it out there. Make sure you have heavy-duty line over 60 lb. test – braided, preferably. From the shore it’s better than from a pier because you’ll be able to let the shark go easily after catching it. Well, relatively easily. Make sure you know all about the catch and release regulations in place. We have a section at the bottom of this page.
Shark Fishing from a Pier?
They’re all around the piers and you won’t have trouble finding one with a dead fish freelined or sunk to the bottom with some weight. Catching them from a pier isn’t ideal because it isn’t easy to let it go if not keeping it. When you catch them from a pier, you have a couple choices once you hook one.
Choice #1 – get down to the shore at the end of the pier and let the it go as you would if catching it from the shore.
Choice #2 – Bring it in as close as possible to the pier and cut the line. Not ideal for a number of reasons, like polluting the ocean with more line and a hook in the mouth of the shark that will take a while to rust enough to fall out.
Choice #3 – If you’re going to keep it (and why would you?) you could drop a large treble hook gaff down to the shark on a strong rope, put it underneath, and pull up to gaff the shark and lift it up to the pier. You’d better be real sure you identified it correctly!
When Is the Best Time to Catch them?
Really, anytime. Sharks are active all year round, though they are more plentiful in the summer months when the water is warm. Maybe more active during the warmer months as well. The best time to go catch them is any day of the week you can get away from the rat race.
Gear – Big, Tough Tackle Necessary
I prefer the smaller rods that don’t have as much flex, but they have limited use for other fishing, so if you’re on a budget you’ll want to get a rod that has more flex and can be used for heavy fish like sharks as well as lighter fish like kings, tuna, mahi, wahoo, or something else of that same size.
We recommend the following short rod at just 61 inches. Super-sturdy and good for 50-80 lb. test line
Fiblink Heavy Rod for Catching Sharks from the Boat
Baitcasting / Trolling Reels
I think baitcasting reels are best for medium-sized sharks in the 2 to 6 foot range. For something bigger, you might be better off with a large trolling rig if fishing from a boat. It’s always better to have too heavy gear than too light gear. Heavy gear is expensive, but if you enjoy catching the big fish, you’ll need to bite the bullet and pay the money for quality gear.
Please just buy the best reel you can afford. Rods are cheaper, you might choose to skimp a little bit, but definitely have some standing by for when you break your economy rod. Reels I don’t mess with any longer.
Best Shark Trolling Reel, Made in America (Philadelphia, PA.)
Best Spinning Reel? The DOGFIGHT – expensive, and really, probably more than anyone besides pros want to pay. Check it out and see if it’s within your budget. If not, get the trolling reel above.
Sixty pound (60#) braided line is the starting point for catching sharks in Florida on rod and reel. Personally, I’d go with 80# and heavier, braided line. Remember, you’re going to need a couple of hundred yards of it. Three hundred if your reel can take it. There’s just no way around it, spending money on quality line and hooks is essential if you want to catch big fish.
The following braided fishing line is good for any small one. Remember to use about 19 inches (or more) of strong wire leader of 100 lb. test or so.
This braided line works great for shark hunts, Sixty-five lb. Braided.
Sixty-five-pound Braided Line by PP, the top manufacturer (500 yds) – this amount good for spooling a couple of reels.
Don’t forget the strong LEADER!
100 lb. wire leader is essential because shark teeth are extremely sharp and they’ll snap anything monofilament. Here is our recommendation. This one is sometimes sold out. Get about ten of them for each rod/reel combo you’ll dedicate to them.
100 lb. Wire Leader – necessary for sharks and other toothy fish like wahoo, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, and barracuda.
The best hooks are non-stainless steel tournament legal circle hooks which are inline. These are NOT OFFSET. Offset hooks for targeting sharks in Florida is illegal. See below. For sharks, you’ll need a wide gap and ultra high-tech manufacturing to ensure the hook doesn’t bend or snap. A shark can pull similar to and even more than a big amberjack. Don’t get inferior (cheaper) hooks and possibly lose the catch of a lifetime.
Top Vanadium Steel Hooks Recommendation – simply the best.
What Size Hooks Are Best for Sharks?
- Small size around or under 5 feet: Use 9/0 hooks.
- Medium-sized of 5-7 feet: Use 12/0 hooks, they are the right size.
- Large ones over 7 feet: Use a 16/0 up to a 20/0 hook which can handle any size shark.
Harvesting Laws in Florida
Legal Gear for Harvesting Sharks
- Fishing with rod, reel, and line only.
- Circle hooks NOT made of stainless steel, and not offset. Only INLINE hooks may be used. To see the difference, go to this video and look at the image that pops up on the right a few seconds after Sam explains verbally what offset vs. inline hooks are. The crucial part of the video begins HERE. At the :40 second mark of that video there is an image of an offset hook that pops up on the right side of the video. That is the ILLEGAL KIND.
Florida State Gear Requirements for Shark Fishing
The state of Florida has strict limits on what gear you may use to target fish you intend to harvest (keep).
- Use a single hook and traditional fishing line (and wire leaders) only. Anglers may NOT keep sharks caught by treble hook or other multi-barbed hook (having a common shaft) whether using live or dead fish or other as bait.
- Hooks which are not offset and not made of stainless steel (which don’t rust quickly) are to be used when using live or dead bait from the shore or a boat.
- Wire cutters or other device which can cut a hook, wire leader, or line must be possessed by anglers when fishing from the shore or a boat.
Other Florida State Requirements for Shark Fishing
- Sharks must remain whole while on the boat. Must have head, tail, and fins. Gutting and bleeding can take place once caught.
- No chumming from shore when targeting them.
These are extensive, and basically cover any angler who might catch a shark by accident.
If fishing from the shore, pier, dock, or any structure attached to land, you must pass this Shark Course to get a free permit. This is in addition to any other fishing permit you are required to have due to Florida residency, age, etc.
Who Must Take the Shark Course?
- YOU, If you plan to keep sharks taken from the shore or any structure attached to the shore (piers, bridges, etc.)
- YOU, if you are exempt from having any fishing license due to age – you still need the Shark Course permit.
- YOU, if you are 16 yrs or more and plan to fish for ANY SPECIES OF FISH and will be A.) Using a metal leader more than 4 feet long. B.) Using a fighting belt or harness to brace your back. C.) If you’re using a kayak to deploy a hook that is 1.5 inches wide or more at the widest inside distance.
- YOU, if you are under 16 and not fishing with someone else who already has the Shore-based Shark Fishing permit.
In other words, just go take the short online course. It’s free and you’ll be protected from any overly ambitious marine patrol officers on the water.
An angler can have 1 shark on a boat at any one time. There can be no more than 2 total sharks on a boat, no matter how many legal anglers are on the boat. Always check the latest laws at the Official Florida Game and Fish Commission here before you fish.
What If You Catch a Tagged Shark?
While fishing you may catch a shark with a plastic tag in it. These are research tags from scientists trying to learn more about their behavior. Please take a moment to record this information from the tag. Take a couple mobile photos of it and measure it if you can do it safely and in the water if you’re not keeping it. Make sure you record the Tag #, Type, Color. Species and sex. Date of find. Location caught, use exact GPS coordinates if possible. Google Maps gives you this in the URL once you find a place, so try that. Length and weight of Shark and whether measured or estimated. How measured the length? Fishing method – rod and reel, longline, etc. Release condition. Name, mailing address, phone, and email address.
Report information by phone: (877) 826-2612 toll-free, or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get the Fishing App
If fishing from 3 to 200 nautical miles off the coast of Florida, Georgia, South or North Carolina, you can use this mobile application to stay up to date on the fishing rules on the Atlantic Coast.
How to Cook them?
Do you REALLY want to cook a shark to eat? There are so many more delicious fish to try, and most of them without dangerous levels of mercury stored inside.
I’ve never cooked one, so I wouldn’t even know where to start. Here is a link to a recipe you might try. Please, consider that sharks likely have even more mercury in them than kingfish or marlins because they can live so long.
It’s funny, in all my years of fishing, I’ve never even been OFFERED shark to eat. Nobody really does it. This lady is doing it though! It’s a shame she has no warning about mercury content at the end of that page. Well, you know anyway!
Shark Story! (You don’t want to miss this)
So I’m wade-fishing in Ft. Desoto Park in St. Petersburg down by the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. It’s a beautiful sunny day for a while and then it turns cloudy and gloomy, but still nice and warm. I think it was October. My girlfriend was with me. This was her first time wade-fishing. She was prepared for it, I gave her the run down. I made sure she had closed toed shoes. I’ll probably tell the story here eventually about how I stepped on a stingray in my bare feet in Clearwater one time while wade fishing. Anyway…
We’re catching Gator Trout. I love big Gator Trout… the soft flakey flesh when broiled and basted in butter is one of my favorites. I can taste it now! They’re biting like mad in the grass out in front of us and we have caught about five fish already. I have a bucket of shrimp with a battery aerator attached to my neck with a stringer rope. I have a floating bucket of gear that we may need as we fish. I have nowhere to put the trout so I put them on a stringer and put the other end around my arm for a bit. That doesn’t work as the stringer keeps dropping off my arm.
In about twenty minutes I’m standing a good 10 feet in front of my girlfriend when I feel something under the water slam into my thigh and then she also slams me from behind shortly after. I mean she knocks into me hard and I almost go down, knocked off balance. I watch as she continues by me with a look of absolute terror and panic on her face and she’s frantically clawing at the stringer rope to get it off her neck.
Because I put it there. Because I thought, she could at least carry SOMETHING.
It took me about 1 second to realize what was happening. She was being pulled by a bull shark or other decent size shark that just had dinner on us and was pulling on that stringer hard enough to drag her forward into the deeper water where she couldn’t swim. I forgot to mention that, she wasn’t any sort of swimmer!
Both of us work like mad to get the stringer off her neck and finally we are successful! She was in total shock as she realized what happened. She fished from shore from that point on, but I figured we didn’t have any fish in the water, I was fine, so I kept catching trout out there by the grass about 30 yards off the beach.
One to tell the kids I guess. Not our kids, we broke up soon after, but I’ll tell someone’s kids someday.
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
- IUCN Redlist – The International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
- NOAA Apex Predator Tagging Program
All images from Dreamstime stock photo agency and used within limits of license.
More Fishing Guides with All You Need to Know
Fishing Tacklebox Essentials
Fish Scale (Digital and up to 110 lbs.)
Florida Fishing Identification Booklet – 5×7″ Laminated (Waterproof)