Beach fishing: Catching sharks in the surf

Whalers in the surf

By Jamie Crawford

Ok, I realise that targeting toothy critters in the surf isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (and in some populated areas it’s simply out of the question), but in the right situation it can actually be a whole lot of fun. I’m quite partial to night-time beach fishing. We mainly target gummy sharks and smaller mulloway, but at the right time of year in our area we get some good bronze whalers frequenting our shoreline.

These whaler sharks average 4 to 5ft, and provide a heap of fun on light tackle in the surf. Occasionally we’ll hook a bigger whaler, but on the gear we use we generally get blown-away. Whaler sharks are definitely the harder-fighting inshore shark we have in SA - especially in the surf environment. The downside to whaler sharks; they have teeth so the use of wire is recommended which often eliminates other by-catch.

We recently did a gummy shark session on a remote beach here in SA, and as usual we arrived on the sand a few hours before sundown to set some berley and catch some fresh bait. Whaler sharks respond really well to a bit of berley and tuna oil, and it wasn’t long before we spied a mid-sized shadow cruising over the sandbar behind the first row of breaking waves.

December to February are peak whaler months here in SA, and from this early indication we would have a few sharks cruising around in our gutter on nightfall. Night time definitely sees these sharks move into shallower water for feeding, and if you see one or two cruising out wider, odds-on once the sun has set these sharks will push closer to shore.

We waited for the incoming time, which was set to peak at around 3am, and on our first cast we came up tight to an energetic 6½ footer. Sharks of this size are great to catch, and it wasn’t long before the hook was removed and the shark released. The action which followed was steady, with half a dozen hook-ups spanning over a 3 hour period, until the tide receded and the sharks pushed back into deeper water.

You do occasionally get lucky and pin a whaler shark using mono trace, but more often than not you will get bitten off if you’re not using a short length of wire. When rigging for whalers in the surf, I opt for an 80cm length of 1.0mm 7x7 stainless steel nylon coated wire. This wire isn’t too bulky, and would never get bitten through for the size of sharks we target. From here I have a 1 metre length of heavier mono of around 80lb (to act as a shock leader), with 8kg mainline thereafter. I use a 9/0 SS sports J hook at the business end, with a surf sinker located at the end of the shock leader to hold the bait in the surf.

You will need a good casting outfit, as sometimes the deeper sections of the gutter will lay a distance from shore. I have a Calcutta CT400 loaded with 8kg mono, and coupled to an 11ft surf rod of 8 – 10kg, it provides a lot of fun on these sharks.


Fresh baits

Fresh baits including salmon fillets are gun baits for whalers in the surf.

Jamie with a 25kg Whaler

Author Jamie Crawford with a 25kg Whaler Shark

Rex with a chunky 40kg whaler

Rex Bichard with a chunky 40kg Whaler prior to release.