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Sharks have always been there, but the reality is that the number of sharks in our waters have increased dramatically.

By Fred Golofaro  |  July 20, 2020
Sand tigers sport a gnarly set of teeth.

Sharks have always roamed the waters surrounding Long Island. In the past it was primarily an offshore fishery although I can go back half a century and recount incidents and first hand experiences of sharks occurring in our inshore waters, including Long Island Sound and South Shore bays. I have seen a great white less than 200 yards off the beach between Gilgo and Tobay. I once tried to bait an estimated 400-pound mako that was feeding on a school of small bluefish east of the Fire Island Coast Guard Station inside Great South Bay, and watched six to eight foot sharks moving under the lights off of the station’s dock. And there were always reports of surfcasters in Montauk having sharks go after fish on their stringers.

Yes, the sharks have always been there, but the reality is that the number of sharks in our waters has increased dramatically. Federal regulations protecting sandbar (brown) sharks, sand tigers and dusky sharks have no doubt contributed to the increase. Surf fishermen have been relying on bunker chunks to catch bass and blues during the summer doldrums for as long as I can remember. Hooking a shark, excluding dogfish and sand sharks, was a rarity until the last few seasons. These days, reports of casters hooking as many as ten sharks in one night are no longer surprising. Most are sand tigers and sandbars, but there have been dusky, and small threshers and makos beached as well.

The protected status of these sharks means they can’t be targeted, but anglers hoping for a bass or blue cannot avoid hooking them. As a result, they have beefed up their terminal tackle to avoid the frequent bite-offs from sharks. If you do hook and land one of these sharks, regulations require you do not remove it from the water. No dragging the shark ashore for photos and a fleeting moment of Instagram fame unless you want to get a call from DEC or NOAA. The best practice is to cut the leader and let the shark swim off. Their strong digestive juices will make short work of the hook. The safest way to remove a hook from a shark is with a long handled hook disgorger. You should avoid using stainless hooks for any chunking you do. In fact, shark fishing regulations require only non-stainless, non-offset circle hooks be used, and I suggest you follow these guidelines for all of your chunking. Given the new striped bass regulations where fish over 35 inches must be released, these circle hooks will also give big stripers a better chance for survival when released. In 2021, circle hooks become mandatory when targeting striped bass with bait.

Sand tigers and sandbars are not the only sharks on the increase along our shores. The East End of the Island has been identified as a nursing ground for great whites and numerous pups weighing 300 to 600 pounds have been recorded in Montauk’s near shore waters the past couple of years. The rapidly expanding seal population at the point has resulted in an increased number of great whites prowling East End waters. That should be of far greater concern than the large numbers of sandbar and sand tigers cruising the Island’s South Shore beaches. Last season, wetsuiter John Bruno had an estimated 50-inch striper bitten in half while perched on a south side rock. Another caster reported a couple of 10 to 12 footers cruising the shoreline, while another surfcaster beat off an aggressive seven footer with his rod butt. Just last week, Steve Petri from Bob’s Bait & Tackle came across several 20-pound class stripers washed up on the beach in the Fire Island area that had been bitten in half by guess what.

So sharks are now very much of the beach scene and if you are going to target blues and stripers with chunk baits like bunker and mackerel, be prepared to do battle with some toothy critters. Before hitting the beach, you should check out the current recreational fishing regulations pertaining to sharks at: https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/fish_marine_pdf/fishlimitssharks.pdf