Fly fishing for black sharks off the coast of South Carolina

“We are looking for an EF5 Sharknado,” Captain Gifford Scott said, unloading a 5-gallon bucket of bloodstained water over the cannon. “These little guys and gals don’t really cut it.” He scooped up another bucket of seawater, and palpated the bleeding pseudobulbs down the slope. Ten feet behind the boat, a pair of Spanish mackerels fluttered close to the surface, were without hook and clipped in a line from a rotating rod—their wings clipped to release an extra load of smell into the water. When the sharks came, Scott teased them with the friend, shaking the fish out of reach while a fly was thrown into the whirlpool.

Shrimp can be a magnet for birds, dolphins and sharks. Nick Roberts

When the sharks come… This is something I never wished for before. But last fall, my friend Nick Roberts and I spent half a day wishing the sharks would stay away from Cape Lookout, South Carolina. Blackhead pods smashed the pseudo-bacoor party, snatched three hooked fish into the boat, rips the fly lines, and scattered our target fish. At first it was exciting to see so many predators, but we soon got tired of missing out on the hard-earned albums. In the months that followed, we plotted revenge, and now here we are: off the coast of South Carolina, in my hand was a 14-pound fly rod, laden with a simple oversized blood-red fur fly, with greasy, bloodstained friendship baits swaying behind the boat. We put our backs to the sun so we can see the sharks coming.

“It’s funny,” said Roberts, sweeping the reels 50 feet behind the boat. “The thing you don’t suddenly want is the only thing you hope for.” We both stared at the ocean. “Come on, tax man,” said Roberts. “We are ready for you this time.”

You will need a larger fly rod

The tax man… the man in the gray suit… these are euphemisms born of a shark’s tendency to take a bite bigger than they’re worth — and may appear when you’re not welcome. A shark, for example, featured a roller skater, cigar color, with a pointed snout and stand only. I shrugged off the fly twice, turning away when it was inches from the hook. We knew the exercises. Sharks bite best when there is more than one. The competition infuriates them. And this was a fine-toothed shark, which tends not to participate in game fishing at all.

A fly fisherman fights a shark
The shark is on! Nick Roberts

But it wasn’t hard to find competition. Within a few miles, more than six shrimp trawlers were hauling the nets and plucking the catch. Behind them, glass-nosed dolphins sway in the slaughter spot. Gulls, terns, and pigeons. Sharks can’t miss the easy meal of dead and restless fish brought about by trawling, but it was about finding the boat that attracted the crowd.

Behind a second fishing vessel, Scott released the buddy’s joke. Two minutes later, the sharks appeared – one behind the boat, then another on the way to port, its fin stabbing the surface, more dangerous behavior. The first cast was right in front of the target – which wasn’t what I wanted. Sharks have eyes on the sides of their heads, so they don’t see well ahead. I picked up the fly and dropped it a second time, maybe 12 feet behind the boat, in front of the taxman and sped off to one side. Black head turned and arrow. I held my breath. Unlike most fish, a shark’s mouth can be up to half a foot from the tip of its nose. I watched the red fly disappear, and then, out of nowhere, the second shark nearly snatched the fly out of the first’s mouth.

In an instant, the water exploded. The stiff broom fly rod turned low as the shark snapped, and loosely coils the fly line in jerky loops until the line straightens and the spool goes up. The black end didn’t hit the brakes until it broke 150 feet of the fly-and-back line, then switched ends and charged the boat.

I gripped the bow, groggy furiously, then succumbed to the reel handle and stripped the flying line four feet at a time. The shark torpedo is under the boat, I barely cleared the bow, the fly rod is double bent, and I moved the fight to the other side.

The black-headed shark at the end of a battle
The black party appears to the surface near the end of a difficult battle. Nick Roberts

And that’s what I wanted: a big fish, a strong fish, a fighting fish. If anything, flying sharks is a solid practice of hunting feral animals like the tarpon or the golden dorado. (As I’ve ever fished for a golden dorado….) Sharks are ready and plentiful in my waters, and will jump, run, and burrow to the bottom. Like this, after a couple of burn cycles. Fighting a shark might be a decent position for a tarpon on the line, but at some point it becomes good practice to try and pull a sofa out of the water with a fly rod.

“Earth and pound,” Scott laughed, as the fight turned to the levitation process. “This is the game now. Be careful what you ask for.” But when the fish came to the surface and rolled to its side and my uncle cried at the boat, I’m glad I got what I came for. Quick photo and bonus – this shark is tagged, so we note the card number to be transferred to the state fisheries department.

Then Nick woke up. The friend’s bucket was ready. Sharks were feeding. Revenge was sweet, if costly. A new 14-pound shark penis should appear any day now.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: