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Now’s the time to fish offshore for that big shark

By Staff | Jun 18, 2021

Some local anglers with good catches of snapper and grouper caught 80 miles off Sanibel. PHOTO PROVIDED

I barely managed to step out of the way as the wide-eyed angler at the back of the boat shot by me in a flash attached to something very big and very powerful, suddenly becoming the man at the front of the boat and possibly overboard and eaten, before finally loosening his drag on the big reel, which he had been instructed to not touch or readjust.

Want to tangle with a pull-ya-outta-the-boat sized critter that has the potential to take you home for dinner? Timing is often everything and in Southwest Florida, it’s the right time and place to tangle with a really big shark or maybe even catch and eat a smaller one.

Light tackle enthusiasts get in on the fun as well this time of year, with live and dead bait, artificial and fly rod presentations in knee-deep water.

For size we’ve got some world class fish roaming our waters — some so large they feed on smaller sharks and that can bite a good sized tarpon in half.

There are nine species of hammerhead sharks, the largest being S. mokarran or the great hammerhead. In 1981, Craig Balsinger set an IGFA 80-pound test hammerhead world record with a 544.8-pound fish caught from Boca Grande Pass.

Capt. George Tunison

The 130-pound test record belongs to Bucky Dennis who fought a 1,280-pound monster in 2006, also caught at Boca Grande.

If you’re a fan of really big shark catches, check out the YOU TUBE clip featuring pro golfer Greg Norman aboard his 41-foot sport fisherman, fishing the blacktip spawn along the coast. Norman hooks and fights a good 6-foot-long blacktip shark while drone footage from above shows a massive hammerhead closing in and swallowing whole, his 6-foot hooked blacktip.

After towing the big boat and Norman somehow surviving the long fight, they finally manage to get it alongside and got a measurement before reviving and releasing this giant, which measured 14 1/2 feet long and estimated at over 1,200 pounds, possibly a world record on hook and line using a live, 6-foot blacktip as bait.

If you want to harvest a shark for the grill, the FWC website lists 8 species as “Retainable with a 54-inch fork length” and 7 with no minimum size limit. The list of prohibited take species is quite long so make sure you’re able to ID what you’ve caught before heading in.

Shoreline shark fishing rules went into effect in 2019 which requires the shore-based sharker to obtain a permit and understand the gear and shark handling requirements. Check out MyFWC for details.

If you do harvest a shark, you are allowed to remove the gills and guts but the fish must otherwise remain in whole condition. By all means clean the shark and add lots of ice ASAP to get the best flavor later on the plate.

If toxic algae fish kills and smelly clogged canals have you down in the dumps, head west to the horizon for some beautiful blue water. Big red snapper and grouper are welcome catches and yours for the taking if you can find your way out to the 80 to 120-foot depths which means 80 or more miles off Sanibel Island.

The rainy season is here and the new off-shore small craft boater should learn right away to not push it when it comes to approaching storms on the shallow Gulf of Mexico. With today’s bay boats equipped with a 300 hp motor, it’s easy to travel 60 miles or more offshore rather quickly on a calm day, but in a sudden violent storm that 24-footer might not be enough boat to get you and your crew back to port.

Get out early and get back in is the obvious best advice. Don’t take the crew down to catch “just one more!”

The photo below shows local anglers with good catches of snapper and grouper caught 80 miles off Sanibel.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. You can contact him at 239-282-9434 or