I was recently introduced to a fish that reminded me of
my limitations. It was certainly a shock. More than a quarter
of a century fly fishing hard for all manner of fish from
brookies to billfish, and this particular quarry left me with
wrecked flies, wrecked leaders, wrecked line and
pathetically wrecked ego.
Actually, it's a nice change to have the complacency, built
up from years of successful fly fishing, bashed to pieces. It
reminds you that you aren't master of everything that
swims, regardless of the skill you think you have. Which
keeps everything so much more entertaining. This time of
year Spinner sharks, averaging between fifty and a
hundred pounds, are in very good supply in the area around
Palm Beach, FL. They have that name for a very good
reason. They free jump quite often, blasting up out of the
water like a missile for no apparent reason other than to
force nearby anglers to a clothing change. During this jump
they execute the maneuver by which they got their name.
Spinning like a top, they complete three or four complete
revolutions per jump.
I had known of their passage through this area in the
late winter/spring for quite a while. But the preliminary
encounters left me bewildered; "What the hell was THAT?"
as I was reaching for the first aid kit. I had not survived
even thirty seconds with one of these on the end of my line.
They just didn't play fair; and they were playing with the
cards most assuredly stacked in their favor. The teeth
obviously were a factor, as well as the rough skin. Combine
that with the spinning and they moved up to a new level of
tough fish. Oh yeah, did I mention that they top out at
pretty darn near fifty-five miles an hour and make runs well
into the two hundred yard range?
Well, never having been one to walk away when the
gauntlet was thrown down, I pondered this for a time.
After some trial, some error, and a whole lot of damage
done to my tackle and psyche, I'm finally getting
somewhere with the brutes.
They like big, bright flies. Mullet type patterns in
grey/white/silver, red/white, red/yellow, and in
orange/yellow in six to eight inch size work. Use a twelve
weight rod. Believe me, you'll have your hands full with a
twelve. And forget IGFA legal leaders. Twenty pound
tippets just won't do. The leader setup that seems to work
best, (you'll get a kick out of this) is fifty pound
monofilament butt section about five feet long tied to a four
foot section of forty pound mono. Tie this to a twelve-inch
piece of fifty or sixty pound single-strand stainless steel
wire using an Albright knot. Attach the fly with a haywire
twist and your set to go.
Typically, a day with doing spinner sharks in mind, leaves
you with two ways of fishing them with flies. The way I
enjoy, when they are in enough numbers and a hungry
mood, is to anchor near where they have a patrol zone.
This is normally just outside the breakers very close to the
beach (a lot closer to the beach than the bathers are
aware). While they don't like boats, after quietly riding at
anchor for a short while, they tend to ignore the boat and
go about their hunting. You can then throw flies well ahead
of them and as the shark comes in close, start twitching it
along. If the shark sees it, they rush it, take several quick
passes to check it out, and then inhale the fly. This all
happens VERY fast. When they decide it's time to eat, they
The other way to fish them, though not pretty or purist,
is to lead them to the boat through use of a scent trail. A jack
crevalle, blue runner or false albacore partially filleted and
hung over the side by it's tail does this very nicely. If there
are sharks in the area, it takes them no time at all to follow
the smell back to your boat. The record time from dropping
the jack overboard to the sharks arriving on the scene is
four minutes. They don't come in quietly, or slow. They
come rushing, looking for the hapless creature that had the
misfortune to cut itself in their dining room. They come
charging to the dinner bell.
This doesn't mean that they are fearless in the pursuit.
These sharks are actually are quite spooky, and won't
stand for anything landing in the water near them. Leading
them by a good distance is required; they feel much more
inclined to eat when they find the food, not when it lands on
them. If you see one after your fly, just keep it moving. If
anything, speed up the retrieve. This usually triggers a
strike. When you get hit, hit back hard.
Ok, so you find yourself on the other end of a fly rod
(preferably a BIG fly rod) with a spinner shark. This is
where all hell breaks loose. The strike can rip the rod out of
your hands . If this doesn't happen, the shark gives you, oh,
about 3/1000th of a second to enjoy your success before
the first spinning leap. Make it through that and next on the
agenda is a mad dash between fifty and a hundred yards,
usually combined with several high speed direction changes,
punctuated with another spinning leap. Maybe two. If the
shark finds these tactics haven't freed it, the next tactic
that comes out of his bag of tricks is a long, screaming run
at the end of which is, of course, another jump. If you've
made it this far, you stand a very good chance of seeing this
shark up close and personal. The fight is not over by a long
shot. Pumping him back to the boat will take a while even if
you chase him down. Plan on a couple more runs and
All in all, a typical fight, if there is such a thing, lasts
about forty minutes. The really interesting part is getting
your fly back. If the fly is deep where you can't get at it easily,
give it to the shark. He'll rid himself of it shortly. And your
fly tying will remain so much better if you have all your
fingers to do it with. Just cut the steel leader as close as you
safely can. If the fly is close enough to get at, use a hook
remover with a long handle. Not short handled pliers. The
shark is usually pretty tired by this time and can be led
around with the line fairly safely. Do not grab him by the
tail. They can bite their own tails, so this would be a bad
thing to do.
This may all sound insane and dangerous. It is. It's
definitely not a trout trip. If you don't care to have your
heart rate jump into double time, this may not be for you.
But if you do like doing battle, where the odds are not in
your favor, give spinner sharks a try. They will, at the very
least, get your attention. ~ Captain Scott Hamilton
About Captain Scott
Captain Scott has the oldest and most experienced Fly Fishing charter
service working out of the Palm Beach Florida area. His twenty-one foot
center console boat, Time to Fly, is specially outfitted for the fly angler.
He is fully qualified to teach any level of the sport, enhancing a
memorable fishing trip for all kinds of exciting fish. The widest and best
variety of fishing is available during the summer, when cool ocean
breezes make off-shore fishing a pleasure. For information on charters,
call 561-439-8592 or
Scott (April 20th, 1998)