Reprinted from Out West Magazine,
a magazine of the old Pacific and the new, Volumes 37-38 (1913)
SHARK FISHING FROM LAGOON LAGOON BEACHES
By George Gautier
SPORTSMEN coming to Southern California invariably fish in the Catalina waters entirely without ever a thought of trying the coast waters and lagoons for the excellent sport which lies waiting for them. I have found lagoons, particularly the torpid Alamitos Bay, to afford so vast opportunities for pleasure and skill to be had from shark fishing that I do not hesitate to say that lagoon fishing will be found preferable in many ways to outside fishing, especially if one is looking for good sport with sharks.
The little resort of Alamitos Bay squats on the gray sands of a frail reef. Low, insecure, and squalid as the reef appears, it serves as an effective barrier between the turquoise rollers of the Pacific and one of the bluest and calmest sand rimmed lagoons on the California coast. The lagoon is from one tenth to one sixth of a mile wide. It lies along the coast for a distance of a mile then turns inland at right angles and spreads out into vast marsh lands.
The inlet is a narrow channel having for its western shore the extremity of the sand spit and for its eastern shore low cliffs of a small hillock. With a high wind and a running tide the inlet becomes the haunt of leaping whitecrested seas which make navigation in and out with small craft impossible. At early morning when the tides are sluggish it is even then imprudent to attempt to get to sea through the channel.
Almost tropical in its blueness and tranquility, the lagoon becomes at once veritably ultra-tropical in the great number of sharks which infest it. You may catch a half dozen different species before you land two of any one specie. The so-called oil shark is the most abundant, and by far affords the best sport. Leopard, shovel nose, and angel sharks
are quite common, but their extreme sluggishness and small size inspire little enthusiasm, to the angler. Occasionally a man eating brother strays into the lagoon and lashes the water with startling rapidity in gleeful pursuit of terrified prey. The man eater, however, makes his visits few and far between.
Of an early morning, just as the off shore breeze begins to dimple the water, a hundred fins like tiny black sails rise above the surface and cut curious figures on the quiet water at every speed. As soon as the ripples begin to run perceptibly these piratical sails disappear. The shark then either seeks the open sea or idles on the sandy bottom beneath the green depths of the lagoon. There he remains until lured away late in the afternoon by a school of silvery smelt which arouses his appetite and urges him to activity. I have found the shark to afford the most sport a couple hours before sundown. He is particularly audacious at this time. Perhaps his hunger makes him so, but it is certain that then he puts up the best fight. At any rate, this hour, aside from warranting the most success, will be found the most comfortable to try for them. The sun of an evening is low at that hour, and not apt to inflict piquant heat. For the sport of it, I have, along towards sundown, repeatedly lured sharks so far out of water that their noses furrowed dry sand by simply drawing a small fish before them just fast enough to prevent them from seizing it. If one is looking for excellent sport and good practice with a little thrill thrown in, he would, do well to try for the brutes with light tackle. To amateur fishermen, particularly club members, this sport must appeal, as the practice gained by handling sharks is valuable or those who care to try for button fish. The advantage the beginner gets by fishing in the lagoon is that sharks seldom exceed ■two hundred pounds in weight, while in the open ocean their weight has practically no limit.
The gently rising beach which fringes the Bay also adds reason why the beginner should prefer the inside waters when using light tackle. Once a fish is hooked the angler has every possible advantage in the freedom of exercising his skill. He need not fear the dangers and inconveniences of the pier or boat, nor need the question of gaffing cause him undue anxiety. His only care need be for the conservation of his tackle and to properly exercise skill. With proper management and a certain degree of dexterity a nine ounce rod and nine strand line will give the angler a reasonable amount of pleasure with plenty leeway for him to exhibit skill.
There is no reason under the sun why the careful angler should fail to land a hundred or two hundred pounder within fifteen or twenty minutes. The shark’s best fight is put up within the first fifteen minutes after he has been hooked. If handled rightly, the angler will find that the successful battle is but the result of an easily learned science and right tackle which beaches the shark as so much of a log. A one-piece split bamboo rod joined “to a separate handle is preferable for all heavy fishing. Jointed rods lose their strength rapidly and become crooked and weak at the joints. Large guides, preferably agate, with aperture at least three eighths of an inch wide are a necessity. Small guides cut or foul the line. A small handle above the reel seat will be found indispensable. It will also be found of some advantage to have the handle itself exceed not more than ten inches in length. A large dependable reel of staunch character goes a long way towards successful shark fishing. The reel should be a quadruple multiplier with detachable handle, if possible. Automatic drag and click should not be applied when a fish is hooked; they should be released. They have no restraining power and, if employed, will soon wear out. At best they are but a nuisance which cause the reel to work heavily and sound like a rattletrap. A tough strip of leather attached to the reel so that it can be pressed against the line
is the best brake. The hook, no matter its size or strength, will be worthless unless attached to a wire leader at least six feet long. A swivel fastening the leader to the line will cut down tackle expenses. Sinkers may or may not be used. The better way is to have no sinker for the weight of the leader and bait are sufficiently heavy to permit successful casting. Any sort of fish goes for bait; sharks are not particular. The time which elapses between your cast and your first strike is variable. You may get a strike the moment the bait disappears beneath the surface, or you may wait five, ten, or fifteen minutes, or even longer. At all events you will soon come to a knowledge of what to expect. If you grow impatient do not plant your rod in the sand and fling pebbles at the wavelets for you will be invariably surprised to see your rod suddenly plunge mysteriously into the water. Assuming that your patience has met reward by way of a great strike, be sure that your care is to keep the tip of the rod pointed upwards, not towards the direction in which your game lies. Next, and as soon as possible, apply the thumb brake, as the shark never fails to make away with fifty yards of line before he sets his mind on other tactics. Slack should be reeled in as quickly as given. Of course this is not always possible, but an efforts should be made to keep the line always taut whether feeling in or letting out. This fatigues the game tremendously and also does much towards bringing the fight to a successful and quick termination. It is as important to keep the rod tip upwards when reeling in as when the game is taking line out. Line never slack and rod tip ever upward are essential facts to remember. The idea is that your fish is given no rest and is kept worried. Moreover, the chances to lash his tail around the line are almost negative. Before you have hauled in many yards, the game will make another rush for liberty more determined and sudden than the first. For this you must be prepared. If your reel handle is indetachable, be dexterous with your fingers; that is get them out of the way before they are battered and bruised, and apply the thumb drag. Though the shark shows determined and hard fight at first, he will, after a few breaks, begin to wear out. He will then grow quite submissive, and, if coaxed rightly, will meekly await the gaff, if not, he may forthwith escape. No trouble need be experienced in beaching the game. The fisherman, however, must be careful when he is about to gaff the fish. The shark, and any fish for that matter, will employ his last whit of strength to escape at that critical moment. Unless the angler is ever on his guard, a serious catastrophe may occur at this final stage. It is best to drown the brute as much as possible before trying to gaff him.
Gaffing the game is of no particular difficulty. The beginner, however, will find himself awkward at first, and, unless he exercise caution, he will be likely to meet with disaster. Now, as during the thickest of the fight it is above all important to keep the rod tip upwards and the line taut. If not gaffed inside the mouth or in the gills, the shark has a fair chance of never being gaffed, as his skin is tough and almost impenetrable. Gaffing to hit or miss is a bad policy. A sharp jab in the face enrages the shark quite enough to force him to lash the water furoiusly. Incidently he may lash his tail about the line, which, of course, means freedom for him. Await a favorable opportunity before you attempt to use the gaff. The game will lie quietly after a strenuous battle, and as a rule, with mouth widely open. A quick, well directed thrust into the brute’s jaws and a sudden reverse pull will imbed the barb so firmly that one’s greatest difficulty will lie in employing one’s strength to drag the hundred or two hundred pounds of struggling weight ashore.
Trying for sharks in the surf is much the same sport as inside fishing, save for the difference that breakers are of much assistance towards landing the game. Then, too, sharks run somewhat smaller in the surf. There is but one tide for surf fishing, and that is high
tide. Along in the Indian summer the most convenient tide and time are again in the late afternoon. Then the wind has fallen, and breakers are small and do not break until within fifteen or twenty yards of shore. At flood tide the water deepens quickly, thus permitting the larger fish to come very close to shore. 1 have often seen sharks more than six feet in length pursue small fish within great cresting breakers with always the same inevitable result. Carried in by the breakers, they take no bearings until stranded in retreating water. Then only after struggling over the sand on their bellies are they able to regain deep water.
Considerable skill at casting is essential for surf fishing. Unless the sinker lies beyond the breakers, the fisherman must constantly recast, as the breakers drag the line to his feet in a few minutes. One’s only look out must be for kelp. After a storm at sea many heavy sprays of kelp are cast along the beach. The fisherman who finds his hook caught on kelp generally breaks his line with the hope that it breaks near the hook rather than spend an hour attempting to drag the kelp ashore. It will also be found that a gaff is not needed, as the breakers wall beach your “played out” game with no exertion on your part. Then, too, you can meet the breakers half way in the art of landing big fish by wading out and grasping your game by the tail and dragging it ashore. This method of landing sharks, however, is not advised as it is rather dangerous. Captured sharks, like cornered wolves, are vicious when the odds arc against them. Otherwise, aside from such minor details, surf fishing for sharks is much the same as lagoon fishing.
After considering the advantages and disadvantages of lagoon and surf from the shark fishing point of view, the former will undoubtedly afford a greater variety of sport and pleasure with ample leeway for exhibition of skill.