Shark Tales

Web img 1251
Writer Gordon McBride holding a shark he caught.

Learn how to catch and release a shark from an expert. 

By Gordon McBride

Florida’s Key West is known for its many attractions: Ernest Hemingway Museum, Margaritaville, world-class racing, and of course fantastic offshore fishing. But did you know that Key West is also a hotspot when it comes to shark fishing? 

Key West Aerial
An aerial view of Key West, Fla., which lays claim to the southmost point in the U.S.

Sportfishing for sharks gives avid anglers the opportunity to face challenges they don’t encounter when fishing for other species. If you are a first timer with shark fishing, it is best to coordinate with someone who makes it their business not to come back disappointed. 

Contacting a shark fishing charter group will take the headache out of your exhilarating outing, not to mention having to worry about all the special gear you may be looking at. And there is always the option of bringing home your catch; shark dishes are featured on the menus of many good restaurants, and for good reason. Shark meat is delicious when properly prepared.

With its pristine waters and thriving marine life, Key West has become a renowned destination for thrill-seekers and fishing enthusiasts alike. But shark fishing charters in Key West are not just about the thrill of the catch; they also emphasize the importance of conservation. 

Most charters follow a strict catch-and-release policy for all shark species. This approach ensures the sustainability of the local shark population and contributes to marine conservation efforts. Participants often spot a variety of other marine life during their excursions, including dolphins, sea turtles, and a diverse array of fish species. Many charters also include snorkeling and swimming opportunities for those looking to cool off in the crystal-clear waters.

Steve Lamp
Capt. Steven Lamp of Dream Catcher Charters running a Mercury Racing powered center console.

Center Console Life spoke with Capt. Steven Lamp of Dream Catcher Charters, based in Key West, and he was glad to share some insight into the growing sport of shark fishing. He explained that the boats, especially designed for shark fishing, are equipped with state-of-the-art gear and experienced captains who know the local waters. Safety is a top priority, and participants are given a briefing on the dos and don’ts of shark fishing before setting out.

Center Console Life: What special equipment is required for a successful shark fishing outing? Is a special fishing permit required?

Captain Steven: Equipment depends on where we are fishing for the sharks. In the shallows we sight fish for them and use spinning rods or fly-fishing rods. In the deep water where the sharks are huge, we use large conventional reels and stiff rods … 30–80 series and sometimes up to 130. And we supply all the permits. 

CCL: What species of shark are you likely to encounter off the waters of Key West? What is most requested?

Captain Steven: Most requested is the hammerhead or tiger, then maybe the bull shark. Species that we fish for include: Bulls, hammerhead, black tip, reef, tiger, lemon, nurse shark and bonnet head.

CCL: Are your clients allowed to keep any of their catch? Do you bring the shark on board before releasing it? 

Captain Steven: We always practice catch and release when shark fishing.

CCL: Is shark harder to catch than big-game fish?

Captain Steven: No. From a fishing guide point of view, no, it’s very easy. From a client’s point of view, it’s challenging but a great way to have a good shot at pulling in a huge fish. 

CCL: Do you work closely with marine biologists and researchers to collect data on the sharks you encounter? 

Captain Steven: Sure. We provide data to the groups that are truly trying to preserve with good science. 

Islamorada Swordfish
From reeling in swordfish to catching and releasing shark, the Florida Keys are a great aquatic playground.

Experienced captains and crews educate anglers on the importance of responsible fishing practices. They teach participants how to handle sharks safely, minimizing stress on the animals and increasing their chances of survival after release. 

By fostering a culture of conservation, Lamp helps protect the fragile marine ecosystem of Key West. Anglers play a crucial role in this process by providing information about the size, species, and location of each shark caught. Some charters even tag sharks with tracking devices before releasing them. This collaborative effort between the fishing community and the scientific community is essential for the long-term conservation and protection of these apex predators.

Web img 3524
Learning the regulations is a must for anyone looking to catch shark.

Once hooked, the on-water fight is both physically and mentally demanding, requiring anglers to use their strength and wits to tire out the shark without causing harm. It’s a true test of skill and determination. As the shark comes closer to the boat, the crew prepares to bring it alongside for a quick and safe measurement. Anglers get an up-close look at these magnificent creatures before releasing them back into the sea. 

Shark fishing charters in Key West offer an exhilarating and educational experience like no other. They combine the thrill of the catch with a deep appreciation for marine conservation and the natural beauty of the Florida Keys. 

These charters not only provide unforgettable memories for participants but also play a vital role in the preservation of shark populations and the overall health of the marine ecosystem. So, if you’re seeking adventure and a chance to connect with the ocean’s most iconic predators, the team at Dream Catcher Charters in Key West can take you there. 

Key Largo
A Florida Keys fishing guide positions his angler to cast for a bonefish off Key Largo, Fla. Photo by Bob Krist/Florida Keys News Bureau

One of the primary reasons Key West, Fla., is such a hotbed for shark fishing is the diversity of shark species that call these waters home. Some of the most encountered species during shark fishing charters include:

Hammerhead Sharks: These distinctive sharks are known for their T-shaped heads and are often seen patrolling the warm waters of Key West.

Nurse sharks: Nurse sharks are abundant in the shallower waters around Key West. They are generally docile and pose little threat to humans, making them a favorite among novice anglers.

Bull Sharks: Bull sharks are known for their strength and aggression. They are a challenging catch and a prized trophy for experienced anglers.

Blacktip sharks: These swift and acrobatic sharks are a thrill to catch and release. They are known for their impressive aerial displays.

Tiger sharks: Tiger sharks are one of the largest shark species and a true prize for any angler. Their distinctive stripes and formidable size make them a top target for those seeking a trophy catch.