From: and is titled "small bore shark fishing" by neil schultz.

This would be the best brief, and most complete explanation to get any beginner into shark fishing and is included here in it's entirety. It is from Australia but the same principals apply all over the world. The main difference in technique being to use bait from where you are fishing, as this is what the local shark population will already be eating. The time of year will also differ depending on where you live with the Summer always being the best time to fish for Bull Sharks.


One of the most overlooked and under rated estuary angling targets in this country is the humble shark. Sharks have a lot going for them as a recreational target and deserve a much better reputation than they currently endure. Sharks are often the biggest fish that are likely to be encountered in any given estuary and as they aren't subject to a lot of fishing pressure and are also very numerous when compared to other large species.

There exists something of a stigma attached to sharks in the eyes of Aussie anglers that relegates them to a lower class than scaled fish, many refer to them as "vermin".

If you look past the pre-existing labels and evaluate these fish with an unbiased eye you'll find a large, exceptionally strong sportfish that is usually very cooperative and is even quite acceptable table fare, if that is your motivation for fishing. Sharks are essentially a gamefish that are within the reach of everyday anglers who normally chase bream and flathead.

Lets have a look at the nuts and bolts of fishing for sharks in estuarine and riverine environs to help newcomers to this facet of fishing get started.

A little over four old fashioned feet and comfortably handled with a double handed plug outfit similar to that used for barra, flathead, etc.

 By far the most common species of sharks encountered in estuaries are the whalers, a family comprised of dozens of separate species of similar appearance and habit. Some of the most commonly encountered whalers in Queensland estuaries are the River whaler or bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), the black whaler (C. obscurus) and in more northern waters, black tip whalers (C. limbatus). There is a host of other whaler species that can be encountered while fishing sheltered inshore waters. Some of the other whalers we commonly catch in the Sunshine State include sandbar sharks (C. plumbeus), creek whalers (C. fitzroyensis), pigeye (C. ambionensis), spot-tail (C. sorrah) and graceful whalers (C. amblyrhnchoides). Of course it isn't only whalers that anglers encounter in the estuaries. We also catch hammerheads, milk sharks and slender dog sharks fairly regularly, an occasional School Shark and lemon shark and in the tropics, lucky anglers encounter small tigers as well.

Before you start assembling gear you need to realise that the majority of the sharks you'll hook in rivers and estuaries are fairly small. The average size range is from about 70cm to 1.2m and at those sizes are easily handled on your day to day tackle. The most common mistake made by first time shark hunters is to assume they are chasing monsters and need to gear up with tackle that would stop jaws itself. You don't need Captain Quint's barrels or Bob Dyer's big game tackle for these little fish, I regularly use my bass gear on them and don't find it lacking.

This bull shark was caught 60 km from the coast in freshwater on a threadline outfit.

A good setup would be the same gear most of would use on barra, school jew or spotty mackerel though overheads should have a ratchet/clicker and threadlines ideally should be the bait-running type. My big gun gear is an overhead outfit, a CA1156 Ugly Stik and a 6400 Medalist reel loaded with 10kg Bionic braid. Rosemary's outfit consisting of an SP60A2 Ugly Stik and Shakespeare Z-runner threadline reel loaded with 6kg Platypus pink is also ideal for the job.

Likewise the terminals, hooks, wire, etc need to be kept down to a functional size.

Hooks need to be matched both to the size of the baits used and to the line class of your chosen tackle. You are going to find it hard to set a 14/0 hook on four kilo tackle and a 3/0 is likely to be straightened during a long fight on 15kg gear. I use chemically sharpened hooks for sharks, usually a Mustad big red or similar, in sizes from 3/0 to 6/0.

The 3/0 hooks are used on very light tackle while for most of my estuary/river sharking I'll use 4/0 and 5/0 hooks. When fishing areas where sharks over 1.5 metres are the target I'll go up to 8/0 to 10/0 Mustad big gun hooks.

Wire ranges from 10kg to 27kg for average estuarine sharks but fish over about 1.5 metres will need heavier. I like to use the lightest wire I can without suffering bite offs.

Because of the shark's sensitivity to the minute electrical currents given off by metal in water, I always use nylon coated wire. Between the wire and the main line you'll need to run at least a rod length of heavy nylon leader to cope with the abrasion from the fish's sandpaper hide. Twenty kg Platypus big game leader is just right for our little inshore sharks. Ball bearing swivels are a bit of an overkill for this work and a tad expensive so I use crane swivels that are rated about 20% greater breaking strain than the wire I'm using. I almost always use two hooks on my shark rigs purely to increase the hookup rate on the tough mouths of these fish.

Keep Clear! The dentition of all of the whalers is capable of inflicting serious wounds to careless anglers.

BAITS The small sharks we chase in the rivers feed mainly on fish so any of the small baitfish you can collect where you intend to fish will be OK. Some of the best baitfish include mullet, Bony Bream, herrings and in the rivers even fork tailed catfish work well. I prefer to fish live baits whenever possible, using the low frequency vibrations given off by the bait as an added attraction. Live baits are rigged with the top hook lightly through either the shoulder or eye sockets, depending on species and the second hook placed high in the body towards the tail. Hooks should be positioned to ensure maximum exposure of the points. Hook points buried in the bait won't pin too many sharks. Whole dead fish are my second choice of bait with Bony Bream and herrings being at the top of the list. Those two species give off a strong odour that sharks home in on using their incredibly acute sense of smell.

Cut baits are a common option and are ok if you are not fishing an area with lots of pickers like toads, juvenile bream, crabs, etc that can strip a bait before it is found by the sharks. Favourite cut baits include bonito, slimy mackerel, mullet, Tailor and any other oily fleshed fish. Cut baits can be made more attractive by soaking them in tuna oil before use to give them an added scent to attract sharks.

Anyone can enjoy a spot of light tackle gamefishing for these common inshore sportfish as Jayda and Tania enthusiastically demonstrate.


Warm water sees the sharks in local estuaries most active so fish for them from about October through to April. The Christmas holiday period is ideal with high water temps and air temps making late night or early morning excursions both comfortable and productive. Like many shark species the small whalers are very active at night and during the first and last hours of daylight. Early morning sessions are often our most productive and during all nighters it is often the hours after midnight that produce the most strikes. For those not keen on fishing for sharks at night try to be on the water at first light and fish through until at least nine o'clock in the morning. There is the safety factor to consider and it is a little less risky to be landing and handling sharks during daylight.

Tides can influence the movements and activity levels of inshore sharks to varying degrees depending on the location. I find that in the lower reaches of rivers and estuaries, small tides tend to produce more strikes than spring tides, especially when chasing river whalers/bull sharks. The bottom of the tide fishes well in the lower reaches of rivers and in bays and estuaries. In tidal freshwater where I do a lot of my summer shark fishing the spring tides tend to produce more sharks than neaps. The productivity of different tide phases in freshwater is inconsistent with highs yielding good fish one day and lows the next. What is far more influential upon the sharks feeding activity in the upper tidal reaches is the time of day with that dawn session being hot regardless of the tide (most of the time).

Kids tend to have a fascination for sharks, perhaps because of the wow factor of a perceived dangerous creature. Scott Klasson pictured with one of his tally of bull shark captures.

Small sharks can be found in almost any shallow water situation from offshore islands to well up rivers as far as the fish can physically reach. The best spots are often right in the heart of major population centres with Sydney Harbour, Brisbane River and Moreton Bay, Darwin Harbour and the Swan River all supporting substantial populations small sharks in summer. One of the most common sharks in riverine environments from Sydney all the way around the northern part of the continent down to Perth is the bull shark. This unique fish is quite at home in freshwater and spends much of its early life in rivers from the mouths to the upper tidal limits. This places bull sharks within the reach of the majority of anglers in coastal hinterland regions north of Sydney.

We target sharks in reasonably shallow water, usually around four to six metres. In rivers look for a spot where there is an area of very shallow water close to a channel.

Another prime position is close to the mouth of any tributary, a gully, creek or major stream.

Also look for the inside of a bend in a river, deep eddies and anywhere that baitfish congregate. In the bays and inlets look for any areas of shallow water with deep water nearby, these spots are often where you will see schools of mullet, herrings, etc. During daylight hours I'll anchor in about five metres of water and fish baits on the bottom with as little lead as possible. You don't need your bait anchored just weighted enough to overcome any current. At night and dawn, the sharks will feed in shallower water and in the surface layers of deeper water. I'll often anchor in less than three metres of water at night and cast one bait right into the shallows, sometimes in just 60cm of water. If fishing deeper water at night it is a good idea to put one bait out under a float to pick up any sharks cruising the surface.

Spot-tail whalers are handsome fish that tend to be found in open water of large bays and harbours.


The first step is to put the bait on the hooks. Unlike fishing for large sharks when the bait is sewn onto the hooks by various methods including cable ties or elastic we can simply slip the hooks into the bait for these small sharks. Two things to keep in mind when baiting up are exposure and position. Hook points should be well exposed to ensure the best chance possible of attaining a hookup when the shark takes the bait. To this end the hooks should be placed very high in a live bait or just under the skin of a dead bait with the points pushed back through the skin to be positioned well clear of the skin. Now to position; in bays and estuaries it is not critical as sharks will hit a bait from any direction.

In rivers where forktailed catfish abound, the sharks become conditioned to taking baits tail first and nipping them off just behind the spines. Regardless of what bait species I'm using in the rivers I like the hooks placed well back in the bait.

Lines are fished with reels out of gear and ratchets on to allow the fish to run when they pick up a bait. It is surprising how timid some sharks are when it comes to taking a bait.

Some will bump a bait, pick it up and very slowly move off only to drop the bait once any resistance is felt. Fortunately for anglers, other sharks fulfill the “maniacal eating machine” stereotype and hit a bait at full steam and charge off, hooking themselves in the process. Each run must be assessed on its own merits and the strike timed accordingly. A slow run that stops and starts should be given plenty of time to allow the fish to get the bait completely inside its mouth. At the other end of the scale a fish that moves out at high speed and doesn't falter needs only a few seconds to run before the reel is engaged. I don't strike at small sharks to set the hooks when using braided lines.

The reel is clicked into gear and the fish's momentum sets the hooks. Once the fish is taking line against the drag the rod is slowly lifted and brought into play. The fight should be handled just the same way as any other fish of similar size. Let the drag do its job, allowing the fish to run when needed and pump it back whenever it isn’t taking line.

Once the shark is at the boat or bank and ready to be landed is where the real fun begins.

Sharks are incredibly strong, even the little blokes are almost impossible to hold immobile. Because I release the majority of the sharks I catch a gaff is out of the question. That leaves two options, tailing or netting. I regularly tail sharks to land them but be aware that it is a very dangerous practice and one that I don’t recommend to anyone who doesn’t want to risk a bite. A big landing net is a safe option for small sharks but don’t use your best net. It isn’t unusual to have a shark chew on a mouthful of net with obvious consequences. When you net your shark, lift it into the boat and up-end the landing net to tip the shark out immediately to minimise damage to the net. Once the shark is out of the net and sliding around on the deck, keep clear until it settles down.

These fish have one form of defence; their teeth. When they feel threatened they WILL bite, snapping at anything within reach of terribly efficient dentition. Even the little blokes can bite through bone so be very, very careful when you have one in the boat or on the bank with you; a bite from any of the whalers will be serious.

There you have it; all of the nuts and bolts info you need to participate in this much underrated fishery. If you like catching big fish and enjoy the fight for its own sake, get out there and give it a go.


  1. Thanks heaps for your very helpful info. I'm only a newbie to fishing, any chance you could provide photos of some of the shark rigs you mentioned, and maybe some of how to set the hooks in the bait?

    Thanks again mate.