Shark fishing on the beaches of Southwest Florida is a popular activity, especially during the summer months. Winter weather brings cooler water temperatures which usually results in long evenings waiting for the fish to bite. I went beach fishing with a local shark whisperer recently who proved that not only sharks can be caught during winter, but released successfully as well.

Jeff Gabrick is a Golf Pro, the President of the Southwest Florida Kayak Anglers Association, and a close friend. He has been shark fishing in the area for many years. He doesn’t take his success lightly and tags every shark he releases. “We just started the tagging program and I have tagged 3 fish for NOAA that will eventually aid in tracking and migration data. The tagging of sharks provides information on stock identity, movements and migration, abundance, age and growth, mortality and behavior. We have applied for more tags and plan on tagging every shark we catch”.

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I met up with Jeff just after dark on Bonita Beach. He was already setting up with several other enthusiasts who came to either fish or watch. The gear consisted of large conventional reels on big grouper rods with steel leaders and up to a pound of lead weight. The bait for the night’s activities was mullet and ladyfish. The baits had to be manually placed, requiring a kayak to paddle the bait out to between 200 and 400yds offshore. On this particular night, Jeff was trying something new by placing small, commercially made chum bags close to the baits. After all of the baits were set, we relaxed in the cool nighttime breeze and talked about fishing.

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Jeff and his fishing buddy Brandon Nagle have a beach shark fishing guide service they call “Sharks On”. They take the opportunity to teach their clients about sharks and the proper method of handling and releasing them.

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The quiet night air exploded in a flurry of activity as the distinct clicking of the reel signaled a shark had taken one of the baits. The reels drag was closed and the hook set. As the rod arched and the drag began to scream, Jeff called out “Fish on!” and for the next 20 minutes a tug of war between man and fish ensued as the shark struggled to get free. In the end, the shark, a 51″ female Hammerhead, was brought to the beach.

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It was a young and very healthy shark and after a few pictures, Jeff attached a NOAA tag and released the shark back into the Gulf. The NOAA Fisheries Service cooperative shark tagging program is an ongoing tagging and recapture study for shark species in the Gulf of Mexico and western Atlantic. This study helps determine the movement patterns of sharks in order to better understand their abundance and when and where they use coastal habitats. The tags also help determine what distances they migrate and where they migrate to and how they are distributed. The sharks that Jeff and Brandon catch are handled carefully and always released as soon as possible to avoid any additional stress.

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If you are interested in shark fishing with Jeff and Brandon, check out their Facebook page under Sharks On Charters. Additional information about the NOAA cooperative shark tagging program is available in their website, http://na.nefsc.noaa.gov/sharks/.