Out of Control Fly Fishing – Spinner Sharks

By Capt. Scott Hamilton

I was introduced to a fish some time back that reminded me of my limitations. 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.

In the early months of the year Spinner sharks, averaging between fifty and a hundred pounds, are in very good supply in the area around Palm Beach, FL. What they’re doing here is a matter of conjecture, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of these Brown Bombers around if you know where to look for them. And 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 lengthwise like a top, they complete anywhere between a lazy single and a whirling five revolution jump. And at times they have a “jump off”, where there will be a flurry of sharks jumping. I once counted fifty seven jumps in less than two minutes. We sometimes just stop fishing and watch the show.

Spinner Shark Eating Fly

My preliminary encounters with this creature 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 miles an hour and make runs well into the two hundred yard range? I think if you could mate a tarpon with a tuna, pump the offspring full of steroids and paint it brown, you’d have a spinner shark. 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’ve got these guys dialed in. And they are easily as tough and as spectacular a fish as any big tarpon or sailfish I’ve ever hooked.

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.

Spinner Shark

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). There are several areas the spinners like to congregate that are in plain view of tall beach condo’s. Not too many people swim out over their ankles at these beaches. 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. This is a casting situation, fairly difficult if you’re not throwing at least fifty feet of line. If the shark sees the fly, they rush it, take several quick passes to check it out, and then just blast the fly, and they tear a hole in the water the size of a station wagon when they do this. This all happens VERY fast. When they decide it’s time to eat, they eat. 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. And they don’t come in quietly, or slow. None of this Discovery channel stuff. 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 and fast. 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 jumps.

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.