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Shark Fishing with Swim Baits


Fishing swim baits is a guaranteed means of targeting larger predator sharks and is a method of fishing not to be taken lightly. It is recommended only for anglers with previous experience in targeting and landing large fish. This method of fishing will not be for the faint hearted and any anglers levels of physical fitness will be tested to the extreme limits with some battles lasting over 5 hours or more. Choosing the correct tackle is crucial to your success. Tackle should always meet the recommended minimum standard and be of the highest standard you can afford.

Having said all that it is also important to remember that your target is an apex predator and its welfare must therefore remain your top consideration in all ventures. In this article I hope to provide an insight into the fantastic art of swim baits by providing the facts, tools, methods and tips needed to carry out, what I believe, is the most unpredictable and rewarding shark fishing method


Many onlookers and fellow anglers alike will frown upon the use of swim baits as they see it as a barbaric practice and non-eco friendly method. These are common criticisms which any serious swim bait fisherman will have to face from time to time. I hate having to justify my sport and pastime, but in defense I simply relate my swim bait as just bait. The fact that it does not come in a brown cardboard box or wrapped in cling foil does not separate it from the mackerel, Bonito, Geelbeck or any other bait form that once swam in the ocean and currently being used by countless fishermen.

It is a fact that some swim baits will die after a few hours in the water. This is very much the case with most sharks, while the skates and rays seem to survive over much longer periods of time. In some cases swim baits can be successfully returned to the water after a unsuccessful fishing session. When a swim bait dies the carcass can be used again in smaller pieces and either used as throw baits or on slide rigs.

Fighting, Landing, Handling & Survival

I have mentioned that any angler must use the minimum standards in tackle for this type of fishing. This ensures an evened match, shorter fights and a greater survival after your catch is released. It’s always nice to know that your catch is not left with long lasting damage as a result of your encounter. It is a well know that as a result of capture sharks release and build up ammonia in their systems. This can have a detrimental effect on the survival ratios and obviously a short sturdy fight is far better than a cautious and prolonged battle.

When selecting an area to fish, try to find spots that offer safe snag free locations to land your trophy catch. Identify these areas before you start fishing. Understand the effects that a change in the tide and water levels will have as this could result in a lost or seriously damaged fish. The use of a gaff must be avoided at all costs, and if used, only in the hands of a very experienced angler. If you have selected your location with conservation practices in mind then the use of a gaff can be completely eliminated.

Landing a large shark from a safe rocky platform or beach is simple enough, but not left to the faint hearted or inexperienced. Most fish, once suitable subdued, can be taken by the tail and pulled into the shallows. It is important to note that the full (dry) weight of the fish should never be moved by the tail only. Doing this will cause damage, possible paralysis and death. Instead, support the efforts with at least one third of the body in water. To move a fish with full (dry) weight its best to distribute the weight between tail and pectoral fins.

Shark survival is a grey area of certainty. Many scientists and marine protection groups claim that mortality rates amongst recreational angling releases are exceptionally high. Without proper education to all anglers I believe this could be true, however statistics collected in Namibia have proven that there is in fact a high survival rate amongst most species. The commercial ventures which cater for recreational anglers have been running for over a decade and their catch and release tagging records are proof that, if done correctly, shark angling can be carried out in a eco-friendly and sustainable manner.

Tackle, Rigs & Bait


Remember the species on your target lists and then consider the tackle you have at your disposal. Relate to it like this, would you take an air rifle to the battlefield? To be successful you are going to have to shell out for some specialized tackle. This will not only help in landing your dream catch, but ironically improve the chances of survival once the fish has been released.

An ideal setup:

Rod: 12 – 14 ft Graphite in a stoke 4 – 6

Reel: Capacity 800 – 900 meters of line, Std. 35 – 45 lbs of drag pressure

Line: .55 - .70 Monofilament, 80lbs braided backing

Rig: 200 – 400 Lbs coated steel, 10/0 – 12/0 hooks


Large sharks will feed on a very wide variety of potential swim baits and under the right conditions just about anything will go. Saying this there are a number of well know species that are popular for their various attributes and obvious favor in the eyes of your quarry.

Smooth Hound


The smooth hound has to be the most preferred swim bait. The smoothie is a very tough character and stays rigged, alive and swimming for hours. They also don’t go diving straight for cover the first chance they get and very seldom get snagged. They also give the best indication of when a ‘hit’ is about to take place! Only negative is the time they take a long time to recover once put out to swim.

Grey Shark (Dusky)

The dusky shark is my second favorite swim bait. This full bodied chunky fish is also very hardy. Although they do not stay alive as long as the smoothie, they tend to swim quickly and head straight out behind the shore break. The dusky does tend to take longer to recover once put out, but makes up for this in the time it takes to get out and into the strike zone.

Lesser Sand Shark

When not swimming a traditional shark these are my next favorite bait. They are strong swimmers and need virtually no recovery time once put out to swim. Providing they are the right size they hardly ever die while rigged. They do need encouragement to stay swimming, but take a long time to reach the strike zone, but once arrived they are a favorite snack to most sharks.

Blue Ray

swim_skate_bait_ rig

This is my favorite flatfish swim bait. The blue ray is a hard and fast swimmer and also stays alive on the rig for hours. I have often released blue rays after being rigged for over five hours. They move around freely and don’t need constant encouragement. Once in the strike zone they tend to move side to side rather than swim in or out. In the Eastern Cape the arrival of the Blue Rays in early summer is an indication that the sharks are not far behind.

Diamond Ray

A good alternative to the blue ray the diamond is a firm favorite to may swim bait anglers. The diamond is also a hardy fish which requires very little recovery time once put out to swim. My only draw back is that they are slow swimmers and need constant encouragement. They also have a tendency to swim in and out and take a long time to get into the strike zone. It might be physiological, but I recon of all the swim baits they are the first to dive for cover, snagging your rig!

Species & Location


The sharks you are going to target are the apex predators and are region specific. Get to know what species are found in your local or destination waters. One thing I can guarantee is that if there are sharks to be caught the biggest catch will come from swim bait!

Common Species to be caught in order of regularity from South African waters:

Ragged Tooth Shark

Bronze Whaler

Grey Shark


Black Tip

Spinner Shark

Tiger Shark



Choose your location carefully and gather as much local knowledge as possible. Without doubt there are certain beaches or rock ledges which are regularly frequented by big sharks. You can be certain that a location that consistently produces good catches of average size sharks will be a prime swim bait location. In most cases it’s not possible to go out and intentionally fish swim baits. If I go fishing, I always have my swim bait tackle and rigs with me. It is an opportunistic type of fishing as getting your hands on suitable bait is never a certainty!


* Go for a longer rod, nothing under 12ft. This gives you more control over the direction of the bait as you put it out to swim. It also gives you more control when playing a large fish.
* Go big or go home, this applies to everything from tackle to bait size. I have already swum a 25 kg Bronzie and have heard of 60kg diamonds going out in search of Zambezi sharks.
* Rod tip down, this allows the swim bait less resistance when pulling off line. Initially keep the reel and free spool with the clicker on. Do not move away from your reel until you are in the strike zone and the drag is set tighter.
* Putting your bait out, work as fast as you can in getting your swim bait rigged and out. If you have access to a decent size rock pools then walk the distance and save the condition of the bait. Regardless of speed 95% of all swim baits take a good 5 – 10 minutes to recover once put out to swim. This is where a long rod helps, especially if fishing off the bricks.
* Swim Bait encouragement, is always needed to keep the bait moving. Some require more, some less. Gently lift and drop the line until the bait is agitated and moves about.
* Strike zones, this will differ from location to location, but in most cases the bait will travel a good distance and then start swimming across – left to right and back right to left. The distance will vary between 200 – 400 meters, but when the bait starts this swim pattern – it’s in the STRIKE ZONE!
* Hits, are normally very noticeable and violent! In most cases the bait will act erratically and give sure signals that a strike is about to happen. You will experience a huge knock or a huge drop. Allow the shark to take and swallow the bait, once it starts moving off you can set the hooks.

article by Trophy (aka Brett Harris) used with his permission

see here as well,8480.msg65068.html#msg65068     :flag:

Kosi Fisher:
Very kewl article...   :good one: :thanks:

Just a quick question regarding sharks...

i have hooked a few small 'sand' sharks of late. Obviously i want to put them back ASAP....but what if thet swallowed the bait. Is it okay to cut the line and leave the hook inside them? It feels extremely cruel...but what does one do?


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