How To Catch A Shark In Wisconsin


     I remember the exact moment that the idea got stuck in my head.  It was ridiculously slow on 3rd shift.  I had no reason to be at work that night except to get the "Performance Bonus".  The "Performance Bonus" as they call it just means that if you clock in on time, you get $50.00 added to your paycheck.  I know it sounds stupid, but it became necessary with the hiring choices that management had made.  I'm getting off track, I was at work and was really bored.  As I sat at my desk wandering through the endless fishing videos on YouTube I came across something that literally woke something up inside me.  You all know what I am talking about.  Something you experience, something you hear, something you see, lights a fire.  It gets your brain running, your pupils dilate, you may even start to tremble a little.  I remember jumping up out of my chair and pumping my fist when that thing hit the beach.
     I had just witnessed something I never knew was possible.  This guy casted out into the water and landed a shark!  A real shark, like the ones you see on TV!  A teeth chomping, tail swinging, crowd gathering shark!  He acted like it was just something that happens.  You get some bait, cast a line, catch a shark!  He talked about it like I talk about catfishing, like it was no big deal.  He meant to do it, he wanted to catch a shark.  My brain exploded, was this real?  How? Where do you go? 
     When I got off work I told my wife I was gonna go to Florida and catch a shark!  She was definitely less than impressed with the idea.  We have 2 kids, a tight budget, and she was attending college full time.  I had about as good a chance of catching a shark from the beach as I did to get picked to play quarterback for the Green Bay Packers.  I started to tell people I was gonna catch a shark from the beach.  Most people just smiled, or maybe laughed.  You see in my group of musky fisherman I am not known for catching fish of size.  In fact they all call small muskies "Izzy Fish".  I would show them all, one day I would have a picture of me next to a shark.
     Now at this point some people say I got a little obsessed.  That may have been a correct assumption.  I started to talk about shark fishing all the time.  Despite my persistence, most people thought it was a bit of a crazy idea.  Most people were polite and just said I would never follow through behind my back.  I can tell you that nothing is more motivating than hearing that somebody thinks you can't do something.  I would hear about what I wasn't gonna be able to catch from almost everybody. Usually in passing, or just in the expression on their face.
     Believe me random people thinking my ideas are nuts isn't new.  But when I heard that family thought I would never do it, it hurt, a lot.  I would get asked all the time "Wouldn't a better goal be to go back to college? or maybe run a marathon?"  I admit that this got to me a few times and I almost gave up on the whole idea.  The problem with the goals people kept suggesting was that they were normal.  I know lots of people who have been to college.  I also know lots of people who have ran a marathon.  However at the time I didn't know anybody who caught a shark from shore.  Just saying...
     So I needed a way to stay committed.  I read once that if you want to turn a dream into reality you had to set a date.  Setting a date makes it a goal, it makes it possible.  I did some thinking and came to the reality that if I wanted to catch a shark it would take a few years to learn how over the internet.  I needed lots of time, but not so much time that I lost interest.  I chose a date, February 2015.  This would correspond with the blacktip shark migration I had read so much about.  The migration is when thousands of blacktip sharks head up the coast of Florida, within yards of the shoreline.  That was a 3 year lead time to figure out where you go to fish.  To figure out what I needed for gear (which is more than you think).  Most importantly it gave me 3 years to budget out a trip to Florida.  Because as it turns out, I can't catch them here.
     Well choosing a date, turned out to not to be enough.  You see I have an extremely addictive personality.  It is why I don't drink, don't gamble, why I smoke so many cigarettes, and why I fish all the time.  I got distracted more than once.  I started building a jeep for mud running.  Then for awhile I got into playing the ukulele.  I needed a daily reminder, a multiple times a day reminder.  Watching YouTube videos and River Monsters reruns wasn't enough to keep me focused on my goal.  I tried hanging pictures of sharks on my bedroom wall.  I made Guy Harvey art my desktop background.  I was getting desperate for something that would be a constant reminder.  Then it happened, I took my kids and some of their friends to the National Mississippi River Museum.  I wanted to see a shark in person, it was a small hammerhead.  Cute small, like 2 feet long.  The turning point happened in the gift shop at the end of the day.  As the kids were looking for a souvenir my son said "Dad can I get a shark tooth necklace?"  A what?  How much are they?  Hahaha, I bought 7 necklaces.  I took all the necklaces apart and made one necklace with 7 shark teeth.  I had found what I needed.  Everyday when I put it on I was reminded that I was gonna catch a shark.  Every time I moved I felt that necklace. More than once I fell asleep and got scratched by those teeth.  I wore it everyday (my wife was pissed), it worked like a charm.  I started to really do the research, pay attention to the videos, and look at saltwater gear online.  
     Maybe this post will inspire somebody out there to chase down one of their dreams?  The goal of this post is to show the process I went through.  More precisely how I got the gear, and managed to annoy everybody that came into contact with me on a regular basis.  This is a long one...maybe you should get some more coffee.
  Where was I? Oh right, I was gonna catch a shark in February 2015.  Seemed simple enough, except I didn't own anything bigger than a musky rod.  To be honest I didn't have the slightest idea what gear was even needed to land a shark from shore.  Turns out everything a newbie needs to get started in shark fishing is in the Shark Fishing Handbook.  Everything from rods, reels, line, even tips for choosing a location.  It has everything, I printed it out and studied it for months.  
    After careful study I came to the conclusion that I would need at least 3 separate setups.  My wife was thrilled (not really).  I needed to get a rod and reel setup that I could use to catch bait in saltwater.  A setup heavy enough to surf cast 1-3 pound baits out past the breakers for smaller sharks.  Finally I needed the big game setup, the one that would allow me to reel in monsters.  This setup would be to heavy to cast and would need to have the bait kayaked or floated out with the tide 100-200 yards from the shore. 
     The idea of buying multiple combos, traveling with them, then hanging them up at home never to be used again made me sick to my stomach.  I needed an alternative.  I had to find a way to downsize the amount of gear I was buying.  I also had to pick gear that I could use to chase freshwater species right here in Wisconsin.  After much deliberation I settled on 2 combos.  Two combos that could pull double or even triple duty on the trip of a lifetime.  
     My first combo took me 2 years to purchase.  I knew what I wanted but I needed considerable time to purchase it.  Not because of the cost necessarily, but because I knew once I bought it their was no turning back.  I found a rod at Stingray Tackle Outfitters that was perfect for what I wanted to do.  It was rated for 50-80 pound line so I could use it for muskies and sturgeon here at home.  It also had a roller tip to minimize line fray, but didn't have full roller guides so sand wouldn't be a problem.  I talked about this rod for over a year.  By the time I actually bought it everybody at work knew what it was for.  Most knew why I wanted it, what conditions it was for, and how I could use it for freshwater fishing.  My kids knew about it too, right down to the color of the rod wrappings.  In fact when it arrived and I took it out of the packing tube they immediately shouted "Shark Rod!!!"  I even splurged a little and had a personal touch added to it.  My name, with the phrase Trophy Hunter.  It was the real deal and I carried it all over the house.  I held it when I talked about shark fishing.  I swung it around when I was watching River Monsters and more than once I took it out sucker fishing for muskies just to prove to myself that it would work for more than sharks.  
     Only one problem, according to the handbook I needed to use 100 pound line at least.  This meant the rod wasn't technically strong enough.  I had another idea, what if I compensated for the rod with brute line capacity?  I started looking at reels online and decided I was gonna go big, stupid big.  A Penn 14/0!  I watched lots of videos and read lots of reviews.  I decided this was the reel.  Big, cheap, relatively easy to fix, and from what I understood bullet proof.
     This reel weighed 10 pounds.  It held 1,100 yards of 100 pound monofilament (more than half a mile of line).  That kind of capacity would make it possible for the rod to keep pressure on the shark while it ran for the horizon.  Only issue was the budget, I had to wait till it allowed for that kind of purchase.  I knew it would have to wait till we got our tax return.  So I had the rod, in 7 months I would have the reel.  I found it on Ebay.  When it arrived from Hawaii, I was so excited that I put it right on the rod and compared it to my musky combo.  It was huge!!!

     Next I bought the surf rod, it was an easy choice in hindsight.  I needed something heavy, that was about it.  It wasn't rocket science and I knew right were to go for it.  I went back to the Stingray Tackle Outfitters website and bought the Heavy Hooker surf rod.  12 feet long, a second handle for putting pressure on the fish, and rated for 50 pound line.  Had it customized too...
     Now the reel was the game changer.  I had already decided that I wasn't gonna buy a bait combo.  I bought the Okuma Baitrunner ABF 90.  This spinning reel was huge, had tons of line capacity, and it came with 2 spools, 1 for the braid, and 1 for the mono.  Now I could put on the mono spool and catch the bait.  Switch over to the braid and a castable leader and I was able to chase small sharks.  It solved all the problems and it only cost me $45.00.  Also I figured I could use it for musky and catfishing.  Multiple uses and a good price, you should check them out.  
    Well at this point I thought I had everything I needed.  I was wrong of course, as it turns out this was just the beginning.  I still needed to pick out line, leaders, a fighting belt, sinkers, hooks, lots of things really.  As an angler I find I spend more time thinking about the big ticket items than I do the small things.  The devil is in the details as they say, and fish this large can find the weaknesses in your gear fast.  I needed to make sure as a first time shark angler that I eliminated all those weak points, so I could concentrate on the bait deployment and fight.  Not worrying that my knot was bad, or if my crimps would fail on my leaders.  So what can an angler do to minimize failure?  Buy gear that's pre-made, purchase stuff that was already proven to work.  I found that a lot of things that I needed I was already familiar with.  That built confidence, and you need confidence when staring down a prehistoric predator.
     Line selection was a bit more difficult than I thought.  I read about a lot of different fishing lines online.  I found that like most things on the internet everybody liked, and everybody hated something.  I was looking at line based on price.  I need a big spool, a 3 pound spool (1,700+ yards).  I had never ordered line in such quantities before, let alone for one reel.  I wanted to try and use something that I was familiar with.  Turns out one of the best lines you can use for big saltwater fish is Berkley Trilene Big Game.  Now this was a confidence booster.  I already used Berkley Trilene Big Game for catfishing.  I already trusted it because it was tough, abrasion resistant, and held knots well.  And the price was perfect too.
     The braided line was an easier choice.  All the videos I saw online recommended only one line, 65 pound PowerPro.  I use 80 pound Powerpro on my musky reel, so again the confidence was there.  The only problem I had with this was that I had to order it online because I needed about 600 yards of it for my surfcasting setup and the local stores only sold it in 225 yard spools.  No big deal, I knew it would work and again I knew it would hold the knots well.
     Next up is the leaders.  I say leaders because each setup requires a specific leader design.  Casting a bait from shore to catch a 100 pound shark is a night and day difference from kayaking out a 10 pound chunk of dead fish hoping for a shark that clears 750 pounds.  
     Basically the leader designs for shark fishing from shore fall into 2 different categories, Castable and Land Based.  Castable leaders are just like they sound, a leader that can be casted out from the beach.  A castable leader is usually made out of about 250 pound cable.  They are usually 7ish feet long and have a sleeve that allows them to be folded up on themselves so when cast they are only 3 feet long.  When the shark takes the bait they unfold and reach full length.  At close to 7 feet it protects your mainline from the tail of the shark.  When a shark is trashing in the water it is not just the teeth you have to worry about.  Land Based leaders are massive, usually over 20 feet long.  They are normally made out of at least 400 pound steel cable.  You use a smaller cable to tie up your German Shepard outside.  You can't cast them, you have to deploy them from the shore (Land Based).  Now building leaders takes a lot of practice.  Knowing how and where to twist, crimp, and loop them is a skill.  I knew nothing about this so to take away any error/failure I ordered my leaders with hooks installed from Big Shark Tackle.  They have everything you need to land your trophy shark.
     Rod holders for surf fishing are a little different from what I had used here in Wisconsin.  No moving parts, no brand specific systems.  To be honest not much to them at all.  All they use are 4 foot sections of 2 inch PVC pipe.  Bought mine at Home Depot.  Cut one end flush and then cut the other side at an angle.  The angle makes it easier to drive them into the sand.  Bring a hammer with you because it takes a fair amount of force to drive them in.  To transport them, just slide your rod into the pipe and put the whole thing into your rod tube/rod case.  They are cheap, strong, and easy to setup.  Since making my first set of rod holders I now use them for catfishing all the time.
     Ok on to the fighting belt.  This one was harder to figure out.  We don't use them here, at all.  I went to my local tackle shops and nobody had any advice.  I did know that I needed one, the size of the Penn 14/0 makes it almost impossible to reel without the torquing forces causing the top heavy reel to flip over.  The handbook recommended that I get a fighting belt with a shoulder harness or tuna belt.  I didn't want to spend $200-$300 dollars to get a specialty item I couldn't use at home.  What I needed was something cheap, it  only had to work once.  I ended up finding a great belt at a great price in the dusty corner of a Florida tackle shop.  It was made by Stand-N-Fight Systems and was called the Freight Train.  It was a base model, and was only $20.  I tried it on and it fit the rod gimble.  It had the broad base and neoprene padding needed to help me absorb the strain of fighting the shark.  Also it had a molded slot to make placing the rod easier and a replaceable bolt so it could be serviced if damaged.  To be honest I look pretty good in it too, Hahaha.
     The last things needed, was de-hooking equipment.  I had every intention of releasing the sharks I caught, alive.  Now I had some experience unhooking fish with teeth.  However I had never tried to unhook a fish that could take off an arm or leg.  I brought all my standard musky tools.  Long handled pliers, bolt cutters, and gloves.  Also from reading the handbook I brought along a tail rope to grab the shark and a big pair of channel lock pliers.  
     I also brought some miscellaneous things to help me out.  They aren't required but made life much easier.  I brought a backpack to carry everything.  This made it easier to walk along the beach.  I only had to carry my rod case in my hands, everything else I needed fit in the backpack.  I also remembered to bring my wrist brace.  I have arthritis and carpel tunnel so I needed it to make sure my wrist would last the length of the fight.  Headlamps, yup I brought multiple.  You shouldn't land a large shark by yourself, it's not safe.  I brought enough headlamps so everybody helping me land it could see what was happening, and which end had the teeth in the dark.  I also brought 3 knives with me on the trip.  Handy for cutting bait, trimming line ends, and for emergency (personal) release should I get pulled into the water.  Turns out it was a good idea.  By the end of the trip I had lost all 3 in the sand, crazy how fast sand and waves can make things disappear in the dark.  Luckily all were closed, to bad though because one of the knives had sentimental value.
The devil is in the details right?
     So that about wraps up the gear selection.  I will honestly say it was more than I could of ever imagined.   I learned a lot of things about fishing that I never knew.  It opened up my mind to lots of new ideas.  Now all I had to do was wait another year or so and I would have my chance.  Turns out my chance would come much sooner than I thought.  I already had the gear I needed, so really it was just a case of preparedness meets opportunity.  
     Then it happened, my buddy Mike went and got himself engaged.  Guess what?  A destination wedding.  Yup, I was gonna be the best man in a wedding on beautiful North Captive Island, FL.  I was pumped! I knew Mike wouldn't mind me fishing while at his wedding.  You see, I met Mike on the Lake Monona breakwall.  We started our friendship as fishing buddies.  He knew I wanted to catch a shark.  Imagine my surprise when the wedding itinerary arrived and I saw this...
     I had a new date, and I was ready.  When we arrived in Florida the first thing my wife and I did was stop at a mainland tackle shop to get bait.  Two big frozen bonito.  Then we were off to the ferry to meet the bride and groom.  He was happy to see me. 

     Now it wasn't all fishing, wedding first and fishing second.  The first night out I fished the east side of the island.  Had no luck, but at least I tried.  That night I left the bonito in a cooler on the front porch of the resort house.  Bad idea, in the morning I had a hell of a mess to clean up because the raccoons got the cooler open and ate the bait.  Or at least they ripped it to shreds and scattered it all over the steps and sidewalks.  Now I had a problem, no bait.  I grabbed the surf rod and Mike and I headed over to the old fish cleaning house and tried surfcasting for some bait.   Mike caught a ladyfish and I caught a pompano. Success! That night was the wedding reception so suffice it to say I didn't get a chance to fish.  The final morning the wife and I headed over to one of the island gift shops to get some souvenirs for the kids and I asked if there was a place I could catch a shark from the beach.  As luck would have it the man behind the counter was a charter captain, a shark charter captain.  He said if I fished the south side of the island on the outgoing tide I would catch a shark. 
Private Property

     So now I knew where to fish, next obstacle?  The south side of the island is private property.  I needed permission from somebody to fish there.  Mike and I headed out in the golf cart to see if we could find anybody that would let me setup my fishing gear in their front yard.  We came across a nice lady that thought the whole thing would be neat to watch from her porch.  So we headed back to get my gear and see if my wife would join me, because Mike had commitments (he was the groom after all).  My wife agreed to keep me company on the beach in the dark and Mike said to call, because he would come down to tail rope it for me.  
     As my wife and I headed down the beach, I explained to her how it was totally possible that I wouldn't catch a shark.  After all it is called fishing, not catching.  She calmed my fears when she said if you don't get one this time, will just plan our next vacation around a prime shark fishing location.  Now I was feeling more confident, I was ready to try again.  I cut the bait fish in half and pounded my pvc rod holders into the sand.  I took the pompano head and drove the hook through the lower jaw.  I couldn't cast that much weight and I didn't have a kayak.  After a little thinking it occurred to me that I could use one of my Gatorade bottles as a bobber.  Yup, a little 8 pound test tied to the bottle, then tied to the swivel clamp and I was ready to fish.  I threw the line out into current and watched the bottle disappear as I let out line.  My wife was talking about how she wanted to put some of the shells on the beach into a bottle for the living room when the line started screaming out of my hand.  At first I thought, this can't be possible...can it?
     I started yelling FISH ON!!! FISH ON!!!   My wife jumped up and said seriously?  It's been like 5 minutes!  I said, "Quick I need the fighting belt!"  As my wife strapped the belt around my waist the spool was spinning as the shark pulled line.  I engaged the drag and yelled "Call Mike, tell him SHARK!!!"  
     When Mike arrived he brought the whole wedding party with him.  People that heard the ruckus on the beach came outside to see what was going on.  I never had a fish pull like this, ever.  It was like a rocket.  Every time I got some line in, it took it right back.  I was in heaven, I could finally answer the question that started all this while sitting at my desk in Wisconsin.  I now knew what it felt like to have a shark on the end of my line.  Mike made quick work of getting the shark tail roped and on the beach.  He was just as excited as I was.  But there was still work to do.  We had to get this thing unhooked and released alive.  I can tell you that's easier said than done.  That damn shark kept biting the pliers and flinging them from my hands.  We must of made a lot of commotion in the water.  All of a sudden the people on the beach were yelling "GET OUT OF THE WATER!"  I turned around and saw the light reflecting off the back of another shark that had came in shallow to investigate.  Now I was scared and Mike and I drug the shark up on the beach.  I ended up cutting the leader at the hook.  Then we had to take a few quick pictures, and I got the shark back to the water and ready to be released.
The bride and groom with a special wedding guest.
    As the shark headed out into the darkness I was speechless.  I got lots of high fives, hugs, and smiles.  I was on top of the world and I hope to never forget that feeling.  When I watch River Monsters now, I understand the addiction.  It's not the fish, it's the journey.  The journey doesn't stop with the catch.  It changes somehow, it feels different with each fish I catch.  I lived out my dream.  I did it on a budget.  I caught it from shore.  I caught it with my gear.  I caught that shark with what I'd learned.  Looking back on it now I can see how that day changed me.  My goals in life are much bigger now.  I honestly believe that everybody's dream is possible, no matter what it is.  Hell I caught a shark in Wisconsin, well sort of...
     Tight Lines.

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