After a steady diet of school stripers and bluefish caught over the course of the past weeks, Don Puglisi decided it was time for a change.
“I wanted to catch something really big,” he said, “a huge fish that would put a hefty bend in my rod.”
The 42-year-old West Babylon resident got his wish on Monday night, hooking and releasing three sharks measuring 4, 5 1⁄2 and a bit over 6 feet long. The surprising thing is that he pulled them all from the South Shore surf.
“I’ve known that other anglers have caught dusky and sand tiger sharks in the ocean surf, so I figured I’d give it a try,” said Puglisi. “Turns out, it’s a ton of fun. Those fish hit and the reel’s drag just starts screaming. That six-footer really put my gear to the test. It was the best battle I’ve ever had while surfcasting.”
Both dusky and sand tiger sharks by law must be released.
Fishing for shark along Long Island’s beaches isn’t a new idea, but until recently it had been practiced by only a few expert anglers who mostly kept their success quiet. As word eventually leaked out over the past few years, more and more anglers have given it a try.
“It’s really not much different than fishing with bunker chunks for stripers and blues,” said Puglisi, who generally targets stripers on night tides using plugs. “You’ll need to make sure your gear is sturdy enough, use a bigger hook and add a wire leader, but otherwise the basics are the same.
“If you are trying this for the first time, it’s important to go with someone who has done it before. That’s especially so when it comes to learning how to release these fish safely.”
At the very least, said the Goin’ East Fishing Team member, discuss the prospect thoroughly with someone at your local tackle shop.”
For shark fishing excursions in the surf, Puglisi teams a 10-foot Fenwick custom rod with an Ambassador 7000 reel. To defeat the shark’s impressive dentures, he replaces the monofilament leader on his fish-finder rig with a 195-pound test steel leader. His hook of choice is a size 10/0 4X Gamakatsu Octopus. He uses a Kast King monofilament leader to attach the rig to the 65-pound test 832 Braid Suffolk main line. He sets his drag relatively tight and, when a big fish hits, he strikes back hard.
“I’m still new to this game,” says the lucky surfcaster, “But I’m starting to figure it out. The action has been best on incoming water and the other key has been to use the freshest bunker possible for bait — no frozen stuff. I’ve been getting mine at Captree Bait and Tackle and it’s held up really well.
As for letting his catch go, Puglisi stresses that caution is the key and the operation is best performed with the aid of a friend. After pulling the shark to the edge of the surf, he hauls it up the beach by the tail, allows it settle down a bit and then, with the help of a buddy, clips the steel leader leaving the hook in place where it will soon corrode and drop out.
“You can’t be too careful,” he cautions. “These are sharks, after all.”