While most landbased shark fishing in California consists of casting baits and slide baiting, there is small but growing group of anglers doing things a little differently. Taking a page out of the Florida and Texas playbook, some fisherman on the left coast have begun using kayaks and drones to deploy baits off the beach, reaching deeper water and as a result bigger and more formidable catches!
One of the more popular ways to deploy baits on the West Coast is via the use of remote controlled aircraft, or drones. Some are using simple store-bought units, but others are building custom, at times waterproof, machines to lift heavier payload and deploy more safely. One important aspect of this style of fishing is knowing what weights the remote unit can carry, and to remain well under that specification to ensure safe operation. A remote triggered servo-based payload release system is also an important feature, as mechanical static releases are too unreliable and can lead to crashes. While drones work fine for smaller baits and are invaluable on rough days, they are susceptible to wind and can be unreliable over the long haul.
Kayaks are the weapon of choice for the big bait fisherman looking to drop baits off the sand. Large weight capacities and no electronics to fail, coupled with low cost, plastic kayaks are easily the most “no-fuss” bait deployment system out there. California does not have the typical “sand-bar” type beaches of the East Coast, and as a result fishermen only have to make it past one set of breakers to reach smooth water, however, the shorebreak is usually much larger than that of Florida or Texas. It is typical to be deploying baits in shorebreak that towers over the anglers head, sometimes exceeding 8-10’ in height. This makes for wet launches, but is by no means impossible with the right watercraft and a bit of practice.
Safety is paramount in this style of fishing with large hooks and heavy line. Always be alert and aware of the location of the hook and weight in the kayak. Always keep your eyes forward toward the breaking waves and never take the paddle out of the water. When in doubt, bail out! Better to have to swim for shore than to dump the kayak and potentially wind up hooked or knocked out by the heavy boat. Know your limits and know when the conditions warrant sitting it out. No fish is worth getting seriously injured over!
No matter the deployment method, one thing remains constant, get the bait to where the fish are. This doesn’t always mean to drop the baits as far as possible, sometimes the fish are in closer than one might think. A lot depends on the cut of the beach and the time of year, but as a general rule, 200 yards is approaching “too far”. Somewhere between 50-150 yard drops are usually enough for California, and a lot of fish are caught inside of 100 yards.
On the West Coast we classify our beach baits in two categories, Ray Baits and Finbaits. Both will work well, but should be fished slightly differently.
Ray baits are usually Bat Rays, or Diamond Stingrays, and can be fished whole or in chunks. A typical bait for this fishery is about a 1 pound chunk of ray. At times the fish will be of a bigger grade and a larger bait is warranted. In these conditions a whole 4-10lb ray is an excellent choice! Ray baits can be left for the majority of the session once deployed as they tend to not get picked at nearly as much as the finbaits. On multiple occasions the ray baits get bit after 6-10 hour soaks, so don’t be shy about letting them lie!
Finbait on the other hand can be anything from Mackerel, Yellowtail, Barracuda, or even Tuna. These baits are far less durable than the ray baits, but they tend to get bit a little better on the slower days. One major disadvantage of the finbaits is that they need checked far more often as the lobsters, crabs, and smaller fish really do a number on them over time. A typical soak time for a finbait deployed off the beach in 1-2 hours, and often when retrieved the hook is picked completely clean.
When it comes to beach drops, bigger is generally better. Line capacity becomes a major factor when doing long drops as so much line is already off of the reel to begin with. 100lb line tackle is really the bare minimum for this style of fishing, as the animals that will be hooked will all be fairly large and powerful! A good rule of thumb is to have 500 yards of line left on the reel after the drop to give the angler enough line left to play the fish after the strike. In order to maximize capacity reels are generally spooled with braid backing and topped with a monofilament topshot of about 50 yards. In most cases a 50W size big game reel is enough for the West Coast, but this style of fishing can be done with smaller gear as well, depending on the grade of fish hooked. There are “unstoppables” within reach of the beach, and better to go bigger than be caught undergunned. Having a two-speed reel is better for the angler and the fish, enabling the fight to be shortened dramatically and the fish to released in better shape. Rod selection is up to the angler but stand-up style blanks paired with a quality fighting harness are definitely the way to go for the bigger fish. We of course recommend our own custom built rods for this application: (https://terrafirmatackle.com/collections/surf-fishing-land-based-shark-fishing-lbsf/products/land-based-shark-fishing-lbsf-rod )
Rig selection can be as simple or as complicated as one would like, but as a general rule rigs are made up of two sections: a cable or single wire “bite leader” and a heavy monofilament “rub leader”. These two sections are usually crimped together via a high quality power swivel or ball bearing swivel. The majority of the fish hooked on the West Coast have a tendency to jump and twist when hooked, and as a result long leader sections are mandatory to prevent bite offs / rub offs. For this reason a bite section of over 6 feet and a rub section over 12 feet is recommended. We sell leaders specifically for this application as well: https://terrafirmatackle.com/collections/surf-fishing-land-based-shark-fishing-lbsf/products/kayak-drone-drop-shark-leader-12-400lb-mono-12-400lb-cable
Hook selection depends on the size of the bait but usually a quality circle hook in a 16/0-20/0 size is adequate, available from us here: https://terrafirmatackle.com/collections/surf-fishing-land-based-shark-fishing-lbsf/products/sandbar-tackle-high-carbon-circle-hooks. Be sure to hook the bait in a way that exposes the gap and point well to enable a solid hookset. Weight selection again varies based on location, with soft sandy beaches requiring a Texas style spider weight (https://terrafirmatackle.com/collections/surf-fishing-land-based-shark-fishing-lbsf/products/spider-weight-kayak-drone-anchor ) and rocky beaches benefitting from a brick or other breakaway sinker attached with a weaker section of monofilament line.
Once the bait is deployed the reel is used to tension the line so that the line is held tight above the waves and ready for action.
Setting the Hook:
Strikes manifest as either a slack line, the more common occurrence, or with a “run” of line leaving the reel and the reel’s clicker sounding off. These two strikes require very different approaches to setting the hook.
In the case of the slack bite, the angler should quickly, but calmly, reel up the slack until the fish is felt. A slight pause is good here to ensure the animal has the bait down and when the fish begins to swim away again, signaled by line leaving the reel again, the angler should put the reel in gear and wind through until the fish is hooked.
In the case of the “run” the angler should immediately knock the reel fully out of gear and allow the animal to run with the bait for a decent length of time. A minute or so is appropriate. Once the angler is certain the animal has the entire bait in its mouth, the reel should be put in gear and again wound tight until the animal is pegged.
In neither case should there be a “jerk” or actual “hook set”. Simply wind the line tight and allow the circle hook to penetrate as it is designed to do.
Fighting the Fish:
The animals targeted this way are large, and as a result heavy drags are needed to subdue them. Use of a fighting harness and proper form is key to ensuring the fight does not drag on a long time and unnecessarily tire out the quarry. There is nothing “sporting” about fighting a fish to exhaustion and death, the goal should always be a live release. The key thing to remember is to always gain line when possible, using the low gear on the reel if possible, and never allowing the line to slack up. This will usually result in a hook pull.
Once the animal is close to the surf the leader can be used to guide the fish in for a quick dehooking. It is here that pinching the barbs down on the hooks comes in handy and speeds the release process. Never fiddle with a hook for too long, if its stuck, simply cut the wire and move on. No hook is worth the life of a large shark.
Use the same restraint with photos, be quick. Keep the fish submerged or in the surfline if safe to do so and never take the time to organize a group photo. This is unnecessary and risks the animal’s life unnecessarily.