During the heat of summer, there aren't many sure bets for saltwater anglers. But toss out a hook baited with a chunk of crab and your odds of hooking up with a hard-fighting bonnethead shark are pretty good.
Best of all, they're just the right size for the average angler to handle, unlike their larger shark cousins. The South Carolina state bonnethead record is 27 pounds, 11 ounces, while the world record (caught last summer in Florida) is 32 pounds.
"This time of year it's almost a guarantee," said S.C. Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Robert Wiggers. "Some areas are a little better than others. But you can catch bonnetheads along almost any bank or inlet using half a blue crab." And that includes fishing from the surf. Just make sure you fish away from the swimmers.
Bonnetheads have only been targeted by fishermen the last couple of decades.
"I think they've always been here but anglers have gotten better at learning how to catch them," Wiggers said. "I think a lot of people were misidentifying them as hammerheads. They are also called a shovel nose because they dig around in the bottom for crabs, and a lot of people weren't fishing for sharks with crabs. But crab is the bait for catching bonnetheads."
When you're going bonnethead fishing, all you have to do is stop by the seafood market and purchase enough crabs to last the day. Or, if you've got younger fishermen along, you can add to the fun by catching your own crabs.
The tackle required is basic. Use a stout rod and reel spooled with at least 20-pound test line, a sliding sinker and a three- to four-foot monofilament or wire leader with a large circle hook. Cut the crab in half and slip the hook through one of the appendages, cast the rig out and then wait for the action.
Even though bonnetheads have sharp teeth (remember that when you are handling them), the monofilament leaders work well with circle hooks and bonnetheads almost always are hooked on the corner of the jaw.
Wiggers said he tries to leave the shark in the water and use a dehooker to remove the circle hook before releasing the shark. Should you decide to keep a bonnethead, there is a one-fish per person daily limit and no minimum size.
"Personally, I've never eaten one," Wiggers said. "But I've had people tell me, like they say about every single species of fish, that they are the best. So they are definitely edible."
Wiggers said bonnetheads are classified as small coastal sharks and can be found from the Carolinas to Florida.
"They follow the warmer water," he said. "We believe they come here to spawn. We've tagged a bunch of sharks over the years and noticed . that you will recapture them in the same estuary where they were tagged."