sand sharks

It must be the season for sand sharks.  I am catching plenty.  They seem to cluster around the lagoon breakthrough, and near the Terminal jetty.  Bait-fishing puts a fish-bait or prawn close to the ocean floor where they like to feed.

The common guitar ray, Rhinobatos rhinobatos, also called sand shark. This bottom feeding fish is a ray with triangular head, two dorsal fins and long thick body.

Also called a guitar ray, they marginally resemble sharks.  Two dorsal fins, a shark-like tail, and a large flattened triangular head describe this creature that lives on the ocean floor.  Scavenging debris flushed out from the lagoons, they have jaws and small teeth under their head more like a ray than a shark.

And so on Tuesday, I had caught two early in the afternoon.  The first, about 1.5 meters in length, fought aggressively for 15 minutes before I was able to pull it into the surf.  They have a habit of running for 20 meters, then suctioning onto the sea floor, where it is very difficult to wrench them loose.  When they are in the shallows, grabbing them by the tail is the best way to get them out of the surf to free the hook.  I heard they were protected, therefore, releasing them is the plan.  Grabbing the tail, I was pulling the first shark from the sea and lost my grip.  A surprise wave washed in, giving the shark entry back into the water.  Without warning, it proceeded to snap my line, taking with it both hook and lead-weight, for which both of us were not happy, to be sure.

A circle hook (top) and the more common j-hook. Circle hooks get swallowed less often by fish. Their design causes the hooking action to commence as the fish swims against the tension of line, and usually only when the hook shank is outside of the fish mouth.

The second, a smaller shark at less than a meter, came to shore easily, though it had unfortunately swallowed the hook.  Circle hooks are recommended for bait-fishing, for they are rarely swallowed, setting into the corner of the fish’s mouth as it swims away under tension.  While trying to work loose the hook, I managed to cut the line.  I only hope the hook will eventually dissolve, or disappear into scar tissue.

I had had enough of sand sharks by this time, so put bait-fishing away and attached a spoon.  Several casts into the late afternoon I hooked something enormous.  It ran my line without effort as I hastily turned up the drag to try to tire the fish.  It was like having a rope around a wild horse.  It would run for forty meters, then sit until I cranked in enough line to bother it to run again.  This went on for thirty minutes.

Battle with a sand shark.
photo courtesy Andrew Benc

 My arm was aching, I braced the rod against drifted logs as I tried to tire the fish enough to get it into shore.  Andrew Benc had arrived to fish the evening and came to assist, but until it was close enough, there was nothing he could do other than take a few pictures.  Finally, after forever, it breached into the shallows, and to my dismay I saw it was another sand shark.  It is unheard of that a sand shark will bite a spinning spoon, but I could now see that the spoon was impaled at the base of the dorsal fin.  No wonder it was so aggressive.  I had been riding it bare-back for thirty minutes.  Andrew was able to pull the thrashing fish from the surf, where the spoon promptly fell from the dorsal fin.  It was only line tension that kept the hook secure all along.  It was the biggest sand shark either of us has seen.  At nearly two meters in length, my estimate is that it weighed close to 45 kilos.  I couldn’t lift it, both for being too long and for the fact that my arms were completely done in.  I dragged the exhausted creature back into the breaking surf where it lunged back into the sea, its batting tail sending sea-spray through the air.

Big sand shark.
photo courtesy Andrew Benc

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