Home Drifting Easy - Fishing Tips What kind of shark did I catch and release?
What kind of shark did I catch and release?

“What kind of shark did I catch and release in Ocean City, MD?”

Identifying sharks can be very hard. The sharks we see most in our area are dogfish, dusky, sandbar, sand tiger, blacktip and spinner sharks. Most people that catch a shark release them and that is definitely the best thing to do! Most are protected species and young sharks are hard to tell apart.

Smooth dogfish sharks don’t have sharp teeth like other species of sharks. They have smooth, short pavement-type teeth. They grow to around 4-feet long with slender bodies, blunt noses and two large spineless dorsal fins. They are grayish in color with white bellies. In the summer, there are a lot of very small smooth dogfish sharks in the surf for kids to catch. Since they don’t have sharp teeth, you can catch them on any kind of rig, even a little kingfish rig!

Dusky sharks are one of the many protected sharks. They are called “dusky” because they actually have a dusky odor to them. Back in the old days, when you could actually keep one to eat, you’d have to soak the meat in lemon water to get the smell out. Releasing them is fine with me! Dusky sharks get to be pretty good-sized and fight hard.

Dusky sharks are brown to blue-gray to dark gray on top and white on the bottom. They definitely have teeth! The first dorsal fin is over, or just beyond the pectoral fin and is fairly large. The second dorsal fin is small. A light strip extends from the pelvic fin to the head along its body. Dusky sharks can get up to 8-feet long.

It’s hard to tell a dusky shark from a sandbar shark, especially when they are young. It’s dorsal fin is set very high on the shark’s body and is triangular in shape. Sandbar sharks have heavy-set bodies and rounded snouts that are shorter than the average shark's snout.

When dusky and sandbar sharks are in the 3 to 4-foot range, they are almost impossible to tell apart in the water. I have quoted this from the NOAA Fisheries Service, Northeast Fisheries Science Center: “There are differences in the shape, size and location of the fins, although these features are subtle. The dusky's fins are proportionately smaller and swept back, whereas the fins of the sandbar are broader and the first dorsal is higher and originates further forward. The two sharks are easily separable when the skin is viewed through a 10X hand magnifier. The scales on the dusky shark are overlapping and shingle-like, while those on the sandbar shark are separated and more like cobblestones.”

Well, unless you take a 10X magnifying glass to the beach, you may not be able to tell the young sharks apart. As they get older and larger, they are easier to tell apart. NOAA continues to explain, “At 5 to 6-feet, the dusky is a trimmer shark than the sandbar, with sickle-shaped fins and a longer, lower caudal fin. The first dorsal fin on a 5-foot dusky is further back and more rounded than on one of 3-4 feet. The overall shape of the sandbar shark is less changeable with size, although the fins become slightly broader and the girth is proportionately larger than a dusky of the same size. Otherwise, sandbars keep the same husky shape from juvenile to adult.”

Well, after studying this, now I understand why I haven’t been able to tell these younger sharks apart by looking at cell phone pictures! Regardless, both species are protected, so carefully release them back into the surf!

Sandbar sharks eat fish, rays and crabs. Ever wonder what eats sharks? Other sharks! Sandbars main predators are tiger sharks and sometimes great white sharks!
“What about sand tiger sharks!”

Well, they certainly have a mouthful of teeth! Their teeth are dagger shaped and always visible. In other words, you don’t have to pry their mouth open to see their teeth! One very identifying feature of the sand tiger shark is that both of their dorsal fins are the same size. Their eyes are small. The color of the sand tiger shark is bronze with a white belly and red spots on their sides. Though sand tigers are scary looking, they shy away from humans when swimming in the wild. They eat fish but are not interested in people! Still, be very careful when extracting a hook. These sharks are also protected, so release them carefully.

“Spinner sharks!”

Spinner sharks jump right out of the water when hooked, making them very exciting to catch. If you hook a shark and it jumps totally out of the water, will it be a spinner shark? Well, it could be, or it might be a black tip shark. Both of these sharks jump out of the water and both have black on their fins! The main way to tell them apart is that the spinner shark has black pigment on its anal fin and the black tip shark does not. The black tip’s dorsal fin is larger and more forward than the spinner shark. The dorsal fin is positioned just over the trailing pectoral fins.

A spinner shark’s dorsal fin is further back on the shark’s body.

“What’s the best way for a novice to catch a shark?”

Go out at dusk and fish after dark. Buy a good, pre-made shark rig with a surf float to keep the bait off the bottom. Use a 4 to 5-ounce pyramid or storm sinker to keep the rig out there. Cast out as far as you can with a big chunk of bunker, mackerel, spot or any head from any small fish or bait fish. Then you wait…. pullage is coming.

Sharks are fun to catch, and most are difficult to ID when they are young. Do your best to get a good picture on your cell phone and then carefully release your shark back into the ocean. You can Google search it later. We do care about the sharks, but we care much more about your fingers, legs and toes! Always be extremely careful when extracting a hook from a thrashing shark!

Good sharking…

Sue Foster is an outdoor writer and co-owner of Oyster Bay Tackle in Ocean City, MD and Fenwick Tackle in Fenwick, DE.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 April 2014 20:02