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Leopard Sharks Fishing Guide: How to Catch, Clean, and Cook

Let’s talk about shore fishing for Leopard Sharks.

Black and white image of a leopard shark
Leopard Sharks are one of the most beautiful sharks out there. Source

Leopard Shark Facts

Common Name Leopard Shark
Scientific Name (Genus and Species) Triakis Semifasciata
Family Triakidae
Identifying Characteristics They have long grey bodies with dark or black bars and spots on their backs and sides.

Leopard sharks can easily be mistaken for Swell sharks (however Swell sharks have a red flat head).

Leopard Shark Habitat Leopard sharks are found from Oregon to Baja California including the Gulf of California.

Leopard Sharks in La Jolla, CA is an awesome place to see them in the wild.

Depth Range They are found up to 100 meters in depth but tend to hang local around 20 feet of depth.
Leopard Shark Fishing Information These are schooling sharks that like to hang around dogfish or smoothhounds and tend not to stay in one spot for long. If you see one in an area, it’s likely they won’t be seen there again for months or even years.

The females are ovoviviparous and produce 4-33 young. The embryos remain in the mother for 10-12 months. Baby leopard sharks are 8-9 inches long at birth.

Leopard Shark Diet

Leopard sharks eat crabs, clams, fish (midshipmen, sanddabs, shiner perch, bat rays, and smoothhounds), fish eggs (herring, topsmelt, and jacksmelt), and shrimp.

Leopard Shark Size Leopard sharks can reach seven feet in length, but it’s uncommon to find them over six feet long.

Male and female leopard sharks mature at around 3-3.5 feet long, when males are around 7 years old and females around 10 years old.

Leopard Shark Lifespan The oldest recorded leopard shark was 24 years old and male.
Can You Eat Leopard Sharks? Leopard sharks are high in mercury and should not be eaten…eventhough many anglers will say they taste great.

In Humbolt, they showed that Leopard Sharks have 1.476 ppm of mercury in their meat…no thanks!

Endangered Status Least Concerned

For more information about Leopard Sharks, check out the Humbolt Bay Keeper.

How to Catch Leopard Sharks

Leopard Shark Rod and Reel Setup

I’m going to start with a rod and reel that I’ve used many times. Small reels can work, but just know you’ll probably hook up on a stingray which is a powerful and strong swimmer. They’ll take your bait they just run which will pull a lot of line.

Reels tend to have enough power to deal with leopard sharks, but make sure they have enough line capacity. One reel I like is the Penn Pursuit 6000 and with 25 pound mono on it. It’s a good setup. It works well.

I’ve almost got spooled on this rod one time…I got really close, but it did the job just fine.

Honestly, lately I’ve been enjoying bigger reels on my Shakespeare Ugly Stick Big Water. It’s a medium heavy rod, that’s nine feet long. It’s rated for 20 or 30-pound line and the reel that I have on it is a Penn Spinfisher 8500.

Sale
Penn 1259879 Spinfisher V Spinning Fishing Reel, 8500
  • Spinfisher V Fishing Reel SSV8500, Boxed
  • Water Tight Design
  • Enhanced gear ratios on smaller sizes

I’ve got 30-pound mono on it, it holds 300 yards of line and it’s got 25 pounds of drag. This is a really good rod and reel setup. You can cast out far and it’s got good power and this reel. will get it to get the job done.

Best of all, you’re highly unlikely to get spooled on this rig.

I like the spinning reels because they’re easy to cast and you can cast out far with them. They’re not troublesome. So this is my go-to rod right now for fishing leopard sharks. Plus this Ugly Stick is a two-piece rod which makes it easy to store.

Man holding leopard shark
Sean Sommeren, Principal Investigator for the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation, with a Leopard Shark (Triakis semifasciata) Source

Storing Your Reels

When you’re storing your reels, don’t have your drag clamped all the way down…loosen it up. I always store my rods just tight enough to hold the line so it’s not just under compression while it’s in storage.

Leopard Shark Rigs

This is everything you need to make your rig for shore fishing for Leopard Sharks. Let’s start with the weights.

I use eight-ounce weights or ten-ounce weights depending on what the current is doing. You want something that’s going to grab the bottom well. I generally use a pyramid and go with a ten-ounce because most of the time the places where I’m fishing, there’s current and it’s pretty strong and you want to hold the bottom, but sometimes you can get away with using less weight.

I use a sliding sinker. I’ve used three different sizes of wire, 60, 80, and 135. I use sleeves to crimp the wire to the hook and swivel. Then I’m going to use a 150-pound test swivel from Berkley.

Leopard Shark Hook Size

I prefer size eight hooks but in a bind, I’ll use sevens. It’s not worth going smaller than sevens.

And then you need to have some good pliers for cutting wire and for crimping the sleeves. Make sure you use a set of pliers or wire crimpers that are heavy duty. If you go out shark fishing, it’s best to just keep them in your tackle box.

Every once in a while they’ll get rusty and tight. Just hit him with some, liquid wrench and then just work them out and they’ll start working smoothly again.

leopard shark in an aquarium
Leopard shark at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Source

Building Your Leopard Shark Rig

Use 60-pound test AFW (American fishing wire). It’s a surf low nylon coated wire. You’ll want your leader to be about 20 inches. It’s best to cut off about 24 to give a bit of room to work with.

American Fishing Wire Surflon Nylon Coated 1x7 Stainless Steel Leader Wire, Camo Brown Color, 60 Pound Test, 30-Feet
  • 7 Strands of Stainless Steel Wire With Nylon...
  • Specially Selected Grade of Nylon Makes Wire Tough...
  • Coating seals out water, reduces visibility, and...

Grab some seven strand Berkley Standard Sleeves, size A4. The first thing you’ll do is take one of these little sleeves and feed it onto the wire. Then take your 150-pound Berkley Swivel and put that through the eye of it.

By now you should have a sleeve on there and a swivel. Now put the wire back through the sleeve and feed it up about two inches past and take the slack out of it. Now you should have created an eye on there. Next, take the tag in and run it back through the sleeve for the last time.

Now what I have here is the swivel with the wire going through the sleeve, through the swivel, back up through this sleeve and then looped around. And there’s the tagging. You go through the three times. One, two, three. You see the tag in there. Use your notch in the pliers to crimp your sleeve.

Building the Hook End

  1. Now working on the other end, you’re going to do the same thing. You’re going to put the sleeve on the wire and run the wire through the hook.
  2. Then you’re going to turn it over and run the wire back through the sleeve.
  3. Now you’re going to take and put the wire through the sleeve a third time.
  4. Make sure everything’s nice, tidy and tight. You should have three loops.
  5. Your tag end should be coming out at the bottom, aiming downhill towards the hook. Pull it tight to shorten it up.
  6. Push this sleeve uphill and make this loop smaller.
  7. Now you just crimp this very hard. Cut the tag short to clean it all up.

Now you have a good connection there you’ve finished your shark leader.

Baby leopard shark
My first leopard shark caught near Newport Beach.

Connecting Your Leader to Your Rod

Imagine this is your fishing line coming off your rod. This is your main line. You’re going to run it through this slide sinker slide. You’re going to tie it onto the swivel on the shark rig that we just made. The sinker slide is for when the fish bites your line, it’ll run through it and pull down the tip of your pole and won’t feel the weight so much.

When you cast out make sure you don’t leave any slack in the line because you won’t feel your bite. You want a reel in the line until you feel the swivel hit and then you want to drag it back.

Reel back until you feel the swivel engage with this sinker slide, and then you’re going to drag it back a couple feet to get your leader in nice and straight.

Leopard Shark Bait

A tried and true way to catch leopard sharks is with squid. I’ve caught them on muscles as well and even sand crabs.

For larger leopard sharks, use a whole squid. Find the section of the squid that has the two fin-looking things and place your hook between those and out to the other side. Pull the hook all the way through.

Then I go through the body kind of at an angle aiming down, and then come back around and hook it making sure that the hook is exposed all the way. Keep everything tight and you’ll be ready to cast it out.

How to Store your Rig

When you’re done fishing with this rig, you’ll want to make sure it’s good to go next time you want to use it. Rinse it off in some freshwater or even soak it in a bowl of fresh water for five minutes and then hang it up by the hook somewhere to dry. Then when you want to put it away, just wrap it in a circle and wrap the ends around a few times to keep it from unwinding.

It’s ready to go in a Ziploc bag or, whatever you want to store it in.

How to Fillet Leopard Shark

 

  1. Remove the fins (don’t resell fins).
  2. Cut the tail off.
  3. Cut the head off by taking the knife by the pectoral fin and cut all the way through. Flip the shark over and finish cutting through the spine.
  4. Run the blade right down the side of the inside of the shark cavity right to the tail.
  5. Remove the belly liner.
  6. Remove any bloodlines.
  7. What you’ll end up with is nice white meat full of flavor that’s ready to take to the grill.
  8. Remember that a leopard shark contains high amounts of mercury. If you do eat it, do so sparingly.

Leopard Shark Recipe

 

  1. Keep it simple. Take your shark meat and season it with some light salt, pepper, and oil.
  2. Heat up a cast iron skillet and sear on both sides. Sharks have low-fat content but will still sear nicely.
  3. You can try seasoning after you sear one side. Try adding some seasoning with paprika to give it a nice color.
  4. Squirt some lemon at the end for the finishing touch.

Leopard Shark Final Thoughts

There’s not much to it. I’ve caught leopard sharks are simpler rigs than this including just a hook to some braided line, but that’s usually suitable for baby leopards. If you want to take this seriously, it’s good to have a few of these metal rigs in your tackle box that are ready to go in case you lose one in the rocks.

If you’ve caught a leopard shark, leave a comment with how big it was and where you caught it in the comments below.

Keep those lines tight!

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