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Articles » Fish Guides » Saltwater Fish » Leopard Shark: How to Catch Triakis semifasciata

Leopard Shark: How to Catch Triakis semifasciata

Let’s talk about shore fishing for leopard sharks.

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

Leopard Shark Facts

Common NameLeopard Shark
Scientific Name (Genus and Shark Species)Triakis semifasciata
FamilyTriakidae
Identifying CharacteristicsThey have long grey bodies with dark or black bars and spots on their backs and sides.
HabitatLeopard sharks are found in the Pacific Ocean from Oregon to Baja California including the Gulf of California.
Depth RangeThey are found up to 100 meters in depth but tend to hang local around 20 feet of depth.
Fishing InformationThese 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.
SizeLeopard sharks can reach seven feet in length, but it’s uncommon to find them over six feet long.
LifespanThe oldest recorded leopard shark was 24 years old and male.
Can You Eat Leopard Sharks?A leopard shark is high in mercury and should not be eaten regularly.

What Kind of Fish is the Leopard Shark?

The leopard shark is a member of the family Triakidae, which also includes the smoothhounds and the soupfin.

Appearance

The is an elongated shark species covered in black saddles and large spots. Once in a while, you can find one with numerous small spots all over the sides.

Range

Leopards have been taken from Samish Bay, Washington to Mazatlan, Mexico, including in the Gulf of California. They are abundant in the Pacific Ocean from Humboldt Bay, northern California, southwards. While we tend to think of leopards are nearshore fish – often hugging the shoreline in the surf — at least one was seen (from a manned submersible) in 515 feet of water.

Biology

Leopards live in a very wide range of habitats – mostly near shore by the ocean floor. Adults give birth to young ones (from spring to fall) in quiet bay and lagoons and tend to hang out over mud or among eelgrass beds. Older fish will also hang out in this habitat, but they also aggregate in kelp beds, or over sand or mud bottoms.

Leopard sharks are most active at night and while they tend to stay near the bottom during the day, they will rise well into the water column during the dark. These are highly migratory fish, they tend to move inshore during the spring, then leave in the fall. Some fish return to the same bay year after year.

There are several locations in southern California (North America) where large aggregations hang out for months at a time. Just what they are doing there is unclear, but at least some are giving birth and some are mating. Leopards live to at least 26 years old and exhibit slow growth. At least a few fish are mature at 7–10 years old and around 3 feet long.

Female leopard sharks produce between 1 and 37 young per year. Leopard sharks feed primarily on the ocean floor and primarily on fishes, crabs, shrimps, clam siphons, and worms. California sea lions seem to be a major predator.

Economic ImportanceHistorically, there has been a medium-sized commercial fishery, both in the United States and Mexico, and there are a number of recreational anglers who really like to target them.


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.

Penn 1259879 Spinfisher V Spinning Fishing Reel, 8500
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Also, I’ve got a 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 that 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. Therefore, 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.

Also, 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, but it’s not worth going smaller than sevens. I know some guys who recommend 5/0 octopus Yamakatsu hooks. Just remember to size your hook to your bait and the line to your target.

Also, 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 awhile 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

For line, a lot of fishermen recommend around 50-pound braided line that attaches to a strong leader.

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
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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.

Also, 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. Also, 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. Also, 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. Also, 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.

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 mainline. 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.

Also, 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 of feet to get your leader in nice and straight.

Leopard Shark Bait

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

For a larger leopard shark, 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 freshwater 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.

Hence, 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. Remove the head 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. Therefore, run the blade right down the side of the inside of the shark cavity right to the tail.
  5. Remove the belly liner.
  6. Also, take out 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. Also, sharks have low-fat content but will still sear nicely.
  3. You can try seasoning after you sear one side. Therefore, try adding some seasoning with paprika to give it a nice color.
  4. Also, squirt some lemon at the end for the finishing touch.

Insider Advice

There’s not much to it. Therefore, catching a leopard shark using simpler rigs than this including just a hook to some braided line. That’s usually suitable for baby leopards. Therefore, 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.

To my knowledge, the leopard shark has a status of least concern, but be sure to check your local regulations to make sure.


The Anglers Behind This Article:

Jon Stenstrom
Founder

Dr. Milton Love
Professor

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