Even experts can feel like fish out of water with an unfamiliar target. We join Justin Johnston, host of YouTube’s popular Kayak Catfish channel, on the second day of his Florida vacation. The avid catfisherman goes shark fishing for the very first time, guided by Brian Nelli of the Pushin’ Water Kayak Charter. Nelli puts him on the trail of some impressive black tips, and Johnston learns how to land the sharks—and make them jump.
First-Time Shark Fishing from a Kayak
The pair set up for the day on a flat where shark spawn in the winter in 6–8 feet of water. The Intracoastal Waterway shelters them from high winds that rule out a trip to the open water.
Sharks may not make the top of the list for most Florida anglers, but Johnston is enthusiastic. “People down here in Florida hate sharks [because] they eat the fish that they want to catch,” he explains. “But I think they’re pretty dang cool.”
Nelli sets up Johnston with two rods—one heavier and one lighter. The lighter rig uses braid mainline attached to 50-pound mono “for stretch,” followed by 2–3 feet of 80-pound single strand wire leader attached with 60-pound barrel swivel. Finally, Nelli uses frozen spanish mackerel cut bait on a J-hook tied with a haywire twist. Shark rigs can be handmade like Nelli’s or bought at retailers like Walmart.
Hooking Up with a Big Black Tip
His first hookup doesn’t quite go as planned, but Johnston takes the lost fish as an “educational opportunity.” An hour later, another shark strikes and he lets it get a good bite before tightening the drag gradually and then starting to reel. He observes that the process is “kind of like we’d do catfishing.”
With Nelli’s help, Johnston leads the shark away from the nearby docks and goes for a sleigh ride before bringing it up to the surface. The pair “get sketchy” as Nelli dons a cut-proof glove and hauls up the black tip shark by the tail for Johnston’s hero shot.
“I’ve seen Jaws on TV, now we got him right here beside me.”
More battles follow, including the biggest black tip on the last catch of the day. Nelli shows Johnston how to make them jump by pedalling quickly up close to the shark before tightening the drag. It pays off with some aerial acrobatics. “This is awesome,” he says, “just getting towed around having these hard runs.”