Ken Morse has many childhood memories of summers spent in the ocean off Dune Road in Westhampton, such as the time he and other bathers had to scramble out of the surf after sharks were spotted nearby.
That particular memory resurfaced again last summer, when several East End beaches had to be closed due to the presence of sharks that, in some instances, were swimming only a few yards from shore.
“I cannot remember the last time they closed the beach five or six times in a summer,” said Morse, now 50 and the owner of Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor. “That’s a good thing,” he quickly added, explaining that sharks are part of the ocean’s natural ecosystem, and their presence means that the stocks of other local fish — such as the bunker that the predators feed on — are rebounding.
The recent resurgence of sharks — particularly with the coastal species, such as sand tigers, dusky sharks and sandbar sharks, the latter of which are commonly called brown sharks — has also caught the interest of a growing number of ocean surfcasters. Though those three sharks are still protected species, that has not deterred some adventure-seeking anglers from attempting to catch and release them, after taking a selfie on their cellphones of course.
“I think they just want the challenge,” said Paul Apostolides, the owner of Paulie’s Tackle Shop of Montauk, who agreed that shark fishing has grown in popularity over the past few years. “They just want to land one on the beach and take pictures.”
He noted that makos and threshers, both of which are typically found in open water, requiring a boat in addition to suitable ocean gear, are also targeted but usually by those who are interested in eating them. Makos are considered by many to be the best of the bunch, their fillet comparable to that of swordfish.
In addition to buying specialized rods with bigger wheels and heavier braided lines so they can land a shark, more beach surfcasters are custom designing their own rigs, according to Morse. Some are attaching three or four foot lengths of 150-pound cable to 250-pound swivels that are affixed to non-offsetting circle hooks, which are designed to get caught in the corners of sharks’ mouths, increasing their chances of being safely caught and released.
He said surfcasters looking to land a shark also need heavy duty rods, those with line weights between five and 10 ounces. The rigs also need to be placed further out from shore, with some tech-savvy anglers now relying on drones and even paddleboards to make sure their bait makes it far enough from shore to entice sharks.
“Some guys have been using drones,” Morse said. “Some build these rigs with short sections of thick cable and wire and larger hooks, and they put their bait on it.
“They’re looking for whatever happens to clamp on,” he added. “There’s a lot of hype. There’s a lot of sharks.”
Morse, who has been in business on his own for 18 years, and in the bait and tackle trade for nearly three decades, said rod and reel companies continue to press forward to create newer, lighter and stronger fishing gear. Rods once made from fiberglass and, later, graphite, are now made with stronger and lighter carbon fibers.
One company, Carrot Stix, has been making waves with its unique line of brightly colored rods that use bio fibers from real carrots to improve their strength. The company offers a full line of rods, including its new Gen-X Elite models that feature the latest generation of polymer nano-fibers with improved heat resistance and vibration absorbance, according to the company.
“It just goes to show you the innovation that exists in the industry,” said Morse, pointing to the extensive variety of materials now being used by manufacturers.
There has also been renewed interest in high-end reels, with Van Staal’s offerings topping the wish lists of both novice and seasoned fishermen, Apostolides said. “In the past, really only die-hard Montauk surfcasters used to use them,” he said. “It’s still a niche market; they’re not big anywhere but for the Northeast.
“They’re basically bulletproof for surfcasting and big water,” he added about the brand, whose reels can easily sell for $700 or $800, and more than $1,000 with some models.
As for Morse, he said reels made by Accurate Fishing Products remain one of his top-sellers, noting that they were the first to develop the twin drag version. Shimano’s line of products is popular as well, added Morse, who earned his bachelor’s degree in ecology from Unity College in Maine, and whose Southampton home overlooks Big Fresh Pond.
He is continuously impressed by the strength of the newer and smaller reels being churned out by manufacturers. “It’s like before we had the internet,” Morse said. “Computers were once the size of buildings. Now, a computer is the size of your iPhone.”
Meanwhile, the growing popularity and affordability of 3D printers has allowed for the creation of even more realistic-looking lures. Daiwa, St. Croix and Lamiglas are churning out solid offerings, according to Morse. Super Strike’s line of lures is the most popular among Apostolides’ customers, many of whom are looking to land striped bass and bluefish off the rocks or sand in Montauk, and for good reason: Don Musso, their designer, is from Long Island.
“It’s the way that they’re weighted more than anything else,” Apostolides said of the Super Strike lures. “That’s almost his secret; how he determines how to weigh them.”