Shark fishing along the Virginia Beach Oceanfront is an appealing opportunity
By Lee Tolliver
Nah, no need for a bigger boat. No suspenseful music, either.
Just a few sharks swimming around the back of the boat.
And while it wasn’t a scene from a famous movie, it still very much delighted the England family of Ohio, which was visiting Sandbridge for a week.
In quick fashion during the start of a four-hour cruise-and-catch trip, Capt. Jake Hiles and mate Rob Mudgett had put out live menhaden, cut menhaden and a chum bag, immediately attracting a small hammerhead shark.
After Jason England wrestled with the fish for about five minutes, his wife, Sheri, snatched the rod and reel and vowed to finish the job.
“You’re damned right I’m going to get it to the boat,” she said. “My father taught me how to fish.
“Well … that was in a river back home, but it’s the same thing.”
Nope, no sharks in any Ohio rivers. But Hiles and other Virginia Beach charter captains say that’s part of the appeal of a relatively new endeavor that Hiles says makes up about 80 percent of his charter business. And with trips lasting only three to five hours, captains are able to do more than one trip a day. Hiles had three trips on a recent day. More than half the charter boats in Rudee Inlet are doing daily trips that include sharking, and many are booked solid.
“People from Pennsylvania or West Virginia or Ohio, they generally don’t know what a cobia or a Spanish mackerel or a flounder is,” Hiles said. “But they all know what a shark is.
“No, most of these aren’t big sharks. But they’re bigger than anything in a pond or most lakes.”
The hammerhead on the line wasn’t doing much to help show off Sheri England’s angling skills. It had already made a line-dumping run on her husband and didn’t like the thought of coming to the boat a second time.
“He doesn’t seem to like his current situation,” Hiles said with a laugh, as Jason and Sheri’s 4-year-old twins watched in delight. Mike and Marty England, Jason’s mom and dad, cheered on the effort as Mudgett stood ready with a large net and Hiles scanned the waters for more sharks.
After about five more minutes, Sheri finally had the shark back to the side of the boat for a quick net job by Mudgett. The group then posed for pictures and a touching session for the twins before a quick release back into the waters about a mile off Cape Henry.
During the fight, the boat had drifted southeast of a channel that funnels fish in and out of the Chesapeake Bay, so Hiles ordered lines up for a quick run back into position. With a new spread out, it wasn’t long before a pair of small blacktip sharks decided to play, letting twins Theo and Bea take a few cranks with the help of the adults. They cheered when one of the sharks took to the air during the fight.
“These trips are especially good for the kids,” Mudgett said. “They get a real kick out of it and go home and show off their pictures of them with real sharks. It’s fun to watch the kids.”
With offshore charters costing upward of $2,000, few tourists can afford the full day of fishing for marlin, tuna and dolphin. And those staying in hotels usually don’t have a way to take meat home.
But a few hours along the coast, with hotels and sunbathers in plain sight, for about $600 makes for a memorable vacation.
The trips usually start by trolling for bluefish and Spanish mackerel, both of which are plentiful along the Oceanfront this time of year. Most are used for bait to catch sharks, but bigger Spanish make for a good meal, and since they were staying in a house at Sandbridge, the Englands opted to take home a few fillets.
Captains also keep a couple of rods rigged with jigs in case a school of red drum or cobia shows up. Marty England got to fight a big red drum during the last hour of the family’s excursion.
An added bonus comes in the possibility of seeing and maybe catching a tarpon. More have been seen along the coast this year than in summers past, and a few have even been caught.
And during runs from one fishing area to another there always are playful dolphins and schools of rays to watch.
“It’s their first time fishing and it’s a nice thing to do,” Jason England said of his kids. “It’s a great experience.”
Lee Tolliver, 757-222-5844, firstname.lastname@example.org Follow @LeeTolliver on Twitter.