If you put a bunch of famous shark species in a police line-up, there’s definitely one taker for most identifiable.
Yep, you got it…
With a face only a mother could love, it’s the hammerhead.
So let’s get into it, how exactly do research catch these monsters of the deep?
A Fearsome Reputation…
Let’s not judge a book by its cover though.
He’s not so pretty, yes, but by all measures, this is one heck of an impressive creature.
But is this reputation shared across the nine different species of hammerheads?
Well, by default, probably not…
Most people wouldn’t realize that there are nine different species of hammerhead in the first place.
Such is the diversity of these creatures…
It would be impossible to cover all nine species in a short article.
We’ll name all of them for you, but today we’re interested in the great hammerhead.
The big one…like, 1000 pounds big.
To give you a better fighting chance…
It’s preferable that you get to know what you’re dealing with first.
Be aware, there are strong restrictions and rules for targeting great hammerhead sharks.
More on that later.
These creatures have been in the angler’s crosshairs since angling was a thing.
It’s a classic big game fishing trophy species. There are many hammerhead jaws mounted in pride of place, in memory of a fishing battle of a lifetime.
As we stated in the introduction, science recognizes nine hammerhead species.
A lesser known hammerhead, the Carolina hammerhead, has joined the hammer club with a species designation of its own.
The Carolina hammerhead has been biting at marine science for recognition ever since it was discovered back in 2013.
Looking nigh on identical to a scalloped hammerhead, it actually has 10 fewer vertebrae than its scalloped cousin.
It’s also genetically different.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Carolina tends to spend much of its time in estuaries. It’s pups are delivered in Carolina, hence the name.
As much of this research has been kind of quiet to all but science, we’ve remained with the traditional 9 hammerheads to avoid any confusion.
We’re happy to acknowledge a tenth, however, and we’re looking forward to its coming out parade.
The recognition of a new species really is a great news story!
Here’s the traditional list of 9 hammerhead species…
- Great Hammerhead
- Scalloped Bonnethead
- Whitefin Hammerhead
- Scalloped Hammerhead
- Winghead Shark
- Smalleye Hammerhead
- Smooth Hammerhead
They have a definite preference for temperate and tropical waters with a temperature of 68 degrees and above.
Habitats include deep waters, coral and rocky reefs, estuaries, the open ocean, kelp forests, sandy plains, and rivers.
Commonly, great hammerheads are found lurking at a depth of around 260 feet, not far off the coast.
Compared to its hammerhead cousins, great hammerheads reach sexual maturity pretty quickly…
By ages 5 to 9 or roughly 8 to 10 feet, females will produce from 6 up to 56 pups.
This follows a gestation period of about 11 months. Males are considered mature at a size of around 7 to 9 feet.
Her eggs are fertilized internally, via sperm from the male claspers – much the same as most other sharks.
Her eggs hatch while still in the womb, eventually passing live pups of about 20 to 28 inches through her cloaca into the ocean.
The cute little hammerheads will fatten up on a diet of smaller fish and crabs.
The poor little hammerhead pups are abandoned at birth, swimming off together for safety in numbers.
Once old enough to handle themselves, they each go their separate ways.
They’re not really the family types we guess.
Should they manage to survive predators, including humans and other hammerheads, (yes, hammerheads are notorious cannibals), they can live an average lifespan of 20 to 30 years.
Diet and Hunting
It might make you jealous to think about it, but great hammerheads enjoy a delicious and varied seafood diet. They are known to feed actively at dawn and dusk.
They eat a large variety of fish, crabs, octopus, squid and other sharks.
They go nuts for stingrays. They love them. Hammerheads are documented cannibals. They eat their own species.
Evolution seems to have played a significant role in their addiction to stingrays…
Their fine ability to hunt stingrays is because of their head shape and contents of its near comical looking head.
Great hammerheads swim just above the ocean floor moving its head from side to side ‘scanning’ for prey…
They are looking for stingrays especially, that are hiding on the ocean floor, camouflaged and partially covered by sand.
Do Hammerhead Sharks Attack People?
We guess you all want to know if great hammerheads include people as part of their diet.
The answer is a resounding no.
There have been recorded attacks, 17 in all and nonfatal.
Attacks are attributed to mistaken identity and the stats include all hammerhead species.
The sharks accused of the vast majority of human attacks and fatalities are the great white, tiger, bull, and the white tip oceanic shark.
Of course, they have the size and power to attack a person, but they eat marine life.
Not us. Hammerhead attacks on humans have been put down to mistaken identity.
For such a large shark, their mouths are disproportionately small.
Great hammerhead sharks are the perfect example of how evolution fine-tunes its creatures to thrive in its environment.l
Let’s get into the hammerheads head…
A Visual Advantage
The position of their eyes at opposing ends of the ‘hammer’ provide a far better visual range relative to its competitors.
All in all, these creatures are brilliant hunters…
It’s been known to pin down rays to the ocean floor using its ‘hammer’ while chewing on the stingray’s wing.
The sharks have been observed with stingray barbs in their mouths…
It would appear they are immune to the effects of stingray venom.
Apart from its amazing head which we discussed earlier, it is also famous for its huge dorsal fin and disproportionately small mouth.
See them in action in the awesome video below!
Great hammerheads are grey-brown to green color and an off-white underneath.
It can grow to a length of 20 feet and can weigh as much as 1000 pounds. The average length is closer to 14 feet. Still big, nonetheless.
A typical lifespan is 20 to 30 years.
However, they have been recorded to live as long as 40 to 50 years!
They have one heck of a smile, with a mouth full of small (up to ¾ inch) and smooth but razor-sharp triangular teeth.
There are no serrations on the teeth as there are with great whites.
DID YOU KNOW?
The correct term for the shark’s unusual head is cephalofoil. Interestingly, the head of these sharks appears to change a little as these sharks matures.
While its not always clear what the legalities of fishing for hammerheads is we would like to make a point to discourage any recreational fishing of hammerheads.
Like how it’s illegal for fishermen to land great, smooth, or scalloped hammerhead sharks in Florida waters.
We advise you to get completely familiar with the laws of the location before you hunt great hammerheads. And also learn how to identify species. In general we would advise to stay away from fishing hammerheads entirely unless you are doing it for licensed research purposes.
Scalloped head hammerheads are protected in the USA – the first of the hammerheads to receive this designation…
It’s wise to be able to make the distinction when targeting hammerheads with rod and reel.
Extensive research of great white sharks has culminated in international interventions.
Great hammerheads have only very localized protections even if they are already included on the IUCN red list.
Despite being included on the IUCN red list and growing research pointing to population declines of the species, fishing bans are still isolated.
Are Hammerhead Sharks Endangered?
The species is regarded by the IUCN red list as critically endangered globally, yet their recommendations are not legally binding.
South African fisheries, for example, have also classed them as critically endangered on their west coast, with stocks estimated to have declined by up to 80%.
Generally, all statistical sources have identified great hammerheads as being in rapid decline.
It is suggested that the market for shark fin soup is a leading contributor to the decline of the hammerhead sharks.
You will note from the pictures we have linked in this article that these creatures have very large dorsal fins – the key ingredient of shark fin soup, and highly sought commercially.
An attempt was made in 2013 to place protection on great hammerhead sharks but it did not receive the political support required.
Essentially, with all your checks in place, you can hunt for great hammerheads…
It’s worth noting, that these creatures are recognized as responding poorly to catch and release, with up to 90% failing to survive following a fishing encounter.
Great care must be taken when returning great hammerheads to its environment following a fishing battle.
There are other situations where catches were likely larger than the official record, but…it’s not official.
To give you an idea of how big they could get…
Here’s a great example of a huge great hammerhead over 14 feet caught by Aussie golfer Greg Norman off Florida.
One thing is certain if you’re going to tackle great hammerheads, you need some pretty robust gear. Like…the biggest and strongest there is.
Let’s have a look at the kit you will need to catch great hammerheads, from reel to baits, swivels to locations.
We’ll assume we’re chasing records here…
So let’s upsize the kit and hope for the best.
There are plenty of options for reels and rods etc, it’s impossible to list them all, so we’ll pick a sure thing, with no brand loyalties intended.
By the way, these rigs are more or less for the boaties and the beach anglers…
You should also keep in mind, that this is just one approach.
DID YOU KNOW?
The official world record was landed in 2006 off Florida. It was measured to be 14 feet and weighed in at 1280 pounds. This higher than normal-weight was due to 55 pups all but ready to be born.
Kayaks and Surfboards
If you intend to hunt at the beach for great hammerheads, you’ll need a surfboard, or kayak (better), to get the baits out where you’ll need them.
This sort of shark rig can not be cast a meter let alone the back of the breakers.
When and Where
There are three critical things we know about great hammerheads…
They feed twice a day, dawn and dusk. We also know they’re found most places in the ocean and close to shore.
The last thing is that these guys comb the bottom for a feed.
We can use this knowledge to our advantage to help locate the best spot as well as search the appropriate habitat.
Beyond that, you really need to speak to the locals in the area you’re fishing.
Local anglers, commercial fisheries, and government fisheries departments will have plenty of information.
The best people to ask are local fishing clubs, fishing charters, and local tackle suppliers.
They’re usually more than willing to share their local knowledge and point you to the most likely spots to find great hammerheads.
Remember, this local info is important.
Hammerhead shark fishing is pretty indiscriminate…
The rig you are using will attract the majority of shark species.
It’s finding their known local haunts that give you the best chances of finding your target instead of bycatch.
The Penn International 130VI is a hefty beast of a reel and used by game pros worldwide…
It’s not cheap, you’ll need quite a few bucks in your pocket to say the least.
It has a 2-speed gear ratio, 100 pounds of maximum drag and will hold over 3000 yards of 200-pound braid.
It’s a serious piece of game fishing kit…
There’s no need to go into details here. If you want serious hammerhead stopping power, this is a must-have reel. Undisputed!
Your Penn International will couple up beautifully to a Penn Powercurve rated to 130 pounds.
This is Penn’s flagship game rod.
Roller guides will mitigate against any friction issues and the lightweight construction reduces fatigue, so you’ve more energy to expend on the shark.
Remember, you’re looking at a 2-hour fight here. Maybe even more.
If the bait is too big for the hook, expect a strike bait to progress no further.
Points and barbs must be exposed, and the bait secured to the hook.
The critical consideration is hook strength. While penetration is very important for secure hook-ups, thin gauge hooks are treated with contempt by big sharks.
Don’t deliberate. Grab 3X strong every time and you’ll avoid disappointment.
The Penn International will hold an extraordinary length of 200-pound braid…
So fill it with 200-pound braid. There’s a good chance you’ll need a lot of it.
Yep, it’s gonna be costly…
But this is a prize fish we’re talking about. If you’re budget conscious, use mono.
You’ll get 1000 yards of 130 pound. That should be enough.
It’s a good idea to soften it up here for more reliable knots.
300 to 350-pound fluoro will facilitate this. Once you punch above this rating, fluoro (or mono for that matter) gets pretty stiff and knots are difficult to tie securely.
Of course, good crimping skills will allow you to up the test weight of your leader without the fear of a failing knot.
You’re not catching sharks without this…
A 300 to 400-pound test line single strand is ideal.
The way you connect it will be determined by the way you intend to bait up and of course the bait.
Land-based or boat will also impact specific rig design.
Single wire trace won’t cope with kinks, but it won’t break under normal circumstances…
This trace will be one use only if you hook-up. It’s pretty cheap so don’t panic too much, you’ll only be using up to 6 feet of it at a time.
For simplicity, and where geography permits, a mono mainline can be connected directly to your wire leader if you’re using 6 plus feet of wire lines.
An often overlooked piece of cheap terminal tackle, don’t muck around getting underrated swivels. Bearing swivels are fantastic.
Terminal tackle giant Owner has great bearing swivels…
If you can find a few singles, great. Otherwise, a pack of 300-pound swivels won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Big flesh baits, alive and dead are great. For the most part, dead flesh baits are a little easier to manage and collect.
A decent size mackerel, tuna, trevally or other such fish are great.The preference is for an oily fish.
There’s no requirement to use the whole bait. If using a portion, use the head and cut it off an inch or so past the pectoral fins.
For great hammerheads, a stingray measuring a foot to a foot and a half, wing-tip to wing-tip, will be perfect.
However, baiting these can be tricky, with special rigs required to ensure a solid hook-up.
Having said that, it is possible to get your bait secure with a single hook.
This is a brilliant bit of kit and a must-have for the serious shark angler.
With this tool, you have great options for outstanding baiting and rigging of whole baits…
Particularly big whole fish baits. It will work nicely on a stingray also.
It’s a must-have for trolling flesh baits, but just as handy for suspended baits or fishing from the beach.
The Great Hammerhead Wrap-Up
While great hammerheads are not the size of a fully grown great white, it’s still up to 14 feet and over 1000 pounds.
This is an enormous creature, and it’s not going to fit in your fry pan.
Given their incredible hunting skills, there’s a good chance that these sharks will find your bait easily…
Even if it’s a dead bait and no longer emitting electrical signals, these sharks have an acute sense of smell and will track it down.
There’s a huge downturn in great hammerheads numbers across the world. We can only advise catch and release. Put them back. Especially the big breeders.
Take your time to get these sharks back to full health before you let them go.
Remember the Greg Norman video? These guys spent plenty of time supporting the shark, ensuring its health before letting it go.
Alternatively, why not take up scuba diving and go swimming with these enormous predators…
Thousands of divers love to swim with great hammerheads.
Or maybe you could do what Greg and his buddy did in the video. Once you’ve caught it, then take a swim with it.
Whatever you choose, look after them, and look after the place they call home.
If you found this article helpful. Go ahead and share it with your fishing buddies!
They might want to tag along on your hammerhead fishing trip.
1. Distribution Map of the Great White Shark By BlankMap -World6.svg: Canuckguy (talk) and many others (see File history)Sphyrna_mokarran_distmap.png: Chris_huhderivative work: Ninjatacoshell (talk) – This file was derived from:BlankMap-World6.svg:Sphyrna mokarran distmap.png:, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18366508