How To Catch Great White Sharks For Research: An Epic Guide

by Terry Goss, CC BY 2.5,
by Terry Goss, CC BY 2.5,

These sharks are the ocean’s top apex predator. While orcas might argue strongly for top billing, it’s the great white that holds the throne. 

Being as famous as they are, these creatures go by many names such as white death, white shark, and white pointer.

They are steeped in ancient myth and legend and have grown to become an icon of popular culture. 

Thanks, Jaws. Steven Speilberg has a lot to answer for here…

Plenty of people formed their impressions about these creatures by watching his famous 1970’s horror movie.

Did you? Be honest…

That considered, and despite all that science has taught us about them, these creatures are still a swimming horror movie for many of us.

Is it any wonder anglers want to search for this guy? He’s asking to be targeted, right?


Only the very determined game anglers willingly pit their skills against Jaws.

Watch one of the largest white sharks captured on video in the clip below.

World’s Biggest Great White? |

In today’s article, we’ll look into great white shark fishing…

We’ll cover techniques, current regulations in the US, as well as some great whites facts, figures, truths, and myths.

Let’s go fishing for great whites!

The distribution of great whites is more or less global.

They inhabit the temperate and subtropical waters, avoiding the extreme warmth and extreme cold.

They like to maintain their preferred body temp of around 14 degrees celsius

They inhabit the temperate and subtropical waters, avoiding the extreme warmth and extreme cold…

They are found as far north as Alaska and the Bearing Straight across to Russian water.

They’re as far south as the southern tip of Argentina, beyond the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. 

School of Baby Sharks
School of Baby Sharks

Breeding Grounds

Intensive research and record-keeping have identified key breeding grounds which include…

The southern water of South Africa and south of Cape Horn, and the entire North African coastline from Morocco to the Suez canal.

The coast of Portugal and Spain are also breeding water spots.

The entire east and west coasts of the USA are breeding zones for these sharks…

Stretching into southeastern Canada, as are the waters of Japan and the East China sea.

All New Zealand waters are considered important white shark breeding zones.

As are the majority of the Australian waters, with the exception being the northernmost Australian tropics, from the central north of Western Australia to the central north of Queensland.


Part of the reason great whites are under threat is that they are considered slow breeders…

Males reach breeding age between the ages of 8 and 10 years old.

Females develop slower and reach maturation at 12 to 18 years.

Females can deliver up to 10 pups, with observed instances of up to 17 pups.

It is estimated that they only breed every 2 to 3 years

Scientists and researchers believe that these creatures’ gestation period is anywhere from 12 to 18 months.

Other regular menu items also include octopus, sea birds, sharks, and dolphins as well as dead whales.

They’re opportunistic feeders that will take a bite at nearly anything. There have even been reports of living fossils having shark bite marks

For them, the ocean’s just one big buffet breakfast…or dinner…maybe lunch. Drive thru?

their attacks on humans are more or less inquiries and mistaken identity…

In fact, it’s suggested that their attacks on humans are more or less inquiries and mistaken identity, a bit of a taste test. Apparently, we’re not so tasty to them but surfers look a lot like seals.

The Science Behind Great White Shark Predation

From Visually.

Not Such Picky Eaters

Great whites have been caught with all sorts of things inside their stomachs…

Everything from tin cans to vehicle license plates have found their way onto menus of these sharks.

Great whites have been caught with all sorts of things inside their stomachs…

Regardless of the crazy things found in their guts, great whites are supreme hunters

They can detect very small amounts of blood from up to 3 miles away. 

They hunt with electroreception. This is a physical attribute that allows them to detect very small electric currents emanated by living creatures. 

This is brilliant for hunting in dark and murky water…

It is this system that allows them to navigate by using the earth’s electromagnetic field too.


It is estimated that these creatures can live as long as 70 years.

Their closest relative is believed to be the Mako shark, descending from the ancient Mako millions of years ago. The Mako too is a formidable predator. 


Great whites were originally thought to have descended from the prehistoric Megalodon. But recent science has placed significant doubt on this long-held theory..

There seem to be anatomical discrepancies, such as differing teeth.

It’s raised plenty of new questions about their ancestral connection.

Close-up Photo of a Great White Shark
Close-up Photo of a Great White Shark

How Big Can They Grow?

The discovery of the largest great white was only recently recorded…

A great white measuring over 20 feet with an estimated weight of 2.5 tons was photographed off Oahu, Hawaii. They’re no whale shark but that’s still a pretty massive size all things considered.

Propelling themselves with their powerful tails, they are capable of remarkable turns of speed, deadly against their prey. 

Great whites move at cruising speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. They engage their prey with speed bursts up to 35 miles per hour…

Great whites move at cruising speeds of up to 25 miles per hour.

They engage their prey with speed bursts up to 35 miles per hour.

Their jaws actually thrust outwards as they attack. 

Think about it. That’s 300 serrated, triangular teeth coming at you with tonnes of force, at 35 miles an hour!

Well…they’re not coming at you…

Just their prey. Needless to say, these guys are incredible hunters.

Makes casting lines at them seem kinda pointless…futile even.

But fun, yes?

Hold your horses – there’s a catch…

These guys are protected by tough international laws.

Often, great whites are killed in commercial nets; collateral damage from the fishing industry.

They’ve also been targeted by recreational anglers for decades.

Threats to Great Whites

Death from commercial bycatch, as well as pollution and loss of great white sharks’ habitat, have been devastating for these slow breeding species.

The nets that protect us when we swim at the beach are also responsible for the death of significant numbers of juvenile great whites.

It would appear that the conservation accords do work.

In places where protections exist, populations have stabilized and even increased.

But it’s not just the white shark that needs protection. Other aquatic species like the Mola Mola and Barreleye need protection too.

remaining great whites are astonishingly low. It’s estimated there are 3000 to 5000 sharks globally…

Regardless of any claimed improvements, It could be said that remaining great whites are astonishingly low…

It’s estimated there are 3000 to 5000 sharks globally. Considering the size of the ocean, this number seems dangerously low.


Orcas and sharks are known to attack great whites, but it is human actions that pose the greatest threat to them

Why Catch a Great White in the First Place?

Great whites have traditionally been a trophy fish for game anglers around the world.

Once caught, measured and weighed, the jaws are kept as a record of a grueling and lengthy fight. Mounting fish is also a great way to preserve the memory of catching a trophy fish.

It could be said that great whites are angling’s most formidable challenge…

It could be said that great whites are angling’s most formidable challenge…

Catching the ocean’s apex predator with rod and reel is the ultimate achievement in angling.

The biggest great white ever caught weighed in at 3,427-pounds. 

World’s Biggest Shark Caught With Rod and Reel

The record has stood since 1986 and remains to this day.

Incidentally, it is also the largest catch of any kind with rod and reel.

One might argue that catching great whites now, based on present populations, is nothing short of crazy.

The numbers are just too low, making it difficult just to search for them.

Can You Catch Great White Sharks Legally?

In fact, it is possible to catch great whites legally, but special permits have to be provided, and the reason for the hunt is not sport and trophy hunting, but research.

Understanding great whites are critical for their conservation…

Understanding great whites are critical for their conservation

We’re learning of the potential devastation our oceans will likely face if they lose the apex predator.

There are also other collaborative scientific studies in a host of other disciplines outside of marine conservation.

Great whites are caught by anglers in order to further research.


The anglers that target and catch these sharks are subject to strict rules, using catch and release methods that are second to none. The welfare of the shark is paramount.

Most big sharks are targeted offshore using a boat; however, if you don’t plan on using a boat, the beach is another common launch pad for a big shark hunt.


The rigs for the biggest targets are generally the same, beach or boat. Differences will usually come down to personal preference and experience.

Getting Ready

Before heading out to search for these creatures, here is a typical equipment list for great whites hunters.

All equipment is for example only, we’re not endorsing brands here. 

It’s important to note that this is just one basic approach…

There are many variations on this theme, particularly when it comes to leader lengths, and wire, leader, and swivel breaking strains.

Getting equipped…

The Reel

The Shimano Tiagra 130A. It has 100 pounds of maximum drag and holds 3350 yards of 150-pound braid.

It has 6 bearings with a 2-speed ratio designed for cranking very heavy fish. There are two lugs to connect the reel to your body harness. Not much change out of $2000.00.

The Rod

Strap the Tiagra 130A to a Shimano Tiagra Hyper game rod. It is rated to a whopping 60kg.

With a length of 7’6″, it’s a longer game rod with a full complement of roller guides. 

The rod is designed for game fishing from a game chair, but may be handled from a beach while standing, but only with the physical assistance of another experienced (and strong) game angler.

Man Preparing a Fishing Line
Man Preparing a Line In a Boat


The best bait will be a tuna or mackerel head cut a few inches past the gills.

Tuna is great because they are very oily and smells fantastic, to a shark.

Freshly caught and still bleeding is ideal.

Check out this showing how to rig bait for sharks.

Shark Fishing – How to Rig Big Baits

Another great bait, particularly for the beach, is a whole stingray…

A stingray is more difficult to bait up than a fish, but a very effective bait, nonetheless.

Fresh and local is the best approach, and the bait size must suit the hook.

A bait weighing in around five-pound is all that is needed to attract the biggest sharks. 

Variation of Bait

Bigger isn’t always better with shark baits…

The most important thing is that the bait fits the hook.

Presentation isn’t the issue here, sharks don’t seem to bother about a big hook protruding from their dinner. 


The critical thing is to have the hook point and barb free of the bait flesh. A hook lost in bait flesh is a common reason strikes fail to become hook-ups.

3000 plus yards of braid is going to cost a packet–like hundreds of dollars.

Cost is usually not an issue for those seeking to catch these creatures.


Whether mono or braid is chosen, most choose around the 150-pound breaking strain. The Tiagra will eat 1000’s of yards of it. As will the shark.

The Wire Trace

The wire connects directly to the mono/ fluoro leader and the hook.

Shark anglers generally prefer a single strand wire up to 400 pounds up to 6 feet long.

It’s thicker than multi-strand and better equipped to handle horror movie style teeth. 

If a shark is hooked, a single strand won’t last long and will be one use only…

Sharks completely wreck single strand wire…

A single strand wire is the cheapest metal leader by far anyway. Hang the expense, the battle is worth every dime.


The leader, mono or fluoro, connects the wire trace to the mainline.

As a rule of thumb, when fishing 400-pound wire, fish 400-pound leader is used.

Using a 400-pound leader, as it lacks suppleness and flexibility, requires good knot skills or confidence with crimping.


Another option is dropping down to 300-pound leader. The knots are much easier to tie and make anglers feel more confident.

The Hook

Hook size and type will depend to a certain degree on the bait chosen…

Circle hooks are recommended for the shark’s welfare but a J hook will give better baiting flexibility and a better chance at hook-up.

A 3X strong 16/0 to 20/0 hook size is recommended. 

Keep in mind, J hooks and multi-hook rigs can be deadly on the shark that must be released.

Remember, we’re doing our best to look after these guys.


Wise anglers are rarely tempted to use narrow gauge hooks. Sharks laugh at weak hooks…like really.


300-pound ball bearing swivels are more expensive, but well up to the task. A pack will cost around $20.

Shark Hook Remover

White sharks are catch and release only…

Anglers looking to catch these creatures should carry a shark hook remover, or, a set of long handles bolt cutters for cutting the hook.

Remember, 3X hooks are a heavy gauge wire. 

Pliers or side cutters are useless for heavy gauge hooks…

Not only are they inadequate for cutting, they have a short grip too – Would you stick your hand inside a great white’s mouth?

Finding Great Whites

white sharks will be found all year round…

It should be noted that white sharks will be found all year round. Boat anglers can use huge amounts of chum to drum up sharks quite easily.

The problem is, you will attract species other than white sharks too.

This is where local knowledge pays off…

Every location has species-specific information that should be sought locally.

It’s their tips that help boat anglers catch these species and avoid by-catch. 

One thing is certain. Such is their distribution, the place you are catching fish now is very likely a great white shark habitat

The only reason you’ve not hooked one is that you’ve not been looking for them.

You have to use the right gear at the right time, right place and target them.

Catch and Release

The law prohibits targeting these creatures…

It is understood, however, that these creatures are often caught while hunting other species.

In such cases, it’s critical you practice catch and release.

If you’ve got tags on board, it’s good practice to tag the shark and submit the information to fisheries for research. 

Proper Handling

Ensure that every effort is made to protect the well-being of the shark.

Having the correct tools for handling and removing hooks is critical.

Use circle hooks to ensure, as best possible, the shark’s lip is hooked. You want to avoid the potential of a deadly gut hook-up or gill hook-up.

These fish must not be landed. They may not be removed from the water, hauled on deck or up the beach.


Remember, there are as few as 3000 of these creatures left in our oceans.

The Great White Wrap Up

There probably isn’t a game fish angler that wouldn’t like to test their fishing metal up against the power of these creatures.

Currently, this option isn’t really available…

The unfortunate reason behind this is our lack of marine care and conservation.

There simply aren’t enough of these creatures left in the ocean to catch them for sport.

Myth and ancient cultures have bestowed god-like status on these sharks.

Popular culture has done it’s best to demonize it. Maybe this species monster status underpins our lack of responsibility toward its conservation. 

There’s now a growing understanding among fishermen…

If we’re ever going to be able to legally catch this species again, we’re going to have to care for them and their habitat.


When the time comes that their numbers have grown, and these sharks are removed from the vulnerable list, we are ready with rod and reel.

Catching these creatures requires experience, phenomenal strength, and stamina.

Even with the best gear available, the odds are stacked way against you.

This is why it is the toughest of angling tests. It’s the oceans apex hunter, it’s massive, and with a 20/0 in its mouth, it’s very angry too.

Overcome Challenges

Good fishermen want to beat the slim odds of a battle with these sharks.

Like those anglers…

We can only hope these creatures last and have a fighting chance against the disastrous odds it’s now facing.

Help spread shark conservation awareness while also providing a good read to your buddies. If you can’t get enough of shark info, go read our hammerhead shark fishing guide next

If you found the article helpful, feel free to share it!

Great whites. Live and breed to fight another day.

Thanks for reading my article about great white shark fishing. If you enjoyed it, you might want to check out my other articles such as the mysterious anglerfish or tips on how to catch flounder. All the info you need is right here.

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