A while back, I wrote a post about how A Goliath Grouper is Like a Successful Marketing Plan. It ended with a threat about me getting amped on sharks – and look :: here we are.

I just back from a trip to Hilton Head island (on the South Carolina Coast) where a shark fishing morning clearly showed me that shark fishing is exactly like online marketing.


It has nothing at all to do with me wanting to talk more about shark fishing. 🙂

Gear-up for the Local Conditions

I live in Atlanta, so I don’t fish off the Atlantic coast too often. However, I have been there before, and it helped me know what gear I needed to bring this time.

Last time I went to Hilton Head, I didn’t know what I needed so brought a lot of tackle. Very touristy. I lugged my big tackle box down with me to the beach every day, but never really pulled anything out of it. I was actually only using the same basic set-up all day, and just throwing cut bait.

All the lugging did for me, was compromise all the lures and gear in my tackle box. I got sand in everything and the sun just beat down on it mercilessly every day, for no good reason. A lot of undue stress and wear-and-tear on stuff I wasn’t even using.

On this trip, I learned from my previous mistakes. I went through my tackle ahead of time, and pulled out only the weights, hooks and steel leaders I would need. I took a bait knife, to cut the squid. I took a pliers, to pull hooks from shark jaws. I even took WD40 this time because last year, my pliers got corroded in the salt air and made it tough to open them. I didn’t like the alternative, of using my hands to take the hook out, so keeping the pliers functional was a must. I put in a couple hand towels, because even without reaching into sharks’ mouths like a hero, it always gets really messy. Flashlights, sun block and bug spray and some extra line. I put all this stuff in two ziplock bags, then put the ziplocks in a nylon bag and left my tackle box at home.

I had one salt water rig (pole and reel), so I got new line for it (20 pound test) and oiled it up. Got it working well, with a full spool of new line to get me through the week.

In a word, I was prepared with specific gear for this specific trip. The kitchen sink stayed home.

Based on what I encountered before in Hilton Head, I knew this time around what I needed to increase my chances for success. I cut out the extra, and made sure my stuff-to-be-schlepped was efficiently considered. I hit the beach with only what I needed, all of it well protected from damage in the sun.

Use Experience to Reduce Investments

I knew from the last time I was fishing here that I could throw cut squid into the surf, and likely catch some sharks. I had learned how to cut the squid and get it to stay on the hook from a guide we hired on the last trip. I knew one bag of frozen squid would last us all week unless the fishing was crazy good. On the last trip, I bought way too much squid and had to give away bags of it when we left.

I also got some frozen shrimp this time, because I know from experience in Florida that shrimp are pretty much a go-to bait in any body of saltwater. I had never used them here, but figured they would be a decent bait to try if the squid was not being effective. Figured they might get us smaller fish we could use as cut bait.

I was able to use the money I saved on excess squid to pay for the shrimp, and still paid less overall than I did last year for bait, for fishing a couple more days this year with more people.

My experience allowed me to reduce the investment without affecting the number of casts I could throw. Actually, because they were headless, the shrimp proved to be harder to keep on the hook than the squid (plus, small fish nibbled them down)…so I had even more casts than I anticipated – but spent less to get them.

This year, I also knew a party boat would not give me the fishing experience I wanted. Last year, I hooked into a 6-7 foot shark on a party boat, but the gear on these boats is made for people who don’t fish – I found it frustrating, and pretty dopey. Like using a telephone pole and cables to reel in a car.

I wanted to catch, fight and feel the power of a big fish – that was why I liked catching these things. Spending the extra money to get out a bit (like party boats) certainly increased my chances of catching some different things (and we did) – but I was content to stick to surf casting this year, using gear I knew would offer me a richer experience should it prove effective. The extra money saved from the party boat was spent on a couple dinners in some nice restaurants. And cupcakes – found a place that made only cupcakes: amazingly wonderful. I swear the éclair one they served as a Thursday special was like making-out with Heaven.

Overall, I spent considerably less money to be fishing much more often on this trip than I did on last year’s, with more people. Used the savings to increase more fishing opportunities and also to enjoy other, non-fishing vacation fun…let me repeat: they made ONLY cupcakes.

Be Willing to Adapt

Last year, when we were throwing squid out into the surf we caught little black tip shark pups – lots of them. It was on almost every cast for a while – just lots of little shark action over the whole trip.

This year, we didn’t catch any. Didn’t see that coming at all, and it took us all by surprise. No telling why – but there just weren’t bunches of little shark pups waiting to be caught  this time, even though we were prepared. Despite the numbers and data to support otherwise, squid was falling flat.

The shrimp allowed us to catch some Whiting – which are little fish common on the shore – but even these were few and far between. Personally, I didn’t catch one, but my son and his friend Trey did. On the third one they landed, we used my bait knife to throw out pieces of the Whiting as cut bait. One piece I pitched out there got a decent hit, but nothing noteworthy.

As I stood there in the surf not catching anything but a tan, a man came down the beach and asked how I was doing. He said a guy down a ways had caught some huge Cobia over the last couple days. He was also surf casting like me and the boys, but he was taking the Whiting he caught, re-hooking them as bait and throwing them back out, live and whole. He said the Cobia came in an hour or two, every time…they always just grabbed the bait and ran and jumped and thrashed and eventually broke off – but it made me want one, real bad. All that running and jumping and thrashing sounded like exactly what we were after.

We had not been using the Whiting like this, and my cut bait approach was not getting results though it always worked in the past. Neither was the squid, even though last year, I couldn’t miss with pieces of cut squid. Nature: 2; previous experience: 0. The shrimp was working for the boys to catch Whiting though, so the next one Trey caught, he re-hooked like the guy suggested and threw it back out.

And in a little less than a hour, he yelled as the rod doubled over, and a 5-6 foot shark rolled. The shark jumped and thrashed violently, and the line broke. It was really exciting, but short-lived. Luckily, we all saw his fish, too, which made it better.

Let’s review here: none of the things I thought would work, worked. It did not make us stop fishing or anything, but it made us adjust what we were doing to increase the likelihood of success. Trey hooking into that monster was great – it made the day really exciting, and the fishing adrenaline go to full-boil.

But most importantly for me, there was now a method I could see that worked. Unfortunately, it seemed to require Trey or my son catching a Whiting for me since my fat, cupcake-filled butt couldn’t seem to catch anything at all. Even here though, I was willing to adapt.

Patience, Grasshopper…

We were on the island for a week, and fished almost every day there. This did not stop me from never catching anything – but I didn’t mind. I like fishing as much or sometimes even more than catching, so it works out well for me. And there were cupcakes.

But despite the achieved Zen and the delectable butter-creme frosting, on our last day, I secretly hoped I could do better. Little did I know, I would soon do much better than I had hoped.

We packed stuff, and then returned to the beach for one last morning before heading back to Atlanta. We spent a lovely morning there – but nary a nibble for hours on end.

Trey gave me a Whiting he eventually caught as our time wound down – turned out to be the only one of the day. We were running out of opportunities yet he was gracious enough to give me the lone baitfish so I might catch something. I was not too proud to accept it, either.

I put on a slightly longer steel leader (because Trey’s shark had broke-off on a smaller one) and a larger hook for the Whiting. I threw it out in the water, and went back to stand on the shore, hoping for something to end the week with. I thought Cobia, but was fine with anything.

In about 30 minutes, I felt the Whiting wake up, and start to swim frantically. I told the boys to watch, and reeled down the slack, lowering the tip of the rod. I yanked up to set the hook, hard. The rod doubled over, and I felt the weight of a very powerful fish as I tried to turn it around under water.

And it was on.

For the next 45 minutes or so, I wrestled with this big fish (safely from shore, of course).

He broke the surface more than a few times (so we saw it was a shark), but mostly just drove out. I would reel him back in, and he’d do it again, reel screaming-out line, the drag (and me) frantically holding on.



The rod I had made this really fun – as did the fact I had 20 pound test, while trying to land a fish easily over 90 pounds. If I tried too hard, I would lose it. I needed to keep playing it, gently, or the line would snap.

However, I did not count on my reel being grossly outmatched here – it took the brunt of the stress, and ended-up conking-out on me. I think the gears wore down in it – I got to a point at the end, and simply could not use it anymore…but it held.


Unfortunately for me, this was at a point when the shark was still a few hundred yards out in the surf. So I started backing up, pulling him into shore. I had to again move slowly, or I would accidentally break him off. But I had a clear path and it was low tide, so there was a bunch of beach behind me.

I ended up causing a bit of a fuss on the beach with all this commotion, and the Beach Patrol came to watch. I pulled the shark about 3 feet from shore (I was waaay back on the beach). He was exhausted, and I was too. But then I tried to yank him onto the sand, and I snapped the line.

People came up to me saying they were sorry  I lost him after such a long fight – but I did not want to land the thing, really – I had no way to deal with a shark. I left all my tackle at home, and even with it, I had nothing to make a monster like that submit. I wasn’t going to eat him or anything, or keep him. I had tried to get him on shore, but had no idea what I would have done once he was there, so it was better this way.

shark fishing on Hilton Head


Totally fine with me – he ruined my reel, and I gave him a workout to remember – figured we were even.

Even free from my line, he was dazed and tired for a few minutes, before he flipped tail and went back out to sea. He was OK, and would live to eat more Whiting.

The Beach Patrol came over and told us we couldn’t fish anymore that day, which was fine – we were leaving anyway, now a bit later than we had planned. (They don’t want you to catch sharks, which I respect.

Doesn’t stop them from being there though, and I am not trying to hurt them – just catch them for a little while if the Cobia are less willing to play.)

There was only about 10 yards left on the spent reel, which remain there today. I removed it, so it’s like a trophy for me. The rod held up like a champ so I’ll use it again, but I learned that next time, I need a stronger reel if I am going to go after these bigger fish.

Makes for a great memory anyway, and the trophy serves as proof. The reel was well worth the expense to me…and infinitely less expensive than even one seat on a party  boat would have been.

Let’s think of this a little like my metaphor should imply.

  • I planned for success, based on something that had worked in the past. My plan did not work, despite being well budgeted and well implemented. Unwilling to bail, I adapted.
  • Current situations changed the viable and known tactics, and had I not adapted, I would have left (clutching my data) skunked.
  • I listened to what was happening around me, and acted on it.
  • I used the help of others when I could not do it all myself.
  • I traded the telephone pole and the cable deal for something more specific and meaningful, and ended-up with a fishing tale I will have forever. I pinpointed my approach, waited, and eventually connected in a very meaningful way.
  • If you do land a big one, expect the Beach Patrol to come and shut you down (cough *G-word* cough).

I’ll probably get down to Florida soon, so I’ll likely be able to figure out how other fishing is just like something else. Until then, feel free to give me a call and get me out on the water for some business advice…who knows what we’ll catch. Until then, swim carefully – especially if you look anything like a Whiting! 🙂