Common Small Inshore Sharks Found Around the New Zealand Coast

A reasonable size rig shark caught by the author fishing from a beach in Southland.
A reasonable size rig shark caught by the author fishing from a beach in Southland.

Small Inshore Sharks

Spiny Dogfish

Spiny dogfish.
Spiny dogfish.

Surfcasters fishing around the South Island of New Zealand will typically catch a number of smaller sharks. The most commonly caught are Spiny DogfishSqualus acanthias – which in some areas and at certain times of year can be found in huge numbers. They have a spine in front of each dorsal fin but are otherwise not dangerous. They are in fact good eating producing firm white fillets. Sometimes surfcasters will catch large numbers of spiny dogfish and simply toss them unwanted on the beach. This is not good at all. If you catch a fish and are not going to take it home to eat then at the very least return it alive to the sea. Although spiny dogfish are at times seasonally abundant I’m sure that they are not as plentiful as they were in years past.

Allan Burgess with a rig shark caught surfcasting.
Allan Burgess with a rig shark caught surfcasting.

Rig Shark

The second commonly caught small inshore shark is the RigMustelus lenticulatus. This species is very similar in appearance to the Spiny dogfish but doesn’t have the spines. It is sold in the shops as lemon Fish and is excellent eating. It tends to be browner in colour with lighter coloured spots. This species is a firm favourite with surfcasters. It is a good fighter when hooked at the beach and is excellent eating. Rig nets were once quite a common site around Banks Peninsula and the beaches of Pegasus Bay.

A good size rig shark of around 20lbs plus is a tremendous catch for any surfcaster. This species can be caught even when the sea is quite dirty following a southerly blow. This species hunts by smell and doesn’t appear to be bothered by discoloured water in the same way as other species like kahawai. The best baits for rig are shellfish and crustaceans like crab or rock lobster. Also worth a try are supermarket shrimp or prawns (cooked and uncooked). I have caught the odd one on other baits including yellow-eyed mullet and squid. However, the right bait makes a big difference to your catch rate when it comes to rig and elephant fish.

School Shark or Tope

Six-year-old Bailey McIntyre, of Kaes, landed a tope shark ( Galeorhinus galeus ) weighing 16.7 kg (36 lb 13 oz) in 20 minutes while fishing Whangaroa, New Zealand.

The third of the commonly caught small sharks is the School SharkGaleorhinus australis. In my experience, the School shark is more common in the South Island during the summer months. It is also known as: Tope or Grey Boy. It grows much bigger than the other two sharks mentioned. It can reach two metres in length and weigh as much as 35 kg. It is recognised by the International Game Fish Association as a game fish.

I have caught some quite big ones between Birdlings Flat and Dorie just south of Christchurch. The really big ones are pregnant females.

Tope sharks will take any bait but as with all surfcasting a fresh cut bait is the best. You don’t need big hooks to catch tope, rig or spiny dogfish. A size 3/0 is quite sufficient. A thin wire trace a 30cm in length will reduce the chances of being bitten-off. I make my terminal rigs from 37kg (80lb) monofilament and attach a short Twist-Weld wire dropper. These sharks can be taken with mono terminal tackle without many bust-offs but it is frustrating to lose a good shark when it is close to shore only because it has bitten-off your hook. A simple paternoster rig is all that is required to catch them.

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