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Rigs, Spots, Baits, Setups for Soupfin Shark Fishing California

Updated: Jan 26

If you’re trying to work out the best methods, setups, rigs to use for Shark Fishing in California for Soupfin Sharks (tope) from a beach or pier, or land-based shark fishing anywhere, you’ve come to the right place.

This in-depth article was written by an experienced professional shark and surf fishing guide with numerous trophy-grade guided and personally-caught soupfin sharks under his belt.

In this article, we'll learn about the best rigs, baits, reels, setups, rods, tackle, locations, tides, and sinkers for surf shark fishing in California, with lots of tips and information to help you catch your first or biggest soupfin shark anywhere in the world.

Also called tope, snapper, vitamin or school sharks, soupfin sharks provide some of the most fun and challenging shark fishing experiences with their love of rocky, reefy beaches and piers, and often feeding at night.

They're strong fighters but quite easy to handle once on the beach. The 70-inch-plus soupfin shark pictured below was caught and released off a beach in Southern California beach using the methods described in this guide.

Shark Fishing California: Best Tips, Tackle, Baits, Rigs, and Locations for Catching Soupfin Sharks guide index:


1 Shark Fishing California: Introduction to Soupfin Sharks

Soupfin sharks (Galeorhinus galeus) are members of the houndshark Triakidae family and they’re one of the few sharks to be found in almost every ocean around the world, but they’re most common in Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Ocean waters.

They have a classic elongated shark shape with a pointy nose and a mix of grey, light brown and off-white coloration on their body.

They're not dangerous to humans and no attacks have been recorded. Of course they can bite and they have teeth, so you should always unhook them with a decent pair of alloy pliers or de-hooking device, but soupfin sharks are not interested in eating people.

The IGFA (International Game Fishing Association) record stands at 72 pounds 12 ounces but most soupfin caught in California weigh between 30 and 50 pounds, on average, or around 65 to 70 inches in length.

The state record for soupfin sharks in California is 38 lbs 4 oz - a 62" fish caught from a beach near San Diego in 2017.

They’re a schooling shark and are often found in relatively shallow inshore waters around kelp forests and reef structures.

That's a great location tip, by the way...

In California, soupfin sharks are found from the Bay area down to San Diego, with concentrations occurring in areas with large kelp forests, rocky structure and lots of bait between Santa Barbara County and San Diego County.

La Jolla near San Diego, Blacks Beach, Torrey Pines, Capistrano, Doheney, and further North beaches LA to Malibu are examples of areas that attract lots of soupfin because of the warm, shallow waters with lots of food and cover, including reef and kelp.

In general, soupfin sharks eat a varied diet but the most common items found in their stomachs include sanddabs, shallow-water rockfish, croaker, surf perch, mackerel, sardines, crabs, squid, octopus and small saltwater bass.

This is useful information for working out the best baits for soupfin shark fishing.

Whilst soupfin aren’t the biggest shark out there, they can still grow to over 70 inches (5.8-feet) and 70-plus pounds in weight.

They’re a decent opponent for the surf shark angler and will test your tackle and your skills in getting them on the sand. Don’t go under-gunned (more information on the tackle needed later)

If you’ve never caught a large fish or big shark like this before, consider booking a guide or going with an experienced friend who can show you the correct way to handle them.

2 Shark Fishing California: Best Seasons and Time of Year to Catch Soupfin Sharks

As mentioned, soupfin are a fascinating species of shark and one of the few to be found around the world, from Iceland to New Zealand.

An interesting fact about Southern California soupfin is that almost all are female and they undertake a regular summer migration up north, presumably to mate, in a three-year cycle.

See Nosal et al’s 2021 paper on triennial soupfin shark migrations for some great insights into this behavior.

This and other research strongly suggest that females use warmer Southern California waters to aid gestation over the fall and winter months, often departing to mate with the resident male population up north (think San Francisco and upwards) in the summer months.

So, the best months and times for soupfin shark fishing in Southern California are often the fall, spring and winter months, but we catch them most of the year round with the only lull seeming to occur in late summer.

It’s much more important to be in the right place and fishing during the right state of tide.

In colder waters in Central California and the Bay area, smaller male soupfin seem to be present for most of the year and mix in freely with leopard sharks and sevengill sharks in deeper waters where there's plenty of bait and tidal flow.

San Francisco shark fishing california
San Francisco Bay has a great year-round soupfin fishery with deep water and strong tidal flows providing solid sport for primarily male soupfin sharks.

These are often caught on specialist charters from a boat on baits like salmon chunks or similar cut bait.

In summary, the cooler or transitional months of fall and spring are often the best for soupfin shark fishing in Southern California, taking advantage of moving fish and migratory patterns for the bigger females.

Central California and beyond tends to see steadier year-round action with resident male fish in deeper water, accessible from piers or charter boats.

3 Shark Fishing California: Best Locations and Spots for Catching Soupfin Sharks

Now we know that many of the catchable soupfin live in Southern California and are often large females, think about what kind of environment a big gravid (pregnant) soupfin is going to need to overwinter; lots of food, rocky structure, kelp forests, reef systems and suchlike.

This will help inform your choice of location when shark fishing in Southern California.

Overall, I find open beaches with little nearby structure generally poor for soupfin fishing, whereas a sandy beach with nearby reef systems or kelp forests is much more consistent.

So, get on Google Maps or do some research or explore at low tide to find a suitable beach with plenty of reef structure nearby and a decent rock-free sandy area in front of you where you can safely hook, play, and land the fish.

best locations for soupfin shark fishing California
Beaches with steep drop-offs, rocky reefs nearby, kelp systems, and lots of structure are ideal for Soupfin Shark Fishing in California. This is Blacks Beach near San Diego, a great beach for shark fishing in California.

They will come in quite close to shore at peak tidal times (just on dark with an ebbing or flooding tide, for example) and a cast as far behind the breakers and into deeper water as you can manage, without fishing too close to rocks or reef, is ideal.

A sandy channel or field-size patch next to a large reef system is a perfect sharky spot, for example.

Just be aware of where the hard structure is so you can avoid losses and breakages, and always use a heavy mono rubbing / abrasion leader when shark fishing, especially near rocks. About 10 to 15-feet of 80-pound is ideal.

Further North, surf casters prefer deeper water and structures like piers or breakwaters for accessing the kinds of habitat the male soupfin prefer.

Just follow the same location tips wherever you are, and you won't be far off.

4 Shark Fishing California: Best Piers for Soupfin Shark Fishing in California

Soupfin sharks are a common catch on piers in Southern California using the tactics illustrated further down in this article.

Piers allow easy access to deeper water and often have deep water, reef, kelp or rocky structure nearby, which are important features to look for.

This is where a lot of shark species spend most of their time in California.

They're a good place to start if your casting isn't up to scratch from the beach, or you want to keep your feet dry!

The best piers for soupfin shark fishing in Southern California are, from North to South:

  • Goleta Pier (Santa Barbara): Located in Santa Barbara, this pier offers excellent soupfin shark fishing opportunities.

  • Ventura Pier (Ventura): Ventura Pier is another great spot for shark fishing, with various species available.

  • Paradise Cove Pier (Malibu): Moving south, Paradise Cove Pier in Malibu is known for its tranquil setting and offers a chance to catch different shark species, including soupfin. They love the rocky structure along this stretch.

  • Santa Monica Pier (Santa Monica) and Hermosa Beach Pier (Hermosa Beach): Santa Monica Pier and Hermosa Beach Pier on the LA coastline are a bit farther south and both provide good opportunities for shark fishing, mainly targeting surf sharks like soupfin, leopards and rays.

  • Redondo Beach Pier (Redondo Beach): Known for its shark fishing, primarily targeting soupfin and leopard sharks and other coastal species.

  • San Clemente Pier (San Clemente): Located near the southern end of Orange County, San Clemente Pier offers various shark fishing opportunities.

  • Oceanside Pier (Oceanside, Orange County): Classic California shark fishing pier with nearby reef and structure offering solid soupfin shark fishing.

  • Shelter Island (San Diego): Great easy access to deep water harbor-type structure with big soupfin regularly caught.

  • Imperial Beach Pier (Imperial Beach, San Diego): Located near the Mexican border, this pier provides opportunities for catching soupfin sharks and other shark species.

best soupfin shark fishing piers spots locations california
San Clemente is a great place to catch soupfin sharks, as are lots of the Southern California pier structures where fishing is allowed.

5 Shark Fishing California: Best Beaches, Spots and Areas for Soupfin Shark Fishing in California

There are lots of great spots for surf and soupfin shark fishing from the beach in Southern California - by using the criteria set out earlier in this article, you can probably work out some ideal spots near where you live or plan to fish.

Tip: Book a guided session with a professional guide for a quick way to learn some great spots and techniques. Click here for details.

But here are some of our favorite (and best!) spots, areas, and beaches for soupfin shark fishing in Southern California:

  • Ventura Beach area (Ventura County): Ventura Beach area offers a mix of pier and surf fishing. Anglers can catch species like soupfin, leopards, and bat rays from the structured spots, and the sandy shores are ideal for surf shark fishing.

  • Malibu Area Beaches: Malibu is famous for its picturesque coastline and excellent surf fishing opportunities. Anglers can target a variety of species, including soupfin, leopard sharks, and threshers further offshore. Live or freshly killed bait, like mackerel or spanish (scad) mackerel, is often used here.

  • Santa Monica Beach, Will Rogers and LA beaches north of SM: Santa Monica is a popular area for surf shark fishing. Will Rogers Beach, too. Anglers can target a range of species, including soupfin and leopard shark. Fresh bait, such as mackerel or bonito, is effective and nighttime is best due to the crowds.

  • Redondo and Torrance Beach area: Redondo Beach and Torrance are great places for anglers looking to catch a variety of fish, including soupfin and other sharks. Large fresh half mackerel bait and croaker cut bait are commonly used, and fishing is productive year-round.

  • Catalina Island: Catalina Island, just off the coast of Southern California, offers excellent opportunities for catching soupfin sharks. Many anglers take boat trips to fish the waters around the island, or fish from shore, where soupfin sharks can be found year-round near the kelp forests and deeper water.

  • Seal Beach: Seal Beach boasts a long fishing pier and nearby surf fishing opportunities. Soupfin sharks are known to frequent this area, especially during their migration seasons. Anglers have success using mackerel, bonito, squid, or large anchovies as bait.

  • Capistrano Beach - Doheney Beach (south Orange County) area: Lots of rocky, kelpy structure close to the beach and good tidal currents make for a great soupfin and shark fishing beaches. Be prepared to deal with some tougher conditions than usual but this is a good bet for a range of shark species including soupfin from the beach on casted tackle.

  • Oceanside Beach to Carlsbad State Beach area: Oceanside to Carlsbad, in northern San Diego County, is another prime location for soupfin shark fishing. The Oceanside Pier and the nearby rocky and sandy beaches are popular spots. Anglers often have success using live bait, such as mackerel, and fishing during the early morning or late evening hours on a moving tide for threshers, or soupfin or leopards on fresh dead baits.

  • Blacks Beach and Torrey Piness Beach area: A variety of sharks on offer in San Diego County with relatively deep water close to shore and good rocky structure nearby. Can be tough to fish with current and kelp in buckets, but lots of soupfin, leopard and other sharks to catch on large fresh baits. Try a Pulley Rig and large Sputnik Sinkers.

  • La Jolla (San Diego area beaches): Ensuring you stay out of the Marine Protected Area no-fishing zones, the La Jolla area and nearby beaches in San Diego are known for its diverse marine life, including soupfin sharks. Kayak fishing and surf fishing are popular here. Anglers often target soupfin and leopard sharks during the spring and summer months, using fresh bait like mackerel, croaker or surf perch.

  • Point Loma: Point Loma, also in the San Diego area, is a renowned location for shark fishing. Point Loma Pier and the adjacent shoreline are good spots to try your luck. Soupfin sharks can be caught year-round, with live bait and large chunks of mackerel being effective.

  • San Diego Bay: While not a traditional beach, San Diego Bay offers fantastic fishing opportunities. Anglers can catch a variety of species, including spotted bay bass, croaker, and even small sharks. Live bait and artificial lures are both effective here.

Remember that fishing conditions can change, so it's advisable to check local regulations and consult with local bait shops or fishing forums for the most up-to-date information on when and where to catch soupfin sharks in Southern California.

Additionally, make sure you have the necessary fishing licenses and permits required for the area you plan to fish.

6 Shark Fishing California: Best Tides and Moons for Surf Shark Fishing

Soupfin are members of the houndshark family, which is a group of sharks boasting highly-adapted senses around locating scent trails and food in pitch-black conditions.

One tactic they use to make the most of this ability is to feed during times when the tide is running hard; on the ebb when water is rapidly going out as the tide falls, or on a flood when the water is coming in as the tide rises.

best tides for shark fishing california
The best tides to fish for soupfin sharks are during the larger tidal swings when the water is moving the most during the outgoing or incoming movement (green arrows) Avoid the lulls (blue arrows)

Moving water takes the scent from your fresh, bloody bait right into the zones where soupfin are living and hunting, drawing them to your hook bait as they swim up the scent trail.

By targeting the larger tidal swings and cycles, you can make the most of this water movement and the shark’s preference for hunting fresh food at this time.

I highly recommend getting a few tide and moon phase apps on your phone and following the lunar-related cycles as closely as possible to hit the sweet spot of these big water movements that coincide with dusk and the first two hours of darkness, or greylight to dawn, to maximize your chances of success.

This is a critical factor in my experience.

To sum up: the best tides for soupfin shark fishing in California are in the top 30% of the usual tidal range, usually a handful of days before or after a full or new moon. Avoid the biggest (spring) tides and the weaker / smaller tides.

High tides in the 4.5- to 6-foot range with a decent swing to a zero foot or minus low, or some sort of significant inward or outward movement on dark and into the first few hours at night are ideal.

7 Shark Fishing California: Why Catch and Release is best

It’s completely legal to take one soupfin shark per day per angler, but personally, I’ve always released my fish, and here’s why.

First, they are considered to be endangered by some and taking a large mature female will remove those successful breeding genes from the ecosystem at a time when they really need all the help they can get.

Second, they are notoriously hard to process with the flesh quickly taking on that unpleasant ammonia odor.

Last, they're notorious for high levels of things that aren't great for humans to eat. You don't want to be eating a lot of this one over a period of time.

So, unless you can get the fish processed and on ice immediately, just return carefully.

8 Shark Fishing California: Best Tackle, Rods, Reels and Setups for Soupfin Shark Fishing

A big West Coast soupfin shark can easily weigh in at 60 or 70 pounds (or more) and, assuming you’re not running heavy conventional tackle, they will properly test your gear.

soupfin shark fishing California rigs
Likely the best setup for soupfin shark fishing in California - the author with a nice soupfin caught on heavy spinning gear

The set-up I’ve ended up using also considers the fact that a large mackerel bait will get eaten by a few other critters that maybe you’re not expecting; giant rays and suchlike.

Reel-wise, the best reels for shark fishing are medium to large, offshore-style spinning reels such as the Penn Slammer, Shimano Saragossa or Okuma Salina models in the 7000, 8000 or 10,000 size range.

The Okuma Salina SA-10000-A Slammer III and IV are our current favorite reels and they’ve done sterling work in this area with dozens of big soupfin caught and released without issues over several seasons use.

the best reels surf shark fishing soupfin shark fishing ca Californialifornia
SURF SHARK SPINNING FISHING REELS - The Penn Slammer IV in larger sizes is a great choice for all sorts of heavy-duty surf fishing

Levels of sealing technology, bulletproof internals and resitance to incursion from sand and saltwater are factors to consider.

Ideally, the reel should hold 400 to 600 meters of 50- or 60-pound, eight-strand braid main line with a decent amount of usable drag -30 pounds or more.

This might seem like overkill for a sub-100-pound fish but you can’t pick and choose what eats your bait.

Sometimes the elephant eats a peanut, and sometimes a larger shark or massive ray will eat the soupfin bait. You need to be able to reliably stop that barndoor bat ray from getting in that reef.

A good tip is that a high-speed spinning reel like the Okuma Salina and Penn Slammer HS models also help as soupfin are notorious for moving fast and swimming towards you on the take, so catching up with the fish quickly is aided by a high retrieve ratio.

rods, reels and setups shark fishing California Bay Area
A solid soupfin shark caught on a heavy 13-foot spinning rod, and 8000-size spinning reel (Shimano Saragossa) from a beach in California

Whilst fine for pier or jetty work, I find castable conventional reels lacking in line capacity, retrieve ratio and drag pressure for fishing from the beach in this manner.

But, if you want to use conventional tackle for surf sharking, one of the castable Penn Fathom or Squall models that holds a similar amount of line to the spinning models listed above will be a good choice but ensure it’s a casting model.

penn fathom conventional reel best reel for surf shark fishing
A cartable conventional reel like a Penn Fathom II is also a solid option for soupfin shark fishing in California and the West Coast in general

Rod-wise, for casting with spinning gear off the beach I use either a custom 13-foot 6-inch spinning rod rated to cast an 8-ounce sinker and large bait (more on the best baits later…), or an off-the-shelf 12 or 13-foot heavy-rated spinning rod with a similar rating.

For a pier soupfin sharking setup, a conventional 8 to 10-foot rod rated for 30- to 60-pound line will work great. Think heavy deckhand or offshore jig-style poles.

So, from hook to reel, our go-to, tried-and-tested best setup soupfin shark fishing in California is as follows:

  • Best soupfin shark bait is medium to large-size fresh mackerel, bonito or yellowfin croaker / surf perch cut bait (more on this shortly...)

  • Heavy bait elastic to secure the bait on the rig

  • Wired Sputnik surf sinker (usually 7 to 8 ounces)

  • Surf Shark Pulley Rig or similar double circle hook wire leader, or Surf Leader C-Rig

  • 80-pound mono casting leader

  • 50 to 60-pound braided main line

  • 12 to 13-foot spinning rod

  • 6000 to 10,000-size spinning reel

9 Shark Fishing California: Best Rigs, Hooks, and Leaders for Soupfin Shark Fishing

Our go-to end tackle setup for surf fishing for sharks like soupfin starts with a 10 to 15-foot, 80-pound mono rubbing and casting leader to take the force of the cast and any abrasion from the shark’s rough skin, should it get wrapped up during the fight.

Tip: We highly recommend you do not try and use a braided mainline all the way down to the rig as this will result in fish losses. This is something we’ve seen with beginner shark anglers a lot.

An 80-pound mono leader is the minimum casting leader strength we use for this type of fishing.

This mono leader is tied, using a palomar knot, to a Surf Shark Pulley Rig with twin 10/0 circle hooks and 170-pound coated wire.

It’s important to always use circle hooks for shark fishing because this style of hook always hooks the fish in the lip or corner of the mouth, making them easy to unhook and return.

J-style hooks aren’t ideal for most types of shark fishing.

A coated wire leader is also important because soupfin shark have teeth and will chew through mono leaders. The pulley rig we like to use (below) has a coated wire section that’ll handle lots of fish and lasts several sessions.

A pulley-style surf fishing rig works by utilizing a heavy mono section of leader followed by the wire section and hooks.

A swivel is free running on the heavy mono section, and is also tied to the casting leader that leads to the rod and reel.

A special clip sits just above the sinker to pin the bait in place with the bottom hook behind the sinker when the rig is prepared for casting, releasing when the rig hits the water.

See the illustration below for more information on how this type of shark fishing rig works.

Step 1 is how a pulley rig looks when being cast, step 2 is how it looks on impact with the water, step 3 is what happens when a fish picks up the bait.

how a surf shark fishing pulley rig works
HOW A PULLEY RIG WORKS – The bait is held inline with the sinker via the clip when casting (1) releasing on impact with the water (2) shark pulls the rig tight and sinker is out of the way and heavy mono leader comes into play (3)

The advantages of using a pulley rig for surf fishing are that it allows you to cast a large bait further due to the improved aerodynamics of pinning the bait behind the sinker on the cast.

It also produces fewer tangles than other similar rigs.

Plus, the heavy mono section absorbs a lot of abrasion from snags, structure and rough skins, giving you an even better chance of landing a trophy fish.

When guiding for surf sharks in California, we use the pulley rig a majority of the time and it works perfectly for leopard sharks, soupfin and all sorts of other sharks and rays caught on the same tactics.

The version below is tied to our exact specifications and is a proven design that’s been perfected to be optimal for surf fishing for very large record soupfin sharks.

You can also use a simpler Carolina-style rig (C-rig) for surf shark fishing, but still with the heavy mono rub leader and wire leader section.

This type of rig has the sinker running on the heavy mono section and no release clip.

It doesn’t cast as far as the pulley rig, but it’s a good choice for someone starting out surf fishing for sharks, or anyone fishing from a pier or boat, where you’re more or less dropping the rig off the side.

For rig and leader making, we've found the best size of circle hooks for soupfin sharks to be 8/0 and 10/0, with the Cox & Rawle Mutsu Circle and Mutsu Circle Extra our preferred patterns.

Cox & Rawle Mutsu Circle and Mutsu Circle Extra are made from an extremley high grade of high-carbon steel and offer superior sharpness, durability and strength compared to anything else on the market.

We rely on these hooks for lots of West Coast predator fishing and suggest you do too.

Avoid cheap imitations, unnecessarily thick offshore hooks and no-brand cheapo circle hooks; always poor quality, blunt, high failure rates and fewer hook-ups. Don't risk it.

best hooks for surf shark fishing California
Best hooks for soupfin shark fishing in California - the Cox & Rawle Mutsu Circle Hook

The standard wire Cox & Rawle Mutsu Circle is the best choice for surf fishing for sharks with heavy spinning gear - it's landed some monster fish over the years we've used this pattern. Most of the sharks pictured on this page were caught on this hook.

And the heavier-gauge Cox & Rawle Mutsu Extra pattern is a beast of a hook that'll take on any monsters the ocean has to offer.

It's a great hook for big soupfin in 8/0 and 10/0 sizes for use with heavier conventional tackle when larger sharks are present. Ideal for pier, boat and kayak fishing, too.

10 Shark Fishing California: How to Slide Baits using a Non-Return Slider from Piers, Jetties or Beaches

You can also slide a big bait if you’re shark fishing from a pier in California or anywhere on the coast with high structure to fish from.

Sliding baits involves casting out a large wired surf sinker on a combo rigged with mono main line, and clipping on a non-return pier slider and rig, and then letting the bait and rig slide down the line to the sinker on the ocean floor.

It’s one of the best ways of sending out a large bait that might be hard to cast for sharks and rays. You can also deploy a bait much further than you can usually cast the sinker and bait combined at once.

Try a Non-Return Weighted Slider on a Medium-Heavy conventional or Heavy spinning combo like the ones listed above, matched with a reel spooled with 20 to 50-pound mono.

Once you've cast out the sinker tied to the mono main line, thread the non-return slider onto the main line so the arm points towards the sinker end of the line.

Clip on the baited rig and, with some gentle bouncing on the rod tip to persuade the slider to move down the main line, slide the bait down to the sinker and fish as normal.

Use the large ring supplied with the slider at the end of the rig before the sinker to buffer the rig so it can''t fit over.

Sliding baits using a non-return slider is one of the best ways to catch larger sharks like soupfiun from a pier anywhere, but it requires some specialist equipment (e.g. a reel spooled with heavy mono) and practice.

11 Shark Fishing California: Best type of Sinkers to use for Surf Shark Fishing

The best type of sinker for surf fishing for sharks anywhere is a large wired sputnik sinker. This is for several reasons.

First, the wires help anchor the rig and bait in place, which is important because sharks hunt by sensing blood in the water.

By anchoring the bait in one place, we’re creating a scent trail that the sharks will follow up the current until they find the source - your bait.

If the bait, however, has moved down-current or had to be recast because the sinker wasn’t holding bottom, the shark will be less likely to find the bait because of the broken scent trail.

This often happens with pyramid and torpedo-style weights - avoid these.

So the best sinker for shark fishing is one that holds the bait in place in the current and swell, and that type is the heaviest wired sputnik surf sinker you can comfortably use and cast.

best sinkers for surf shark fishing wired sputnik surf fishing weights
Wired sputnik surf sinker weights are the best choice for soupfin shark fishing and any sort of surf fishing where you want the bait to be anchored in place.

This style of wired sinker also aids in hooking the shark because it provides more resistance than, say, a pyramid weight, and this resistance helps the circle hook to adequately set when the shark picks up the bait and starts to run.

For general surfcasting for sharks in California, we mostly use the 7 and 8-ounce wired surf sinkers. This balances the larger baits nicely on a Surf Shark Pulley Rig.

For the Carolina rig-style surf shark C-rig, you can use any size of sinker but we recommend using at least 5 or 6 ounces to achieve any sort of casting distance with a cut bait like mackerel or bonito.

12 Shark Fishing California: Best Baits for Surf Fishing for Soupfin Sharks

My best, go-to baits for soupfin shark fishing are: large fresh Pacific mackerel or small bonito, with the second choice being the head section of a small yellowfin croaker, corbina or medium-size surfperch. Chunks of yellowtail, too.

I love the first two baits for their high blood and oil content, but during winter they’re often hard to find fresh.

Yellowtail sections and smaller yellowtail heads are also great baits in the summer.

soupfin shark bait mackerel bonito pulley rig shark fishing california bay area
MACKEREL SOUPFIN SHARK BAIT - Two mackerel strapped together and mounted on a two-hook pulley rig works well. Mackerel and bonito are two of the best soupfin baits you can use.

I’m very happy to use fresh yellowfin croaker, or surf perch during the winter months as they’re easily catchable in advance.

They’re more durable than the average mackerel, which lends itself to a longer soak time – something that’s often needed in winter with fewer fish around.

A soupfin shark bait yellowfin croaker shark fishing california
A yellowfin croaker head section mounted on a pulley rig, one of our go-to baits for big soupfin sharks in California. Note the use of bait elastic to secure the hooks in place.

Further north, where the soupfin tend to be a bit smaller and in deeper water, salmon baits are favored with the oily belly and bloody head particularly attractive.

They’re not particularly fussy when it comes to the type of bait but I do pay attention to how fresh and durable the bait is; squid is problematic in this regard because it’ll get picked to pieces very quickly.

I never use any frozen or squid-type baits for soupfin if I can help it. They are not as effective.

To sum up, the go-to baits for soupfin shark fishing in California are:

  • Medium to large-size fresh mackerel

  • Fresh bonito head section

  • Yellowfin croaker head section or cut bait

  • Surf perch head section or cut bait

  • Yellowtail cut bait or sections

  • Salmon belly or heads

13 Shark Fishing California: Best way to rig a Bait for Soupfin Shark Fishing (one must-have item!)

The way you rig and attach the bait is really important, especially when using circle hooks.

We use two styles of rigging for soupfin sharks in California; the first being with a large mackerel or bonito bait on a pulley rig, and the second being a smaller chunk of cut bait on a Carolina rig.

The first style allows you to use a mackerel or bonito head section, which is a great bait because it contains lots of blood.

The number one, must-have essential piece of equipment for this is bait elastic – also known as magic thread, bait thread or bait cotton.

This allows you to secure the bait to the rig with the circle hooks in place so they stay in the same position when casting.

Best soupfin tope shark fishing bait mackerel pulley rig
A close-up of a mackerel bait mounted on a pulley rig using bait elastic.

We use a heavy grade of bait elastic for rigging large baits with multiple turns around the bottom hook and shank so it’s secured in place, like the bait above.

A few turns around the top hook – which is secured through the lip of the bait – holds that in place, too.

By securing the bait in place like this, you're ensuring the hooks will be in place and able to do their job when the shark comes along. Meanwhile, the crabs and nuisance fish will be pecking away at the bait, but with little impact on its hook-up potential.

The second style of rigging uses a smaller cut bait, often a chunk of fresh mackerel or bonito.

This circle hook is simply passed through the toughest part of the bait like the back bone, leaving the point and gape of the hook well exposed, and then secured in place with a few turns of bait elastic.

We find that using baits smaller than a child’s fist-size cut bait or sifter, frozen offerings like sardines aren’t selective enough and will catch lots of baby stingrays and similar critters.

A better strategy is to use a bait the size of a smartphone – a size any soupfin will have no problem in eating, but will avoid a majority of the unwanted stingrays.

Bigger baits also contain more blood, and are thus more easily found by the shark. Most of our big soupfin sharks have been taken on a large mackerel bait at night.

14 Booking a Guided Surf Shark Fishing trip in Southern California

I hope you've found this in-depth article useful. I'm happy to help with any questions or queries around this style of fishing via

You can also book guided trips in Southern California where we will be using the tactics and tackle described above, if this information has got you hungry for a surf shark or two.

Click here for details. This is a great way of learning the ropes from a pro!




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