Leopard Shark Fishing Tips & Tactics For Beginners

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Leopard shark fishing brings a lot of excitement. Yet, to be successful, you must learn where, when, and how to fish for these fish. A few tips from more experienced colleagues can help a lot, too!

Leopard sharks are one of the most popular fish species among pier fishermen and surf fishing enthusiasts. These fish are attractive and can reach a considerable size. While they are not aggressive and pose (as per a-z-animals.com), so you can still expect a good fight and a lot of excitement!

If you have some cooking skills, a leopard shark can also be turned into quite a tasty meal. If not, you can make it your pet. Small leopard sharks make attractive aquarium fish!

Are you ready to try to catch your first leopard shark?

I will help you do it as I have good experience in fishing for these creatures! I have also read many publications from scientific sources such as Florida Museum, California Sea Grant, and others to provide you with the accurate information.

Leopard Sharks Defined

Gray tiger shark spotted in the sea

According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, a leopard shark (Triakis semifasciata) is a member of the ground or carpet shark family (Carcharhiniformes). It is a silvery grey fish with black spots resembling those of a leopard – that is how it got its name in the first place. The younger the shark is, the more intense its colors are.

Leopard sharks have long, slim bodies, pavement-toothed jaws, and short, round snouts. They feature tapered tails, sturdy, triangular pectoral fins, and two distinctive dorsal fins on their back, too. 

A leopard shark is often confused with a tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) or a zebra shark (Stegostoma fasciatum). Yet, even though these fish look alike, they are not the same species.

How Big Is A Leopard Shark?

Based on the information published on the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance website, a typical leopard shark is about 3 to 7 feet long and 3.5 to 4 pounds heavy. However, there are also small baby leopard sharks that are only 7 to 8 inches long and fully grown, and extra-big ones that are as much as 6 feet long.

A leopard shark takes quite some time to grow to its full potential. It can live up to about 25 years of age. The average age of a leopard shark caught by fishermen is 7 years, while the average length is 3 feet. Surprisingly, females are larger than males.

What Does A Leopard Shark Eat?

Leopards are bottom feeders. A typical leopard shark diet consists of invertebrates and small fish and can include the following:

  • Crabs
  • Squid
  • Small teleost fishes
  • Octopuses
  • Fat innkeeper worms
  • Clam siphons
  • Shrimp 
  • Fish eggs

As a ground shark, a leopard shark usually feeds on the seafloor. That is why its mouth is located on the underside of its head and opens downward. 

Leopard shark pups usually skim the sandy ocean bottom and pick up the clams, sand crabs, innkeeper warms, and fish eggs. The elder sharks eat more fish and are even known to enjoy an occasional smoothhound shark or bat ray. 

Even though a leopard shark spends most of its day shoveling the bottom, it does come up to the surface at night. It is also active early in the morning when the tide comes in and brings a fresh food supply. You might want to use that to your advantage.

When To Fish For A Leopard Shark?

The Best Time Of Year For Leopard Shark Fishing

Fishing leopards can be a year-round sport according to the California Sea Grant College Program information. Most anglers target them from April to November, but the prime season starts in August and ends in September.

Leopards are also highly active between December and April when herring flocks arrive at the shipping channels about 30 to 50 feet deep. Large schools of leopards stay there even after the herring disperse, letting you enjoy leopard shark fishing throughout the winter. 

The Best Time Of Day For Leopard Shark Fishing

Leopards are most active at night. Therefore, I highly recommend organizing a night fishing expedition, ideally under the fool moon. You’ll have a better chance of catching them once they rise into the water column.

I have also had success hooking a leopard shark during late afternoons, just before dusk. You might have some success early in the morning as well since leopards often feed at that time.

Where To Fish For A Leopard Shark?

Leopard shark on the sand
Image credit: flickr.com

The Best Areas For Leopard Shark Fishing

Leopards inhabit the Pacific coast from California to Mexico. Seven discrete gene pools have been identified for the leopard shark on the California coast (from San Diego to Humboldt Bay). Hence, if you hope to catch one, you should best fish bays, estuaries, and piers in this area. 

The San Francisco Bay and Humboldt Bay are the two largest leopard shark estuaries on the West Coast according to the ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research. You’ll have the best chance of catching a leopard shark if you fish from the San Francisco Bay waterfront piers, such as:

  • Malibu Pier
  • Avila Pier
  • Fort Baker Pier
  • Marin Rod and Gun Club Pier
  • Angel Island Pier
  • Port View Park Pier
  • Elephant Rock Pier
  • Morro Bay T-Piers

Considerable leopard shark populations roam reefs, kelp beds,rock-filled spots, and muddy flats near the coast, too. They are highly active predators that follow the tide into intertidal mudflats in search of their next meal.

Leopards do not tend to make long-distance trips and rather stay in a particular location. Those who do leave their usual habitat in the winter usually return to the same area with the arrival of the spring.

The Best Water Depth For Leopard Shark Fishing

As we have already established, leopards live in shallow waters of bays and estuaries, usually close to the bottom. They are generally found dwelling at depths of 40 feet (approx. 12 meters), although they go up to 65 feet deep (19.8 meters). Stray leopard sharks have even been seen at 300 feet (91.4 meters), but they are as rare as hen’s teeth.

Are Leopard Sharks Dangerous For Humans?

Leopards are aggressive, predatory fish. Fortunately, their aggression is not aimed at us humans. Hence, these sharks are nothing like some of their relatives. There are almost no reports of them attacking people. It is thus safe to conclude that they are quite harmless

Divers and snorkelers often swim with leopards. Nevertheless, always be careful when handling any shark. Their teeth have the potential to harm you.

Here is an engaging video bringing more facts about leopard sharks:

The Best Lures & Tackle For Leopard Shark Fishing 

Macro Leopard shark in the ocean bed

You do not need heavy artillery to bring in the leopard shark. However, when fishing out on the sea or in the surf zone, you must always be prepared to handle a big catch!


The best type of fishing reel for sharks is a spinning reel. It must have a high line capacity (300-400 yards) and a minimum of 25 pounds of drag. 


Anglers often opt for heavy mono lines (15-30lb), but if you want to be able to bring home a trophy catch, equip yourself with a 50- 60 pound braid.


A surf rod suitable for leopard shark fishing should be 10 to 13 feet long with a medium to heavy power rating. A shorter surf rod would not deliver sufficient casting distance when fishing from the beach.


Depending on how strong the currents in your area are, you should use weights weighing from 4 to 8 ounces to help you keep your bait in the bite zone. 


Use circle hooks size 2/0 to 7/0. They are highly resistant to bending and breaking. 

Make sure you position the hook properly. It must be deep enough not to fall out and exposed enough to hook into the leopard shark you catch.

Bait & Lures

Leopard sharks are not picky. There are quite a few effective baits and lures you can use:

  • Squid 
  • Sand crabs 
  • Mussels
  • Salmon roes
  • Sardines
  • Pacific mackerel chunks
  • Herring
  • Anchovies
  • American shad (use fillets split in half) 

You can use different setups. I prefer using fish finder rigs or Carolina rigs.

The Best Tips & Tactics For Leopard Shark Fishing

  • If you plan to eat a leopard shark you catch, you must bleed it as soon as possible. If not, the urea can leach into its meat, giving it an unpleasant ammoniated flavor.
  • Do not take your eyes off your pole and sand spike when surf fishing for leopard sharks. They are aggressive fish and can easily yank your rod and pull it into the sand or water.
  • When there are no herring schools in a shipping channel, you should follow the current along its edges. Move in an “S” pattern and drop your anchor as soon as you spot leopards (a fish finder can help find the best location to drop your anchor too!). Of course, avoid anchoring in a particularly busy channel!
  • Once you are out of the surf zone, rinse all your equipment (rod, reel. line) with fresh water, and let it dry. Do not wait to get back home!  It would be best to spray it with a silicone or Teflon product, too.
  • Tight lines are imperative when surf fishing. Having a slack line causes tangles and bird nests. To avoid such issues when fishing leopards in the surf, put your reel in the free spool mode with the clicker on after you cast your bait.
  • If you are fishing for leopard sharks in calm waters, you can use cut bait or even canned cat food to lure them.

Watch the following video to learn how to catch a big leopard from the beach:


What is the best bait for leopard shark?

The best bait for leopard shark is squid. However, the choice of effective bait and lures is quite big. You can use crabs, herring, mussels, sardines, and even chunks of bigger fish such as Pacific mackerel or American shad.

Are leopard sharks hard to catch?

Leopard sharks are not hard to catch as long as you apply the right tactics and use appropriate bait, lures, and tackle. They are pack hunters, and you also often get multiple hookups after the first strike. 

What size hooks are best for leopard sharks?

Circle hooks size 2/0 to 5/0 are the best size hooks for leopard sharks. You can use different hooking methods, but anglers usually use fish finder rigs, Carolina rigs, or dropper loops with circle hooks size 5/0 to 7/0.

Is leopard shark good eating?

A leopard shark is good eating and can taste delicious when cooked well. However, it contains a high percentage of mercury and should be eaten sparingly. You also have to learn how to bleed these fish out properly, or the urea might spoil their meat before you cook it. 

My Final Thoughts

Leopard shark spotted in the ocean

If you live on the west coast, especially around San Francisco Bay or San Diego, you must try leopard shark fishing!

It brings tons of excitement and possibly a tasty meal, as well!
To land a leopard shark, you must come prepared. You need to know where and when to look for them and bring appropriate tackle and bait. I’ve covered all that, but if you need some help, leave a comment, and I’ll get back to you ASAP!

Photo of author

Louis McCarthy

With over 40 years of fishing experience, I am a true veteran of the sport with a passion for reeling in the big ones. From coast to coast, I have lived in some of the best fishing spots the US has to offer. I enjoy sharing my knowledge and love for the sport, one catch at a time. Join me as I explore the great outdoors and share my expertise in the art of fishing. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

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