Leopard Sharks: Fishing, Species, and More

About the Leopard Shark

Leopard sharks (Triakis semifasciata) are marked with an incredibly gorgeous and intricate pattern consistent with that of a leopard. Hence the name, “leopard shark”. These sharks feed on clams, sand crabs, crabs, octopus, squid, and other smaller fish and can be found roaming the ocean waters from Mexico to Northern California. Generally found at depths of around 40-feet and less. These slender-bodied specimens scour sandy and muddy beaches and bays, as well as reefs, and are known to come extremely shallow. Let’s get into a little bit about the species and a lot about leopard shark fishing.

Are Leopard Sharks Dangerous or Friendly?

All sharks have the potential to be dangerous, but leopard sharks have proven to be virtually harmless to humans. There has been only one reported leopard shark attack in which the swimmer was minimally harmed. The swimmer allegedly provoked the “attack”. Divers and snorkelers swim with these fish year after year as they are a main attraction for the city of La Jolla. Regardless, be smart when either swimming with or handing any shark. Use caution and be respectful of the fish. They have teeth and they have the potential to do some damage.

Can You Eat Leopard Shark? Does it Taste Good?

While you can eat leopard shark, I advise against it. I’ve heard it tastes good, but I can’t speak from experience. I practice catch and release only with these beauties.

If you still decide to catch these beauties for eating purposes, the legal limit is 36″. The reason for this is their slow growth rate and therefore susceptibility to possible over fishing. Additionally, if you don’t bleed them out correctly and immediately, the meat will spoil due to urea. Check the Department of Fish and Wildlife website for up-to-date information.

Leopard Shark Fishing

Interested in catching leopard sharks from the surf? Here are some important things you should keep in mind to better your chances of catching these beauties. Leopard sharks aren’t the toughest shark to land, but you can certainly lose more fish than you catch if you don’t know what you’re doing. Again, Leopard Shark fishing from the shore in So Cal is an art. Take note of these valuable tips and I promise you will learn how to successfully catch leopard sharks from the surf.

Legal Limit (#)3
Legal Size (in)36-inches
Record Size (in/lb)72-inches/51-pounds
Fighting Strength (-/10)8/10
RangeMazatlan, Mexico, to Oregon
All information within this chart and this page is unofficial. Refer to the Department of Fish and Wildlife for official numbers and regulations.

Have you been trying to catch a big leopard shark for a while now? Have you had luck with only small leopards and rays? Odds are, you’re using squid and that’s the wrong bait. I’ll show you exactly how to catch leopard sharks from the beach.


Leopard Shark
Guided Leopard Shark Fishing
  1. Bait to the Bottom: Fishing for Leopard Sharks is different than other types of fishing. Yes, these fish are extremely strong, but don’t be mistaken, they are bottom feeders! So it’s important you keep your bait weighted down on the sandy bottoms. I recommend at least a 4 ounce pyramid. Depending on the current, you might want to use a 5 or even more.
  2. Circle hooks: Yes! You should use circle hooks for Leopard Shark fishing. These hooks have gained popularity over recent years in shark fishing and other big-game fishing. Whether you’ve got your rod in a rod-holder or you’re holding your rod, circle hooks provide perfect self hook sets every time! This eliminates the guessing game of pin pointing the perfect time to set the hook. Let the leopard shark run with it for the first solid run and when you feel the run is a sure and strong run, tighten up that drag and apply more pressure, these hooks are life-savers!
  3. Get your bait out as far as possible: While it isn’t impossible to catch a Leopard Shark in shallow waters, you certainly increase your chances of catching them the further you cast.
  4. Be patient: I like to set up a rod holder for my big set-up and fish actively with my light set-up. If the current isn’t too strong and the seaweed isn’t thick, you should have no issues. This also provides for an opportunity for your bait to soak. The longer your bait soaks, its scent becomes more potent and spreads until the sharks can find it.

leopard shark fishing
60″ Leopard Shark

Gear and Tackle You’ll Need

You’ll need a good rod and reel for leopard shark fishing and you’ll also need some pretty specific line and rigging. Below, I’ve outlined the exact set-up I use when I fish for them.

Bait for Leopard Shark Fishing

Countless angler reach out to me every year saying something like this, “hey man, I’ve been trying to land a big leopard for years now with no luck… any tips?”. Usually they’ll mention they’ve been catching large rays and baby sharks which is super fun too, but I immediately know at that point, they’ve been using squid. The first question I ask when someone inquires about this is what they’re using for bait. Squid will catch rays and smaller sharks, cut bait will catch bigger sharks.

The most desirable bait for catching leopard sharks is actually the product of light-tackle fishing. Convenient huh? Fresh perch and yellowfin croaker have proven to work the best. While frozen mackerel and other chunk bait will do just fine, nothing seems to be nearly as enticing as perch and yellowfin croaker. Simply, cut your perch or croaker into 2-inch segments and you’ve got yourself some top-notch shark bait!

Leopards Shark Fishing San Diego
Leopard Shark Fishing San Diego (57″)

Best Beach for Leopard Shark Fishing

It’s tough to pinpoint the “best beach for leopard shark fishing”. There was a time in which I thought it was Oceanside, there were also times, I thought PB. The truth is, the best beach changes every season, and all season long. There will be days you show up and you’re on the money with shark after shark. You might come back the next day and the beach is dead. You just have to put the time in and find the hot spot! If you’re new to San Diego, check out this in-depth overview of beaches for fishing in San Diego.

Leopard Sharks in La Jolla

Here in San Diego, we are lucky enough to have an abundance of leopard sharks that call the La Jolla Cove home. They swim up and down our beaches, specifically during the months of June through September making San Diego one of the best places to catch Leopard Sharks. The vast majority of these sharks are female and are attracted to San Diego’s warm water temps as they attempt to maintain a comfortable body temperature for the pups they carry in preparation of spawning. This scenario calls for superb Leopard Shark fishing!

California leopard sharks tend to measure in at about 4-5 feet with some ranging upwards of 6-feet. Bottom line, they put up a thrilling fight and they’re fairly easy to target successfully… so long as you know what you’re doing. While shore fishing for sharks is an incredible and adrenaline-filled experience, I recommend releasing every shark you catch as they take years to mature and grow very slowly putting them at risk for over-fishing. Additionally, the cleaning process is tricky, and if done incorrectly, the meat can easily spoil. You don’t want to get yourself sick… do you?

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Got any questions? Let me know below, or contact me on the “Contact Us” Page. I look forward to hearing from you. Tight lines and good luck in your San Diego Leopard Shark Fishing endeavors!


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