In terms of surf fishing in Southern California, targeting sharks like Soupfin Sharks and Leopard Sharks is a lesser known style and option here. The majority of the general public here in So Cal are usually surprised to find out that shark fishing from the shore is and can be an extremely successful style of surf fishing. More so, there ARE bigger species of shark than Leopard Sharks here in So Cal. Let’s get into the species and the topic of soupfin shark fishing.
While the majority species within land-based shark fishing happens to be the Leopard Shark, we do have a couple other species of larger sharks that roam the coastline of San Diego. In fact, they can be found from Southern California all the way up the coast to British Columbia.
I’m referring to the Soupfin Shark. While it’s known by many names like “Tope Shark” or the “School Shark” its scientific name is Galeorhinus galeus. Before we get into tactics for catching Soupfin Sharks in the surf and the overall fishery, let’s get some background. What is a soupfin shark?
Legal Limit (#)
Legal Size (in)
Record Size (in)
Fighting Strength (-/10)
Worldwide, but the West Coast population ranges from So Cal to British Columbia
Shallow waters. canyons, and reefs as well as flat/sandy
All information within this chart and this page is unofficial. Refer to the Department of Fish and Wildlife for official numbers and regulations.
About the Soupfin Shark
The Soupfin Shark is one of the two larger shark species that can be caught from the beach in Southern California. The other, if you haven’t guessed it by now, is the Broadnose Sevengill Shark (7 Gill). With its ironic name, the Soupfin Shark was a popular food source and target for commercial fishermen as it was significantly over-fished in the 1930s leading to the eventual decline in population (1). While the fishery even today is loosely regulated, it’s important to understand that the population is still recovering. In the nearly 100 years that have passed since the span of heavy commercial fishing pressure, the Soupfin Shark population has yet to bounce back to even compare to previous numbers.
Feeding on smaller fish and invertebrates such as lobster, octopus, crab, and worms, the Soupfin has a similar diet to the Leopard Shark so shark fishing in So Cal so bait options can be “universal” per species. With some general information covered, let’s dive in.
The Soupfin Shark can be identified by a few notable characteristics. Its body, like the Leopard Shark, is long and somewhat slender. But, its snout, unlike the Leopard Shark and even the Sevengill, is very pointed. In reality, the three sharks listed above, couldn’t look more different from each other.
Perhaps a more interesting characteristic is its overall resemblance of a true “shark”. The Leopard Shark and Sevengill Shark are true beasts in their own way, but the Soupfin Shark is the one shark that roams the coastline of So Cal that actually looks like the classic “shark”. With its overall grey coloration, its fade-transition to a white underbelly, a triangular dorsal fin and a second dorsal fin directly superior and proximal to its tail, the Soupfin Shark, to the untrained common eye, looks like a scaled down Mako or White Shark.
In reality, there are many identifying characteristics that differentiate the sharks, but for visual reference, the Soupfin assumes the closest resemblance of a “shark”. Nonetheless, this is just one of the reasons it’s among the most exciting sharks to catch from the shore here in So Cal.
The Soupfin Shark is said to be capable of living up to 55 years and grow over 6 feet in length (2). Some sources say 6 feet (or 72 in/ 183 cms ) is the average and others say they can grow up to 6.5 feet.
Range and Behavior
An interesting aspect of the shark population here in Southern California is that the vast (and I mean the VAST) majority of sharks that frequent our waters are females. While that may seem peculiar, the reason for this is actually quite simple. If you’ve read my article on Leopard Sharks, you’d know that the majority of sharks we catch in the surf are females because summertime is spawning season and the pregnant females prefer the warmer waters.
For Soupfin, it’s a similar reason. Soupfin Sharks wander into shallower waters during the late spring to early summer for spawnning (in there case: live birth) (2). After spawning, they’ll head out to slightly deeper waters. But why exactly are the males not appearing in the same numbers? According to Birch Aquarium with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, most of the soupfin sharks in Southern California are females, while the males range from British Columbia to Northern California.
Their range overlaps in Central California, where the male to female ratio is about equal. Soupfin Sharks tend to separate themselves by gender over a span of up to 1000 miles (1). Females will spend the majority of their time in Southern California while males will spend time in locations ranging from British Columbia to Northern California (1).
This all makes sense right? Well, the Soupfin Shark has a one year gestational period, and in order to have a gestational period, the female must get pregnant somehow, right? Well, the same study that turned out the data above, reported that in Central California, the two sexes overlap at about a 1:1 ratio (or an equal ratio). So, this suggests that mating occurs near to or in the waters of Central California before the two sexes part and “migrate” in opposite directions.
With an in depth background on the Soupfin Shark, let’s get into some tactics for catching Soupfin Sharks from the surf, aka: land based shark fishing.
Soupfin Shark Fishing
Soupfin Sharks are the most exciting shark to catch from the surf in Southern California IMO. First off, they are the sharkiest looking sharks common to So Cal. Second, they are one of the biggest, and offer the most thrilling fight you’ll get from the surf. They provide streaky, sporadic bursts and have an amazing tendency to go airborne midfight! The first Soupfin Shark I ever caught reinvented the definition of these tendencies (for me). Here’s an anecdote from that report.
“I popped the second flank-chunk of the perch on my hook and casted it out. This time, I was videoing my rod so I know it only took another 12 minutes for my rod to tip. After the initial tap, the line went slack. I began reeling and knew immediately this was different. I was confident the fish was still on, but not positive. The initial run was straight toward the beach. The fish was swimming toward me rather than away from me! Soon after, I was blatantly reassured that the fish was still on as it made a 180 turn in the blink of an eye! It was pulling faster and more sporadically than anything I’d ever fought (or rather successfully fought and landed). I was in for a treat and a massive shock…
A Moment to be Remembered
…At this point, I had the fish in near the shoreline and it went for another run, but this one was different. It bolted to my left and went airborne as I got my first look at what I had on my line! It was a Soupfin Shark! Normally caught at beaches with reefs and lots of structure… and normally at night. In this case, neither of those two factors lined up. After two full jumps out of the water, a couple of surface breaking struggles and 15-20 minutes of fighting, I’d done it! I landed my first Soupfin shark and it was a beauty!”
I’ve only been lucky enough to land a couple more since that date, but it’s something worth while for sure. If you’re looking to experience that same thing read on, and for a better chance at hooking into a large shark of some sort book a guided trip with me (starting in May when normality resumes).
With the information mentioned earlier, pinpointing the best time of year for targeting Soupfin Sharks from the surf is pretty simple. It’s also quite straight forward to identify the best bait for catching Soupfin Sharks from the surf.
Gear and Tackle for Soupfin Shark Fishing
Although Soupfin Sharks are bigger, stronger, and more powerful than Leopard Sharks, you can catch them on the same set ups. My preferred rod and reel set up would be a Penn Battle 6000 paired with a 12 foot Fiblink Moonsniper. The list below is an overview of the exact gear and tackle that I use when shark fishing. For a more customized review of recommended rods and reels by So Cal anglers for shark fishing and all other surf fishing styles, here’s my rods and reels reviews page.
The best bait for any fish, is what they naturally eat. So, anything from smaller fish to crustaceans like crab and lobster or the invertebrates like Octopus and squid will do just fine. My go to bait for all things shark fishing in So Cal is cut bait. More specifically, cut Croaker, Perch, or Corbina, and ideally, fresh… although frozen has worked as well.
Best Time of year for Soupfin Shark Fishing
Like the Leopard Shark, the best time of year to catch Soupfin Sharks in the surf is their spawning season. Slightly earlier than the Leopard Shark, the peak season for Soupfin Shark fishing is mid/late spring through early summer. To be precise, I’d put it down as mid April through June with some overflow both ways. That being said, I’m publishing this article on April 19th of 2020 and we have just entered peak season for Soupfin Shark fishing. From now until October, the shark fishing in Southern California should be on fire!
Before you go on thinking you’re good to go because you know the best bait and the best time of year to catch Soupfin Sharks… hold on a sec. There’s one more important factor that’s possibly more crucial than either of the two factors mentioned above. I’m going to tell you, but you need to understand this next thing first.
History is recorded for a reason. It’s here to remind us of the mistakes that have been made in the past for the purpose of preventing them from happening again in the present and future. While recreational fishing for Soupfin isn’t necessarily the biggest of threats to the Soupfin Shark population, it’s still important we do our part.
The Soupfin Shark is still listed as “vulnerable” meaning that they’re at severe risk of population decline. While land based shark fishing kills fewer sharks than does commercial shark fishing, if you catch a Soupfin, Leopard, or any other shark for that matter, I encourage you to release it.
My first reason, if your catching these fish from the surf, they’re likely spawning, meaning you could be killing up to 52 sharks along with the mother.
My second reason, these sharks, like Leopards are prone to over fishing due to their lifespan and growth rates. Soupfin, as we learned earlier can grow to be as old as 55 years. This means they have a very slow growth rate, So, if we continue to kill a large number of adult sharks, we could wipe out a large percentage of a generation!
My final reason is somewhat selfish, but they offer such a fantastic fight! I want the population to thrive and I want to fight many more Soupfin. I want future generations to find the same excitement that I’ve found in these fish. Odds are, you’re not going to eat all the meat they have to offer, nor will you have the license needed to sell the meat. So CPR guys!… catch, photo, release.
Where to Catch Soupfin Sharks
My final piece of advice for catching these fish is where to fish. They aren’t as abundant as Leopard Sharks, but where there are Leopards, there’s potential for Soupfin. They like sandy bottoms but reefy bottoms as well. If you have any experience surf fishing in reefy areas or beaches with an abundance of structure, you’ve likely lost some tackle. The secret is finding a balance. Much like Halibut fishing, you want to target flat sandy areas next to reefs or other sources of structure.
Soupfin sharks will hang out in reefs and around other structure, but regardless, if there’s a food source near by, there’s a good chance they’ll stroll over to find it. Lastly, don’t get hung up on finding a good spot. Put in the time and have the confidence that you’ll hook up. Once you get that first one, you’ll have an infinitely better understanding. I GUARANTEE that you can catch Soupfin and Leopards at any beach in Southern California.
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(1) Pettinicchio, G., & Birch Aquarium. (2014, August 12). Meet the Locals: Soupfin Sharks. Retrieved from https://aquarium.ucsd.edu/blog/meet-the-locals-soupfin-sharks/
(2) UCSD California Sea Grant. (n.d.). Soupfin Shark. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from https://caseagrant.ucsd.edu/seafood-profiles/soupfin-shark