2015-08-13 / Nature

Bay Bustling with Sand Sharks

By James Merolla

Organizers in Newport held a tournament to catch the biggest sharks possible three weeks ago. This week they could hold one to catch the smallest. Not that anyone wants them to.

Baby sand sharks are skirting the bars off Fort Adams, into Tiverton, Sakonnet Point, Middletown and points east, all the way to Padanaram Village in South Dartmouth, Mass. and beyond.

Last week, off a pier at Fort Adams, a family was fishing for scup (or its official name, porgy), a small, popular silvery fish that is excellent for frying (it must be 10 inches long to keep). Their bait of choice was squid, placed on a small hook designed to catch scup. Hooks designed for bluefish or striped bass are too big.

But such a setup can attract any number of fish beyond scup – sea bass, fluke and eels, among them. You can imagine the surprise of the nine-year-old boy, feeling the pull of a fish, knowing he caught something but feeling no jerking of the rod in quick bursts, as is typical of scup or bass.

Instead, the boy felt the steady pull of a bent rod. He was stunned when a foot-long sand shark, with the hook and squid in his mouth, broke the surface of the water.

The creature is beautiful to look at – willowy in shape, with angular yellow eyes and a smooth textured body of gray and white. The feel of its skin is unlike anything else you will catch in Narragansett Bay, bordering on soft sand paper.

The problem with sand sharks is, once you catch one and release it, the blood is in the water. Sure enough, the family and I then caught nine other small sharks in the same way, one after the other.

Days later, off, the picturesque suspension bridge in Padanaram Village, another young family was catching small scup, using squid and sea worms for bait.

At dusk, the scup retreated. They are day fish and very hard to find at sunset and the sand sharks came out. One was barely 10 inches long.

It is a good idea to move to another spot if you catch more than one sand shark, probably a good mile away. They are teeming in the bay right now in peak numbers; there is no way NOT to catch them on the same bait setups as the fish you WANT to catch, and they must be thrown back.

The only way to avoid them in the next few weeks is to fish early in the morning, in the bright afternoon or at midnight, because as the sun starts to set, the sharks scatter.

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