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The Gulf of Mexico has a diverse ecosystem with a wide array of interesting and wonderful sea creatures. In fact, the number of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico shows just how strong and healthy the ecosystem is.
Globally, there are 350 species of sharks, and 51 of those different species thrive in the Gulf’s offshore waters. Read on to find out more!
As apex predators, sharks help to maintain the food chain in the Gulf by removing weak and sick fish and sea mammals. Sharks also help to keep the balance with other competitors to ensure species diversity.
You may not be able to keep every shark you catch in the Gulf, but that just ensures the other types of fish you catch will be worth the battle.
But, what kinds of sharks can you expect to catch and release while you’re on your fishing trip? Below are the many different shark species you can expect to see.
What Sharks Are in the Gulf of Mexico?
You’re most likely to see sharks in the Gulf between May and September when the waters are warmer, especially along the beachfront and nearshore waters of Galveston.
The bull shark is one of the most aggressive shark species in the world. These fearsome fighters can grow between seven and 11.5 feet long, weighing up to 500 pounds.
While it may not be the largest shark in the water, the bull shark has a stronger bite than any other shark species.
The thresher shark is named for its exceptionally long tail, which it uses to stun its prey. These sharks can reach up to 20 feet long and can weigh up to 1,100 pounds. Other types of thresher shark (there are three in total) are smaller and range between 10 feet and 16 feet.
The hammerhead shark is an iconic species because of the shape of its head, which allows it to see all the way around its body. It also has an incredible sense of smell, which it uses to find prey.
The common hammerhead can range between 13 to 20 feet long and weigh between 500 to 1,000 pounds.
Compared to other shark species, the blacktip shark is on the smaller side coming in at just eight feet long. The blacktip can weigh anywhere between 66 to 220 pounds.
You might be able to spot these sharks above the water. They leap above the surface and splash down on their backs as a way to stealthily strike at fish near the water’s surface.
Oceanic white tip shark
The oceanic whitetip is considered a bold and persistent hunter. It ranges between nine to 13 feet long and weighs an average of 200 pounds.
Large and stocky, the oceanic white tip has a distinctive pattern of mottled white markings on the tips of their tail, dorsal, and pectoral fins.
Shortfin Mako Shark
The shortfin mako is the fastest-swimming shark in the world, capable of swimming at 60 mph or 61 feet in a single second.
The shortfin mako is also capable of jumping up to 30 feet high. These sharks range between 133 to 300 pounds and 10 feet in length.
Nurse sharks are a major tourist attraction for the Gulf of Mexico because of their docile nature.
Snorkelers and divers enjoy swimming with these creatures along the warm tropical shallows.
Nurse sharks typically spend their time lounging on the ocean floor.
Although these sharks are relatively harmless to humans, they’re certainly not small. Nurse sharks can grow up to 14 feet long.
Lemon sharks are the most likely to interact with humans in the Gulf of Mexico because they prefer to hunt bony fish and sea birds along the shoreline.
Lemon sharks are also some of the most social sharks in the ocean. Unlike other sharks that hunt alone, lemon sharks prefer to live and hunt in large groups.
The average lemon shark can grow up to be around 11 feet in length and 220 pounds.
Like the lemon shark, the finetooth shark also likes to travel in large packs. These sharks prefer shallow waters and rarely swim in depths over 66 ft.
The average finetooth shark is just over six feet long and is an incredibly fast swimmer. The finetooth shark’s name comes from its small, needle-like teeth.
Florida Smooth-Hound Shark
The Florida smooth-hound shark is a smaller species of shark, coming in at just 3.6 feet long. Like the nurse shark, the smooth-hound shark is considered harmless to humans.
They have a pointed snout, oval eyes, long pectoral fins, and an asymmetrical tail. They can typically be found along the ocean floor.
Like the Florida smooth-hound shark, the blacknose shark is also surprisingly small. The average blacknose shark matures at 3.5 to 4.5 feet long and weighs only 23 pounds.
This shark gets its name from the dark spot located on its long snout. Blacknose sharks are typically yellowish-gray in color, which allows them to blend in with the sand along the ocean floor.
Also known as brown sharks, sandbar sharks average at around six feet long at 110 to 150 pounds. They’re recognizable from their large, triangular dorsal fin and long pectoral fins.
The sandbar shark prefers to swim along the sandy bottoms of coastal areas. Like many other requiem sharks, sandbar sharks prefer warmer waters and make a seasonal migration down to the Gulf of Mexico, but they’ve been known to travel as far as the Long Island Sound to give birth.
The tiger shark’s name derives from the dark stripes along its body. The tiger shark can grow to be as long as 16.5 feet and weighs anywhere between 849 to 1,400 pounds.
Tiger sharks are slow swimmers, reaching a speed of just 2.4 mph, but they’re also one of the ocean’s strongest swimmers.
The tiger shark is an aggressive hunter and has been known to attack other sharks while hunting.
The silky shark gets its name from the smooth texture of its skin, which isn’t common in other shark species.
The silky shark has a slim, streamlined body that can reach up to 12 feet in length and weigh up to 770 pounds. Silky sharks have a strong sense of hearing, which they use to locate bony fish, squid, and octopi.
There are many different species of shark you can fish for in the Gulf of Mexico. Each one provides a unique fishing experience you’ll be sure to remember.
I received a call from some of my best friends, saying I needed to get to their house ASAP.
When I pulled into the driveway a few minutes later, I saw one of the biggest fish of my life lying in front of the garage.
They had noodled a flathead catfish that weighed 50 lbs!
The mind blowing thing about the situation is that they didn’t even break the record for the biggest flathead catfish to be brought out of our local lake.
So, as you can imagine, flathead catfish can grow to incredible sizes and weights.
How Big Do Flathead Catfish Get?
Flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris) are the second largest species of catfish in North America (second to the blue catfish).
Flatheads have several other nicknames such as shovelhead cats, yellow catfish, mud cats, Opelousa Catfish, Opp, Appaloosa Catfish, App, and Pied cats. They are also sometimes referred to as goujan, appaluchion, and johnnie cats.
According to the Indiana Division of Fish & Wildlife, the flathead catfish got their name due to their broad and flat-looking heads. They have a lower jaw that protrudes and a tail that is slightly forked.
The back and sides of a flathead catfish range from pale yellow to light brown and have splotches ranging from dark brown to black. They have a yellow-ish and/or cream-colored belly.
“Pylodictis” is Greek for “mud fish” and “olivaris” is Latin for “olive-colored.”
According to the International Game and Fish Association, the world record flathead catfish weighed 123 lbs. It was caught in the Elk City Reservoir near Independence, Kansas.
Compared to other popular game fish species such as bass, crappie or bream, flathead catfish are enormous. For example, the Kansas state record for largemouth bass is just 11 lbs 12.8 ounces.
Due to their enormous growth potential, it’s easy to see why fishermen love trying to catch monster flatheads.
Ideally, when fishing for food, smaller fish are preferred. However, large flathead catfish can provide you with several meals and not forfeit the quality of flavor.
Catfish can be caught using a variety of tactics which means the potential to have more opportunities to consistently catch fish.Check out some of the methods below!
How to Fish for Flathead Catfish
There are a vast number of ways to fish for flatheads.Fishing regulations vary from state to state on how you can legally catch flathead catfish, so be sure to check your state’s regulations before you try a new technique.
Rod and reel: When we think of fishing, this is typically what we picture in our minds. Using a rod and reel, fishing line, weights, hooks, swivels, and bait. Cast out a line, put a hook N1, and reel in the fish. No boat required!
Bank poles: Using a bank pole is a great option when you don’t have a boat. You will need PVC, fiberglass, or similar material for the pole. The line length will be determined by where you are fishing, as well as what weights, hooks, swivels, and bait you want to use. Tie the line to the pole and find the ideal spot to push the pole(s) into the bank and let the line out. Sit back and let the fish find the bait!
Limb lines: Making a limb line is pretty simple and can lead to catching lots of catfish. You need line, weights, hooks, swivels, bait, and a boat. The length of the line will depend on the depth of the water you plan to fish. Keeping your bait just off the bottom is ideal. Find a strong limb overhanging the water where catfish are known to be and tie the line to the limb. Now relax and wait! Check your limb lines every couple hours!
Trotline: Trotlines are similar to limb lines, in that you are typically tying the line to a couple of trees. Stretch the line to whatever length you need to be able to tie it to a couple of trees or anchor points. Tie on drop leaders and swivels about 3 feet apart. Then, attach hooks, weights, and bait. Find a couple of solid anchor points and tie each end of the line to them and wait!
Jugs: You will need a boat for this technique as well. You can use old jugs, pool noodles for “jug fishing.” There are also companies that manufacture ready-to-use products for this type of fishing. Tie a line to the jug (the length will be determined by the depth of water you are in). Then, tie a weight and hook to the line and place the bait on the hook. Find the best spot possible to place the jugs and get after it!
Noodling (hand-fishing): This is how my friends caught that 50 lb monster flathead cat. Very little equipment is needed. However, bravery and strength is a must! Find an underwater hole or overhang where flathead catfish will nest and shove your hand into the hole. If there is a fish in the hole, you will feel it, or it will bite your hand. When it bites your hand grab ahold of its lower jaw and pull it out of the hole. Watch out catfish are extremely slippery. Be sure you have a good grip on the fish or it will get away!
What Do Flatheads Eat?
Flathead catfish are opportunistic feeders. Like other species of catfish, they will scavenge for their meals. However, they prefer to ambush smaller live fish such as shad, crappie, sunfish, white bass, etc.
Flatheads are aggressive and will eat just about anything that they can fit into their mouth. Small flatheads will eat worms, crawfish, insects, and minnows.
When choosing a bait to use to catch a flathead, try to use common baitfish or chunks of baitfish. Shrimp, chicken liver, and other stink baits often work. Since they prefer live food, try to stick with using live bait.
Flathead catfish themselves do not have many predators to speak of, but other fish will eat young catfish as well as some fish-eating birds.
Where Do They Live?
The Texas Parks & Wildlife states that flathead catfish prefer deep, slow-moving pools of murky water during the day. At night, they will move up into shallower water to feed.
They are typically found at the mouths of creeks, rivers, in lakes, and below lake dams. Flatheads hide under cover such as sunken trees and underwater overhangs where they can ambush their next meal.
Flatheads are found throughout the Mississippi River watershed and the lower Great Lakes.
Many fishermen across the eastern half of the United States target flathead catfish. Because they are fun to catch and also adapt well, they have been introduced into bodies of water where they are not native and have begun to hurt populations of other species of fish.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife also states that the average lifespan of flathead catfish is 12 to 24 years, although there has been a flathead that lived for 24 years.
Flatheads spawning begins in the Spring as water temperatures rise. The month can vary depending on location, as bodies of water that are further South would typically warm sooner than those further North. Spawning months range from April all the way to even August in some cooler locations.
If you have never taken the opportunity to catch a flathead, you are missing out. Catching a catfish is always a thrill and doesn’t require an enormous amount of gear.
You can be at your local lake, river, creek, or pond catching catfish in no time at all. After reading this article, you now have some basic knowledge and understanding of flathead catfish and how to catch one for dinner tonight! Head to the water and get fishing… I hope you Put A Hook N1!