By Hannah Pennebaker
Many fishermen around the state look forward to summer fishing. The warm and sunny weather brings to mind many good memories of reeling in big fish with good friends. To some, it means limits of summer steelhead, ready for the smoker. To others, it means stringers of silvery, orange meat rainbow trout. To me, summer means a variety of bottom fish coming in shallow, just waiting to be caught on one of Puget Sound’s many fishing piers. One of my favorite fish to catch in the summer is the spiny dogfish. These are small, gray-brown sharks that inhabit deeper waters during colder months. They feed on crustaceans, squid, and small fish, and are most commonly found in the summer between depths of 160 to 200 feet. They are easy to catch, and there is nothing cooler to a kid than catching sharks! Beginner fishermen will appreciate the good fight and ease of catching them. Add these hard fighting fish to your summer fishing to-do list and you won’t regret it. You can readily catch them from saltwater piers or boats, and once you find the school, you are likely to catch them until your arms get tired or you run out of bait!
One of the best things about dogfish is that you don’t need any special tackle to catch them. In fact, the lighter the tackle, the better! The only exception to this is that you’ll want to use heavy line for your leader. Being that dogfish are a small shark, they do have quite a set of teeth, and when they fight, they do barrel rolls and their sandpaper-like skin will wear against the leader. Many saltwater fishermen have metal high low rigs “crappie rigs” in their tackle boxes. These will work just fine. Alternatively, tie your own metal wire leaders. Think of a rig you’d use for lingcod, another toothy bottom creature. Ensure you use a heavy weight to get to the bottom that won’t be pushed around by the heavy currents in the Sound. These bottom rigs work just as well on boats as on saltwater piers. A word of caution when you do pull in a dogfish, they are called spiny dogfish because they have a spine on their dorsal fins that can prick you while they’re flopping on the boat.
You might be wondering what kind of bait or lures to use for dogfish. Dogfish aren’t picky; they hunt in massive swarms, and if they are there, they will bite on just about anything. Try herring, raw shrimp, or strips of squid. They will also bite on curly tail grubs and buzz bombs. They are voracious predators and put up a good fight with plenty of head shakes.
The trickiest part of fishing for dogfish is finding them. If you’re fishing from a pier, several piers around the area have holes where you can find dogfish. Les Davis has holes on the right side of the dock, as does Dash Point. Try moving around the dock and casting at different distances to locate the dogfish schools. You can catch dogfish at any time of the day, but they seem to come into the shallows during sunset and nighttime. If you’re on a boat, look for drop offs and deep holes. Keep moving until you locate the school.
Now that you know how to catch them, you might be interested in how dogfish taste. I have done dogfish catch and cooks on multiple occasions. They have a nice white meat and they are easy to fillet. Make sure before you fillet them to snip off the spine at their dorsal fin, for safety’s sake. Some dedicated dogfish anglers bring special catfish skinning pliers and skin them whole. I prefer to fillet them and skin them with a knife. These boneless fish have a surprising amount of meat on them. Make sure to soak the fillets in milk or lemon juice overnight to remove the ammonia taste. Some people smoke the boneless fillets, others batter and fry them. Dogfish are very popular overseas as fish and chips. These fish can have high mercury content, so it is recommended to limit your consumption.
If you decide to add dogfish to your fishing to-do list, you won’t be disappointed. These hard fighting sharks are plentiful and easy to catch. Make sure you watch out for the spine on the dorsal fin, and always soak the fillets in milk or lemon juice overnight. These fish count as part of your daily bottom fish limit in the Puget Sound. Kids and beginner fishermen alike will love the opportunity to catch these mini sharks. So grab your fishing poles, the sunscreen, and cut bait, and get out there and catch some dogfish today!
Hannah Pennebaker graduated from Pacific Lutheran University with a degree in Environmental Studies. She enjoys both freshwater and saltwater fishing adventures in the Puget Sound area with her fishing group, the Straw Hat Fishermen.