Creature Feature: Brown Smoothhound Shark

Off California, the brown smoothhound shark is commonly found from Humboldt Bay southward. It is often caught in bays from San Francisco to Point Conception, and prefers sandy, shallow environments, ranging from near shore to 360 ft. depths.

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • Reddish-brown or bronze above, sides sometimes silvery with white belly.
  • Body elongate, tapering from behind the dorsal fin to the long, slender tail.
  • No scales on the latter one-fifth of the dorsal fins; edges of the fins are frayed.
  • Snout comparatively long and flattened.
  • Teeth small, pavement-like, but with sharp points.

Life History & Other Notes
The brown smoothhound shark is a relatively small shark. It is one of the most abundant sharks in the central California sport fishery. The brown smoothhound belongs to the same family of sharks as the gray smoothhound and leopard shark. The gray smoothhound shark (Mustelus californicus) is very similar in appearance to this species, but may be differentiated by its blunt teeth and lack of a frayed edge on the dorsal fins. Females bear their young live, as do most other sharks.

The brown smoothhound shark feeds on crabs, shrimp, and small fishes, all of which make good bait. This is a fun sport species to catch on light tackle, and is considered a very good eating fish.

 Brown Smoothhound Shark Quick Facts:

Scientific Name: Mustelus henlei

Other Common Names: mud shark, dogfish, sand shark

Range & Habitat: From Humboldt Bay south in shallow, sandy environments

Length: To about 3 ft.

Life Span: To 13 years

Diet & Suggested Bait: Feeds on crab, shrimp, small fishes. Try these items or cut squid as bait

Excerpt from the California Finfish and Shellfish Identification Book.

Single copies of the book are available to California residents free of charge by emailing a request to