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Fishing With Sharks

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On: Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 6:30PM | By: Capt Gregg McKee


Every saltwater fishing guide has a bunch of good shark stories. The picture above was taken about seven years ago on the bow of my old Maverick skiff. This was the end result of an eleven-foot hammerhead chasing down a free-swimming tarpon in the Marquesas, an atoll of islands twenty miles west of Key West.  When the hammerhead finally nailed the tarpon they were less than fifteen feet from my bow and in only three feet of water. The chase lasted for almost two minutes and after one bite it was done. The shark simply gulped down the tarpon’s back half and swam off the flat. From the safety of my boat it was as thrilling to watch as an Ultimate Fighting match. I’m sure I would have felt differently if I were standing in the water instead. 

When fishing from a boat you’re a spectator to Mother Nature’s drama. Step into the water and you can become an unwilling participant. This has happened to me a few times while wade fishing in several locations. Sharks are a fact of life on the flats and a struggling fish at the end of a line sounds like a clanging dinner bell to them. I personally set the vertical leap world record when a baby lemon shark brushed my ankle on a Bahamian flat off Eleuthra. The little two-footer was smaller than the bonefish I was hunting but came closer to killing me than any other wild animal ever has. Cardiac arrest is a serious threat when you’re fishing alone.

The flats of Southwest Florida are some of the best wading grounds in the state for reds and trout, and are notorious for sharks. The most common species you’re likely to spot in this area are blacktip, lemon, and bull sharks. They’re all easily distinguished from each other, and two of the three are not a serious danger to wading anglers. The lemon shark is a prime flats hunter and is notorious for attacking hooked fish. They’re identified by their yellowish-grey color and twin dorsal fins and I’ve seen some over eight feet in length. The blacktips have the classic fighter-plane shape and are beautifully colored. Their speed is astonishing and their leaps when hooked put tarpon to shame. Neither of these sharks are likely to attack a wading angler and will usually spook if you just slap the water hard with your rod tip.

The bull shark is a different story. These blunt-nosed predators are actually the world’s most dangerous shark, thanks to their omnivorous appetite and preference for shallow water. They’re also abundant in Southwest Florida and that makes them something to take seriously if you’re wade fishing, especially in the darker tannin-stained flats and bays. My personal preference is to not stand in water deeper than my knees and also stay within a hundred feet of the boat. This way I always have a quick escape route if I spot the dark and perfectly triangular fin of a prowling bull shark of any size. This is one fish I don’t mess around with.

Realistically, an angler’s chances of getting attacked by a shark are remarkably slim. Lightning is a far more serious threat while wade fishing in Florida, but not nearly as much fun to read about. Sharks on the flats are a sign of a healthy ecosystem and should be appreciated, not feared. At the same time, giving them the respect they deserve will prevent the one-in-a-million chance that your calf muscle will become part of the food chain.




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