Fish on: Shark fishing in the Gulf of Mexico

We’ve had our share of windy afternoons and cold weather here in southwest Florida. When a stretch of good weather with calm seas was forecast it seemed time to get out on the water.

My son-in-law, Dean Weaver, who lives near Buffalo, came down and wanted to spend some time on his snazzy new boat which he kept in a marina in Ft. Myers. He invited me to go offshore fishing with his dad, Don, and guide Les Achilles. It turned out to be an absolutely perfect day with a light breeze and bright sun. We met Les at 8:30 a.m., motored out of the marina, down the Caloosahatchee River, under the Sanibel bridge and out into the Gulf of Mexico. Les had a whole set of locations of sunken boats, or “wrecks,” on his personal GPS he wanted to fish, so we netted a few small baitfish for the day at a spot on the agenda. We all got a few small fish, including a big sheepshead caught and released.

We moved farther out in the gulf, to about 50 feet of water and another wreck site and discovered hundreds of 6-inch bait fish that Les added to our meager supply of bait with three tosses of his mighty cast net. There was so much bait at that wreck the fish we were after were not eating, so we moved to another spot that held a third wreck on the smooth gulf bottom a total of 15 miles from shore.

We baited up our light spinning rods as soon as we anchored and in five minutes we had each caught a nice 5-6 pound redfish and let them go. The action didn’t stop for the next several hours. We caught a great variety of fish so we just stayed there for the rest of the day.

Initially we caught lots of false albacore that made the ones we catch off Montauk in the fall look like snappers. The locals call them bonita and most were in the 10-12 pound range. They’re strong fighters for their size, especially on our light tackle. We caught 10 of them between us and all are now happily swimming back in the gulf where they belong.

We also managed to catch three cobia, a highly-prized food fish, all over 30 inches, but short of “keeper” size which, in Florida, is 33 inches measured from the tip of the nose to the beginning of the fork in the tail. They are handsome fish, with a prominent set of streaks in tan, white and gray on their side and they fight like the devil.

We added a bunch of other fish like cero mackerel, several grouper, snappers of various kinds. We probably landed 40 nice-sized fish among us and then ended the trip with a spectacular catch and release.

Our columnist battling a spinner shark in the gulf recently. (Courtesy photo)

All the time we were anchored we’d noticed a pair of aggressive sharks swimming around and under our boat, looking for a cheap meal, I suspected. Les asked if we wanted to try to catch one that he thought were large blacktips. Immediately a bait was on its way toward where the sharks had last been seen. Within seconds one of the sharks was hooked up and stripping line off the heaviest rod we rigged up for the attempt. Dean took on the job of trying to get the fish in close. I took several photos of the whole thing and Don cheered him on.

After about 15 minutes of a serious tug of war, Dean was running out of steam trying to land the shark that we judged to be about 7 feet long and 175 pounds in weight. He transferred the rod to me. I really put the screws to the shark, manhandling him to within feet of the boat.

As I fought the shark, I wondered what had prompted me, an 81-year-old, 170-pound guy, to try to wrestle a mean and angry nautical dragon of the same weight into our crowded boat, but by then the decision had been made. Les and I discussed how we would land the toothy critter. We decided to try to slip a heavy mooring line around him in a lasso maneuver and when he was tied up we’d drag him over the side and into our boat for photos.

It sounded like a good plan, so I continued to work the shark within lassoing distance. But the animal could feel the presence of the rope and we missed more than a half dozen chances before the rope did its job and the shark was on its way over the gunwale of our boat on to the deck.

It snapped its jaws, which were well equipped with interlocking teeth of about 1.5 inches. It was trying to kill something or other (Larry or Les) until it quieted down, and Les put his arms around the shark’s middle and took it to the boat’s bow for a photo. Don, Dean and Les smiled as I took a few photos of the shark that had almost given me a hernia from cranking it to boatside.

It was actually a spinner shark and not a blacktip. I was just about moving to swap places with Don for my photo op when Les decided it was time for the shark to reenter the water. In a heartbeat it was gone.

After the shark was gone we landed a few other fish, including another nice cobia. By 3:30 p.m. we were on our way toward the home dock.