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A lot of saltwater anglers who have put in time offshore have at least
one story of an enlivening encounter with a large shark. Large sharks
(like large catfish) are old by fish standards (30 years + for an 800 lb
tiger), and therefore take a long time to replace once removed from the
ecosystem. They are also fun to catch, release, and maybe even tag
(though in this story that was the FURTHEST thing from my mind-this beast
was almost as big as the boat!).
It all started when I visited one of my friends in the Florida Panhandle, who happed to have a boat (17 foot Chaparal) and be as addicted an angler as I. The Gulf was flat calm out of the Destin pass, and we descided to start the day by picking off some light tackle speedsters- little tuny (false albacore) and true bonito. After catching and releasing 15 little tuny, we decided that we would catch two more and use them to chunk up some King Mackeral and Mahi-Mahi. Within an hour we had caught our two victims, dropped them into the cooler, and headed 4 miles out to a small artificial reef. The day before we had picked off two nice mahi-mahi here, a 'snake' (10lb) king, and a couple of small sand sharks on this reef, so we figured it had to hold at least a few more good kings. We anchored, filleted the little tuny, and tied one of the carcasses to the back of the boat on a string. We took the fillets and began tossing 1" chunks of the fillets out the back (by the way-this technique really does work!) As we soaked our dead cigar minnows in the chum trail, and after an hour of dropping chunks on this normally very productive wreck, we were strangely fishless. It's a well known fact that big fish will scare off smaller fish, so we figured it was just a bad day for that reef, or that a big cobia or king mackeral had spooked the other fish.
We where only half right! It was a big fish that had scared off the smaller fish, but it was no mackeral! Glancing at the extreme far end of the chum slick I noticed a brownish tan blob moving around about 100 yards out. I thought it had to be a sea turtle. I stopped tossing the chunks over board and prepared my light rod to pick off a cobia or jack that might be following the blob. As the 'blob' appoached the boat, I noticed that it was longer than any turtle I had ever seen and was picking up speed. About 50 yards out, my brain registered was it was, but it took about 10 seconds for me to react. I yelled "GET THE CHUM OUT OF THE WATER, AND GET UP THE ANCHOR!!!!" My other two buddies in the boat thought I was nuts, that is, until 15 yards out a two-and-a-half foot tall fin broke the water and moved switfy at the boat! One glance told us that it was a BIG shark, about 14 feet long and really fat, and that it was definitely interested in that little tuny carcass hanging out the back. I yanked the carcass out of the water immediately, and my buddy jumped to the console preparing to start the engine. We definitely thought this predator was going to give a boat a strong nudge. The funny thing was, once I pulled the tuny out of the water, the shark turned around, and after a look around behind the boat for about minute, it left. I guess once it saw that its meal was gone, it had no more interest in the our little boat. Even better, once it left, after about 5 minutes, the water was alive with small snappers, which happily chewed up our cigar minnows.
Once the adrenalin wore off, we glanced at each other an realized that not only where many of our perceptions about big sharks wrong, but that we were idiots for not grabbing the camera. We were very lucky to see that big shark, and even lucker that it was a lot smarter than we gave it credit for being.
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