The episode was clearly my fault. You should have fishing equipment aboard that will handle any circumstance you run into when you well know the possibilities. I hadn’t done that.
But hold on! We’re getting ahead of ourselves, so let’s drop back and begin at the beginning.
You may recall that a couple of weeks back, we had nice gentle easterly winds that made fishing the nearshore reefs like being on Lake Pattycake. The sea surface was dead flat with just the hint of a ripple and the water was as clear as gin. That made the mackerel fishing action so hot that it was hard to believe.
You would pick a spot; anchor up and set a chum block into the current. You’d purposely delay getting the rods baited and ready to go until the chum soaked for five minutes or so ... the five minutes were enough to invite all macks within a 100 yard radius to head our way.
Once the casts were made with jigs or simple shrimp rigs freelined with a fresh crustacean hooked on a piece of wire the action was frantic with a good size, aggressive mackerel on just about every cast.
That was the backdrop in place when I got a call from a vacationer asking about the possibility for a charter trip for he and his 10-year-old son that week. He talked about doing a backwater trip. I talked him out of it. The action nearshore would be the place to be. He agreed and we set a date.
Now, the mackerel action had been so hot and continuous on those near reefs, our focus narrowed to the macks only. We were loaded up with chum blocks, light, light tackle and a heap of flashy jigs with nary a big heavy duty rod in sight.
The morning of their charter was picture perfect. A great incoming tide; just a whimsical easterly breeze with just enough stuff to keep you cool, clear water and no morning storm clouds in sight. The 10-year-old boy was so excited he could hardly sit still and chattered endlessly as we wended our way down the river toward the open gulf.
I explained the mackerel action we would see and he was further energized. He asked a question about sharks and wanted to know would we see any. I promised him that at the end of our mack adventure we would come back into the Capri Pass and surely land him one of the endless supply of bonnethead sharks that roamed the sand bottom of the pass.
Little did we know that wouldn’t be necessary.
Our arrival on the reef spot and set up was routine. But on this morning it was even better. The bait schools were actually up on the surface and being flashed and slashed by leaping mackerel – quite a show before we even got our chum and baits in the water.
Once we dropped the chum block into the current it was “Katie, bar the door”. I could hardly keep up with unhooking macks and resetting bait. They were all catch and release and we switched over to some new jigs with circle hooks to try and enhance the release survival of these courageous mackerel.
And then it happened!
With the super clear water you could see your hooked mackerel flying by some 10 to 15 feet down, which adds to the delight of the catch. But this time, some other piscatorial creature was streaking after the hooked mackerel and we all identified it at the same moment, shark!
Before the 10-year-old boy could react there was a thump on his line and it went slack. His retrieve brought in about one third of the mackerel – the rest was an opening snack for Mr. Shark.
The little guy went bananas. Can we catch the shark. I really want to catch the shark. Can we, captain. Oh, please.”
His father and I looked at one another without a word. He knew we had no heavy gear aboard. Landing a significant shark, 15-30 pounds on 12 pound test would be pushing the equipment to the outside limits. But worth the try.
Now, this shark was persistent as we could see it darting back and forth in the slick. It would strike again.
We changed the fluorocarbon leaders over to a heavy wire and cast both jigs after opening the drag knob and sure enough our predator hit again. He took his mackerel but this time impaled himself on the barbed hook. As fate would have it, the shark was on the youngster’s line as it headed to the horizon.
Our only chance of even getting close to a catch was to pull anchor and follow our shark and that we did.
With our angler and his dad in the bow, we followed the shark with all it’s escapes, zigs and zags. It was a 30-yard run off and a 25 yard retrieve – over and over again.
Time wore on and the two of them began passing the rod to one another, each complaining of hand and arm muscle cramps. They were wearing down and so was the shark.
Knowing that if we kept the pursuit at the current level we would exhaust the shark to it’s demise, we all agreed and took a much more aggressive position and it was either we land it to release alive or accept a break off.
We moved quickly then and dad took a turn on the reel’s drag and sure enough the mid size lemon shark showed alongside, still frisky but ready for surrender.
Our little guy was beside himself and we had video and digital cameras clicking away for pictures of him with rod and shark alongside the boat.
We had to snip the line for the release and the shark, with no apparent ill effects of the ordeal, and with a slap of the tail was gone.
So here we were heading home after a day of great mackerel fishing but the focused highlight of the day for all was a shark caught after a herculean effort on light tackle.
Wonder if it would have been as much fun on a mega rig with 80 pound test?
Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.