MARCO ISLAND — The two buddies had probably dreamed about fishing for sharks ever since they stole away one Saturday afternoon back in ‘75 and watched “Jaws” scaring the bejesus out of themselves.
Thirty five years later and still buddies, they planned a joint family vacation down here in Southwest Florida; and you can guess what their secret get-away day would entail. They chucked the golf clubs and called for a charter. For sharks.
Now this year has been a banner conditions for sharks here; the water warmed early and the tarpon, better known as the sharks traveling-lunch-bucket, moved north in March and that, plus the emergence of vast bait schools and their associated predators, has kept the sharks busy and well fed.
Sharks can be anywhere this time of year but the Mecca of sharkdom is south of the island in Gullivan Bay around a legendary spot with a suspected fresh water spring inappropriately named The Mud Hole. Gullivan Bay is that relatively shallow body of water that stretches from Cape Romano all the way to the western edges of the Florida Keys. It can be as placid as a farm pond or as rough as you’d ever want to encounter. A significant easterly wind ripping over those shallow waters creates waves that have no interval. You plow into a four footer and before the boat has the ability to right itself, you’re into another that comes aboard to visit you.
That’s the way I described the probability of fishing the best shark hole ever. The two amigo’s understood that conditions had to be favorable as we booked the three quarter day trip.
A week before our appointed day, they started calling with inquiries about the weather forecast for their Jaws experience. You learn here, after watching the media weather forecasts, that the best answer to everything is “50 percent chance;” how can you be wrong? So 50 percent chance of significant wind on their appointed day, it was.
Enroute to the marina in the dark of the early morning on their day, I could see the flags mounted high on the condo roofs, snapping and straining against their lanyards. The wind devil was at work; big time easterly wind.
They were expectedly disappointed when I called them. “Too rough for Gullivan but we could still sneak out onto the first reefs west of the island and have some lee to moderate the sea conditions. It’s up to you guys”
They went for it. Probably motivated more with a “Boy’s Day Out” than with the fading prospect of their shark.
We got underway on time and were heading for a major inshore reef just off Caxambas Pass. The massive artificial reef was about a mile and a half off the beach and would be bouncy but short of a Victory At Sea experience. The tide was a strong outgoing which was favorable for the chum dispersal into the offshore waters.
We weren’t about to leave any stone unturned today with sensitivity to the abort on the Gullivan trip. We set two blocks of frozen chum and complimented it with a drip of liquid chum. We were expecting some sharks from as far away as Tampa with all that effort. (only kidding)
We jigged for Spanish Mackerel right out of the blocks and cut up a few (legal ones) as fresh cut bait for the two rigs we deployed on tackle that could have towed the boat. For the first hour or so, all we attracted was every bait fish in the area. With clear water it looked like an aquarium.
First indication of an invasion of our space by bigger “stuff” was a number of bait sprays just 50 yards behind the boat. They were surface sprays so we adjusted one of our two fresh mackerel baits to the surface by suspending it under an inflated balloon.
We all thought blacktip sharks when we saw the surface action but that changed in a millisecond when we all saw a flash of color race by the boat on the surface – by race, I mean moving as fast as you can imagine. None of us got a clear shot of it. Too fast.
That is until ten seconds later when at least a five foot barracuda breached the surface with our mackerel clamped in it’s jaws heading for the Keys. The reel, which had been set with a moderate drag setting literally smoked as it poured out line. We fitted one of the amigo’s with a rod belt and slipped him the rod with a “Hang on, Snoopy.”
He did just that until the cuda turned and raced towards the boat and then there was no way to retrieve line fast enough as the cuda dove and cut off on the lower unit of the engine.
I think the response was “bummer” as he brought the severed line aboard. But things were happening quickly.
Just then the other rod with the deeper set bait went off with a screech and within milliseconds a barracuda leaped five feet out of the water writhing with the second bait. It was most likely the same enraged cuda that had jumped on the first bait. He was back for seconds; #2 jumped on this rod and we quickly slipped him the rod belt. The big fish hadn’t lost any energy and he roared left then right with serious leaps in between. #2’s was showing distress with hands and arms cramping and was definitely tiring. Then the cuda did his escape act again and charged the boat. But this time the angler did not try to keep up on the line retrieve; with the lack of pressure the fish executed a serious leap just short of the transom and crashed splashing the cockpit.
I think that did it and we wheeled the cuda alongside to the absolute admiration of the two anglers. Never had they seen a set of choppers like that. With a gaff holding with a lip hook we got great photos and gave the fish a chance to recover. We released the spent fish and retired the spent anglers.
They could talk about nothing else on the way home. Their first experience with a barracuda had been a life experience. I knew that when one of the amigo’s asked me I thought Speilberg might do a sequel to “Jaws” entitled “Cuda”
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.