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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Florida shark fishing trip

Shortly after last Spring's goliath grouper trip to South West Florida, I cam across an episode of the Florida adventure quest fishing show on WFN. The host (Jason South), was out fishing for big tarpons in the world famous Boca Grande pass during the annual tarpon run, with Captain Mike Myers of Reel Shark charters. While fighting a huge 150 lbs tarpon, a school of big sharks came up and chewed the poor tarpon to bloody bits in no time. Captain Mike heads to shore, catches some shark bait, heads back out, and sure enough, they hook and land a 10 foot monster bull shark.

I immediately contacted captain Mike to discuss booking a similar trip for myself. Mike mentions that while shark are plentiful around Florida year round, the best time to catch any sharks over 300 lbs is in late April and early May, when big bull sharks and hammerhead sharks come to feed on the massive schools of 20,000+ big tarpon that come through Boca Grande pass to spawn, and  are targeted by the world's top tarpon anglers.

If Florida is the self proclaimed fishing capital for the world, the Southwest Florida region between Fort Myers and Sarasota would be the fishing capital of Florida. The area's epicenter is Boca Grande, and Late April to mid May is high season. Without any exaggeration, never have I visited an area this concentrated and focused around the sport fishing industry.

As my 16 year old Avi brought home the highest report cards between all of my 7 kids for the past 3 report cards, I invited him along for my lifelong dream of catching a monster shark.

We flew into Miami airport early on Sunday morning. Rented our car and drove 3 hours across Florida to the town of Venice, where our motel was located. Driving alligator alley across the everglades, we noticed good numbers of alligators sunning themselves in the canal along the highway. Unfortunately, we couldn't just stop to take pics, but we got our chance at that later on in the trip.

After arriving in Venice and checking at the motel, we decided to try our luck fishing at the local pier, which also rents fishing rods. Upon parking at the beach, we immediately notice some small lizards, which can be found all over Florida.

As usual, I couldn't resist catching one and goofing around a bit.

Headed to the pier.

Towards the mid section of the pier, lies papa's bait shop, which sell bait, t shirts, and snacks. They also cheap rods and something called the Florida snow shovel.

We got some frozen shrimp for bait, as well as a sabiki rig to try to catch some live bait fish with. Unfortunately, none of them performed at all. Most of locals that fish the pier every day weren't catching anything either, so we didn't bother sticking around too long, quitting after 2-3 hours of so.

I didn't bother trying the "snow shovel". With Venice claiming itself to be the shark tooth capital of the world, visitors to the area spend time in the shallow surf sifting through rocks and shells in search of fossilized shark teeth, which apparently are plentiful if you know where and how to find them.

Took some shots of a couple at "work":

If you get lucky enough, you may actually find a shark tooth worth money. Story has it that a teenager recently found a megalodon fossil tooth worth thousands for dollars.

Avi and I decide to go for a long walk down the beach.

We spot some sort of sand crabs, extremely elusive, impossible for us to catch any. Did mange to get some pics of them before they spook and dart into their bottomless holes in the sand.

Next morning, we headed out to meet Captain Mike at the Gasparilla Marina in Placida, Florida. Parked at the waterside bar and grill at the crack of dawn.

The Gasparilla marina is one of the popular marinas where local guides pick up and drop off their clients.

The fish cleaning station as big school of snook up to 40 inches, as well as tons of saltwater catfish waiting for the scraps. Area is lighted under water at night, so you can see them cruising around.

Apparently, Captain Mike was having boat trouble, so he called in one of his friends, Captain Trey Dietz to step in with his boat. In contrast to our guide Mike, who is a veteran guide with over 25 years of experience fishing hundreds of outings a year, Captain Trey is a young, ambitious 21 year old just getting started as a guide. That being said, his family has been guiding in the Sarasota area for 3 generations, so he's no stranger to fishing or guiding. With that sort of guiding knowledge aboard the vessel, I was feeling quite confident that we'd have a successful trip. We hit the water at sunrise.

First order of the day, was catching shark bait. Using light tackle, we cast jigs rigged with paddletail swimbaits to try to catch ladyfish, which is the intended bait for sharks. We managed a few ladyfish, as well as some other species.

I catch a weird looking Sea Robin, freakish fish that looks similar to a spiny,  oversized round goby.

We also managed a couple slot size sea trout in the 15 to 18 inch range, which we eventually take back with us for dinner.

Avi hooks into a powerful cobia on the light rod, making for a fund fight. Under slot size at only 28 inches or so, probably in the 12 to 15 lbs range.

Mike decides to give us a shot at catching a couple tarpon before heading out for sharks. We don't manage to get any hits, nether do the other few boats drift fishing with peeler crabs as bait either.

As always, weather plays a huge part when it comes to fishing, even more so in saltwater. While the backwaters we started at were calm, we were not able to make it out to our intended area for monster bull sharks, so we set up up at one of Mike's other hot spots.

Mike proceeds to butterfly fillet a ladyfish into cutbait, and rig it on a heavy spinning rod.

We start drifting and within less than 10 minutes, the rod goes down, line peeling off the reel at high speed. Mike hands Avi the rod, and he's into a big shark.

From the way the fish is reacting, Mike is certain that the shark is over 150 lbs. It takes us about 10 minutes or so to finally get it's head turned on the initial run, but it spit the hook shortly after, before we get a glimpse at it. Major let down, but that's part of fishing.

Day goes on, we get a few of our baits chomped off by smaller blacktip sharks, but no more hook ups.

After cleaning our trout for dinner, we head back to Venice. Along the way, we marvel at just how much of a fishing area we are in. You know you're in a die hard angling town when they even have churches for fishermen.

We had back to Venice beach after eating the delicious sea trout. I take the time to enjoy an old favorite not available in Canada.

After a while, we take a stroll along a retention pond near the beaches parking lot. Signs indicating us to beware of alligators has us keeping an eye out for them. Sure enough, we find one sunning itself. Not a monster, probably 8 feet or so in length.

We head back to the motel for a good night's sleep.

The following morning, we get a later start, as the winds are forecast to die down as the day goes on. After catching some more ladyfish for bait, we head out to world famous Boca Grande Pass. While the tarpon are already moving in, not too many boats yet, as the wind is a bit rough, and most tournaments there start around May 1st every year.

Mike set up a big ladyfish on a heavy boat rod, with a giant level wind reel spooled with 80 lbs mono line, followed by a 200 lbs leader.

Fishing with only 18 lbs of drag resistance or so, there is virtually no chance a big shark can snap the line due to pressure. Rod is set into holder, and the chase for our monster shark begins.

Withing less than 15 minutes on our first drift, the big rod goes off. Slowly at first, then increasingly picking up speed. Mike sets into the big shark, and hands the rod to Avi.

As Mike isn't on his own boat and Captain Trey isn't a shark guide, Mike uses a cooler to improvise as a fighting chair for Avi.

Avi fights the giant for about 15 minutes or so, until he runs out of steam. He hands the rod over to me, hoping I'll be able to muscle the big shark off the bottom and up about 30 feet to the surface. I must say, that it is harder than it may look on TV shows. Takes about 7-8 minutes and Captain Mike has the fish thrashing at boat side.

Here is some video footage of the battle.

As you can see, the fish spit the hook before Avi and I get a chance to get in the picture the the monstrous 9 foot / 400+ lbs bull shark. Super thrilled that we the video though...

As the day goes on, Avi and I manage to land to smaller black tip sharks. Though Captain Mike rarely puts any shark on the deck any more, he was nice enough to do it for us, despite the obvious danger to himself.

Miy black tip shark measures a good 5 + feet or so, while Avi's end up with shark being a few inches shorter.Both probably in the 60-70 lbs range.

The day ends up with us missing another run after the shark drops the bait within 15 seconds or so.

We had back to the marina, and after some drinks with the captains, I thank them profusely and say goodbye, until the next time.

Not sure when or if ever I'll run into captain Trey again, but I get the feeling I may head down to fish with captain Mike again at some point in the future. Mike is probably one of the most if not the most experienced shark guide in Florida. Landing in excess of 1000 sharks per year, he's landed over 20,000 sharks over his 25 years as a fishing guide in Florida, as well as huge tarpons, snook, redfish, sea trout, and a variety of other game fish species native to the gulf of Mexico.

Having mentioned seeing an alligator the previous evening, the captains suggest we head North of Venice to Myakka River state park near Sarasota, where there is a huge concentration of big gators. st.

After getting cleaned up at the motel, we drive to the park.

The sign indicates that we are on the right track.

Sure enough, we spot many alligators on a bridge over a small creek.

Needless to say, between the monster shark and giant gators, we got our fill of big jaws and teeth for a while.

To end the day, we visited Sista beach, the self proclaimed #1 beach in the USA.

That's a tall order to say the least, but it's the first US beach I have been to that has fine white sand that doesn't stick to your feet as much as the standard darker sand found on most beaches in the USA.

Not being much of the beach bum types, Avi and I headed back after about 45 minutes of strolling
Next morning, we headed back to Miami. As our flight home was delayed until the evening, I took advantage to show Avi around Miami Beach, an area we would vacation at often when growing up. Bal Harbor and it's anchored yachts which cost more than some homes are a kick, but my favorite is the haulover marina. Those cheap 1/2 day fishing charter trips at $15 back in the day, were about all my dad would spend on fishing in Florida. 35 years later, the same fleets, and even some of the same boats are still there, running daily trips.

As usual, you have a very good chance of seeing what's biting. One charter boat had just returned with the day's catch. Mainly bonitas, some snappers, and small blackfin Tuna and big jack.

Another big attraction is the giant tarpons schooled up around the moorings, waiting for scraps.

Headed back to the airport after a late lunch to end our Florida fishing trip.

I'm quite sure Avi won't forget this trip for many years. I'm glad to have been able to put him onto some of most exciting / extreme / insane fishing in the world, while at the same time, fulfilling my lifelong dream of catching a monster bull shark, one of the most dangerous shark species that swim the seas.

While I don't have any more monster fishing adventures planned for the near future, my bucket list isn't quite empty yet.


Unknown said...

Awesome post, Phil. Looks like a thrilling fight.

Unknown said...

Looks like an awesome trip! thanks for sharing!