After catching so many new lifers in the keys, it was hard to get my mind on sharks. The funny thing is, all of my friends had to listen to me talk practically nonstop about sharks during the two months leading up to the trip. I had purchased heavier rods, higher capacity reels, and lots of heavy terminal tackle specifically for sharks. The week before the trip I spent nearly every evening making shark leaders with my new crimping tool. And yet here I was on a bridge in the keys, catching tons and tons of small fish with a sabiki without setting up my shark rods. Can you tell why I named this trip "FL shameless lifelisting"?
Ken and Michael, however, were focused. They got up earlier in the morning, stayed awake later at night, and always had several shark rods set up with baits in the water. However, as far as sharks were concerned, it was a slow trip. Finally, on the 16th their hard work paid off. In the late afternoon Michael got a hit on one of his baits. It seemed to take forever for him to get the fish to the surface. When he did, we recognized it right away as a nurse shark. It was pretty big too, probably 6 or more feet!
Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)
The problem with our fishing spot was that we were fishing 0.5 miles from shore. That is a long way to walk a big fish while bent over a concrete ledge! The bridge was made up of arched supports every 50 feet or so, and each time you passed one the shark would try to head under the bridge. A strong tide made the issue even worse. If the shark made it far enough under the bridge, your fishing line would be pulled tight against the concrete edge of the arch. Abrasion is a big issue under those conditions. I can't remember if Michael wanted to walk his first shark to shore or not, but either way it broke off not long after we took some pictures of it.
While it was still light out Ken hooked up with another nurse shark. He got it to the surface, we took some pictures of it, but soon after it snapped off when it went under one of the bridge arches. Ken had reeled in his line to the point that the leader was on the reel, so he counted it for his lifelist. Michael was also counting his nurse shark on his lifelist. This is a common practice among species anglers when it comes to large fish that can't be landed.
After dark, around the time Ruoxi and I had sent up a tent on the bridge to go to bed for the night, Michael hooked up with another shark. Again, it was a nurse shark. This time, for whatever reason, he was determined to walk it all the way to shore and land it. After seeing how quickly the previous two sharks had broken off, I figured there was no way he would make it the full half mile. Ruoxi and I wished him luck and being exhausted, went to bed. We unrolled our backpacking trail pads and fell asleep.
About an hour later, I woke up. It's hard to sleep with a clear sky, full moon, and the wind howling around the bridge. I wondered if Michael and Ken were back. I got out of the tent, and to my amazement, saw lights bobbing far off in the distance near shore. I woke Ruoxi up, and we got up and started the hike towards the base of the bridge. Just two archways from shore, this is how we found Michael!
Somehow Michael and Ken had managed to get the shark nearly all the way to shore! It has gone completely under one of the arch supports though, and Michael was stuck. After some debate, he decided to give the shark some slack and hurry over to shore so he could fight the shark from a better angle. The trick worked, and soon he had the shark up to the sea wall at the base of the bridge.
At this point I saw my opportunity to help out. We had to get a rope over the shark's head in order to safely get it to shore at a break in the sea wall. I hopped up on the wall and grabbed the bright green leader that Michael had constructed using weed eater line. I wish I had brought gloves with me, but there was no time to walk back and get them. I pulled with every bit of strength I had, and once the shark's head was above water Ken got the rope over its head and pectoral fins.
Now all we had to do was use the rope to walk the shark along the sea wall to a broken spot where we could get it through to dry land. Ken handed the rope off to me. I asked Michael to take the tension off the line so I could have control of the shark. Nothing happened. I looked over my shoulder at Michael and saw the expression on his face. He had fought this shark for well over an hour, and now someone was asking him to give up control over it. I told him I had it, he gave the line some slack, and we walked the shark over to the break in the wall.
It took two or three of us to pull the shark through the break in the wall. I let Ken and Michael pull on the rope while I got behind the shark and lifted it over rocks. Good grief was it heavy! A few minutes later we had it on dry ground and began untangling the rope and leader.
Once we had the shark free of the lines, Michael got a chance to appreciate his catch.
To the surprise of all of us, we found Ken's hook still in the shark's mouth. It was the same one he had hooked up with hours earlier! This was a dream come true for Ken, because he got a chance to pose with his lifer nurse shark on shore!
I was pretty excited to help out.
And last but not least, Ruoxi got her chance to pose with the shark. Ruoxi helped out immensely with the spotlight and holding on to the rod as we got the shark over the sea wall.
Huge congrats to Michael and Ken. Your hard work paid off!