Yesterday Capt. Bucky Dennis proved that a simple boat drifting technique is primo shark medicine for fishing Boca Grande—the giant pass that connects Charlotte Harbor with the Gulf of Mexico on Florida’s west coast and annually lures thousands of tarpon and the sharks that stalk them like wolves.
Primo medicine, that is, if you have the right bait—which is live stingrays. The first shark to crush a live ray fluttering just below the surface came unbuttoned despite Herculean efforts with Bucky’s custom big game rod sporting a 12/0 Penn Senator reel. The next shark stayed hooked, honking out 80-lb. test-braid line and bucking the rod in grand style each time the drag washers slipped.
The big-headed bull shark finally quit and we brought him boatside thrashing and giving that classic toothsome smile. The fish was maybe 350-400 lbs.
We lost others and caught more including what looked to be the fish we had nailed earlier (sharks aren’t particularly brilliant, but aggressive they are). Finally, Senior Editor Brian Lynn and I hauled our butts into and 18-ft. flats boat owned by one of Bucky’s pals, Jimmy Kearn for more photo ops. Bucky and two of his client/friends would soak the remaining baits but before the two boats separated Bucky tossed us a mangled, very dead stingray that a bull shark had previously chomped before it got off. We’d soak the thing between taking pictures.
It didn’t work that way.
The ragged, dead ray was no sooner in the water when a huge hammerhead sliced in knifing the surface with its high dorsal fin, rolling at the boat so we could plainly see that it was not all that shorter than the 18-ft. skiff. It circled around, homed in on the bait floating on the surface and heaved part of its head and back out as it ate. We were all yelling crazily.
Brian was up and the tackle in his hands included a state-of-the-art dual drag Accurist reel said to be able to apply 80 lbs. of drag pressure. I don’t know about that figure but I can tell you the reel has the muscle to eventually wear out most anything with fins. Unfortunately the reel was spooled with 60-lb.-test line, the drag had been pre-set to max, and when its owner hollered at Brian to jam the drag lever forward to full strike position, Brian did just that and the hammerhead about pulled him over the side. It didn’t last long. The line cracked loudly and the shark simply steamed away.
And now we’re after tarpon, tarpon that had been eating big time a few days ago but which have been hammered by a low-pressure weather event—Tropical Storm Andrea—and have vacated Boca Grande pass like the area’s wind-blown smoke. The weather has put the hurt on redfish and snook, too; great gamefish that offer a “Plan B” option near the pass.
We put in six hours in Capt. Ray Van Horn’s 22-ft. Ranger bay boat this morning and zeroed—as did Ray’s partner C.A. Richardson and everybody else we saw. But at lunch Ray got a tip—an intelligence report about a big tarpon school not far way that was being corralled by a bunch of sharks. If the pass strikes out tomorrow morning, we’ll head for those fish. And then there’s one more fishing day after that. Tonight we pray to the weather gods for good tarpon weather. But I think Brian is still dreaming about hammerheads.