PANAMA CITY — It took almost 45 minutes to bring the shark into the boat, with two men pulling on the heavy rope. When they watched the balloon drop into the water, they knew they had a large shark on the line. They did not know it was 8 feet, 7 inches long.
“Oh my God, look at the size of that shark,” Gabriel Smegby said. “We were absolutely blown away.”
Smegby and Derrick Keeny caught the shark Tuesday about 3.5 miles south of St. Andrew Pass. Smegby, a shark fisher for 15 years, operates a fishing group named Dark Side Sharkers.
“We’re more on the conservation side,” Smegby said. “It’s been a long time since we decided to keep a shark. We’ve released thousands of them.”
This shark is one Smegby decided to keep. It weighed in at 350 pounds, but that was after it had lost copious amounts of blood. He is going to mount the head and fins, although he said after receiving a large hammerhead shark he is running out of wall space. He donated the meat to a local fish market.
“Nothing went to waste,” he said.
Smegby said he has caught hammerhead and mako sharks that were bigger, but this was the largest bull shark he ever caught — in fact, the largest bull shark he had seen in person. The other bull sharks he has caught are usually between 6.5 and 7 feet long. Smegby said there have been more sharks in the water this year and that he already has caught 50.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Research biologist John Carlson said there are more bull sharks in Northwest Florida waters at this time of year, with adult females moving into coastal areas to give birth. He added that bull sharks are a natural part of the St. Andrew Bay area ecosystem.
Even with an increase in sharks, Carlson said attacks on people are incredibly rare. The last attack in the area occurred about nine years ago in the Apalachicola area.
“You have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being attacked by a shark,” Carlson said. “In almost all cases it’s a case of mistaken identity.”
Bull sharks have been known to attack people, sometimes mistaking them for a sea turtle. Bull sharks feast on larger prey, including tarpon and sea turtles. Carlson did bring up one instance when a fisherman was in the water and a bull shark went after the bait the fisher was using, biting his leg.
Carlson advised to avoid swimming in times when visibility is poor, like in the evening, and to avoid swimming around people fishing.