Say that word anywhere and people pay attention. Shout it at the beach and you will people running for the sand.
Sharks are one of the most interesting creatures in the ocean and over the next few weeks we will be doing a series of articles about local sharks of the Gulf of Mexico.
But first I would like to share some of my favorite shark stories.
Blacktip sharks are the most common large shark species in the Southeast Texas region and years ago I witnessed an incredible blacktop encounter.
I was fishing off the shores of Breton Island in the Chandeleur Islands (off Venice, La.) with Capt. George Knighten when a school of mullet in front of us went from being nervous to completely freaking out. They leapt in every direction away from something that looked to be about two and half feet long and stirring in the water below.
Knighten who was wading ahead of me, chunked his Mirrolure Top Dog toward the fracas fully expecting to catch a big sow speck. What he got instead was a massive blowup from a juvenile blacktip. At that time, Top Dogs were hot commodities so he wanted to reel the fish in and retrieve his plug. However, the shark had other ideas easily snapping the line with its sharp sandpaper skin and quickly darting back into the small channel along the island.
Two days later just before we were headed back to the mainland, Knighten and I found ourselves wading the exact same stretch of shoreline, this time catching a nice bunch of specks. As we plugged away, Knighten hollered “shark” as a blacktip tugged at his stringer, making an easy meal of the trout.
“You’re not going to believe this,” Knighten said.
“This is the same blacktip I lost here two days ago.”
“How do you know?,” I asked.
“My plug is still in its mouth!”
Whether that shows the species is territorial or not is debatable but it definitely illustrates a dogged determination that is seeing this valuable species come hold its own while others dwindle away.
Blacktips might be underappreciated but virtually everyone knows about the intense reputation of the bull shark.
On the same stretch of shoreline a few years later, I caught a five foot bull shark from a boat just off the drop-off of an island we had been wade-fishing a few hours earlier.
Television host Keith Warren thought it would be best if we photographed the fish from the shore, so I hopped overboard waded to the bank with the fish still battling and brought it to shore.
We filmed the whole thing and then talked a bit about bull sharks and shark conservation.
“Sharks like the bull shark are potentially dangerous to man, but they play a valuable role in nature,” I said.
“Sharks are the apex predator in the Gulf of Mexico, and without them, the entire food chain would be disrupted. I occasionally take sharks to eat, but bulls have super thick hide and I think I will release this one to fight another day.”
At this point, Keith and I walked the big shark back out into the water and he demonstrated the proper technique for reviving a fish by pushing water through its gills. The fish seemed worn out but quickly gained its strength. Keith pushed it out toward the deep, and on camera, we said something about a job well done and started to walk back to shore.
Then something caught my eye: The shark we had released had swam out about 20 yards and then turned around toward us. We were in water over our knees a good 30 yards from the bank. There was no way we were going to outrun the shark, so I prepared to kick it the best I could.
As it got about 10 feet from us, it turned sideways for a second as if it shows its authority, and then turned the other direction. We both breathed a sigh of relief and were glad the camera was still running, because we did not think anyone would believe us. We said something about a close call and wrapped up the shoot.
Some gratitude that shark had!
Chester Moore, Jr.