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November 14, 2011

Shark Attack!

My wade fishing days are over...

I love wade fishing.  I hate wade fishing.

There really isn’t a more exciting fishing experience than standing waist deep in the water off of Chandeleur Island and reeling in a fat speckled trout.  You’re in the fish’s element and there’s just something special about it.

Although I’ve done it countless times, I’m never comfortable.  In addition to trout and reds in the water, there are also sting rays, jellyfish and sharks. 

Did I say sharks? 

I have an irrational fear of being in the water with sharks and that has always kept me from enjoying my wade fishing trips to the fullest.  A recent experience has probably ended my wade fishing forever.

I was invited to take a three-day trip to Chandeleur to fish from a houseboat and use small skiffs to access the beach for surf fishing.  Instead, I opted to bring my kayak so I could fish all the same areas without having to get in the water.

On the first evening’s trip, I fished a small shell island that was barely protruding from the Gulf.  Bait surrounded the island and the speckled trout were thick.  After catching a dozen or so trout on a Top Dog, I noticed some nervous bait right at the shoreline.  I made a cast to the activity and as soon as the bait hit the water, a massive explosion erupted and line flew off my spool at an alarming rate. 

Shark! 

Not wanting to lose all my line, I locked down the drag and the beast quickly bit through the thirty-pound leader.  I thought, “Good decision on bringing the kayak Chris!”

About a half hour later, I noticed a big commotion near a little crook in the island. At first I though it was a school of bull reds mauling bait.  However, I noticed several distinct dorsal fins and realized it was a pack of sharks causing the frenzy. Unfortunately, my camera was safely stowed in the kayak and all I could do was watch in amazement. 

As fast as it started, it was over.  The water quickly settled and you couldn’t even tell that a massacre had just taken place. All of this occurred within mere steps from the shore. 

The kayak decision was looking better and better all the time.

The next evening I fished the same island again and I knew there was no way I was getting in the water.  So, I decided to beach the ‘yak where I could walk on land and fish 360 degrees around the island.  The topwater bite started immediately and I caught several fish over 3 pounds, with my largest pushing 5.  However, as fast as it started, it quit.  The bait seemed to disappear and I took a break to relax with a cold one and enjoy the peacefulness of the little fishing paradise I decided to call “Gilligan’s Island.”

Suddenly, a dorsal fin appeared, a shark was cruising the back side of the island in a methodical zigzag pattern--here we go again. 

Before I could get the camera out of the case, the glass-calm water exploded.  I couldn’t see anything but the splashing and foaming white water. What a good feeling to be on terra-firma and not waist deep in the water.

As the crystal water settled and cleared, I could see a small blood cloud and the head of a white trout lying on the bottom—gills still moving!  I used my rod to fish out the head.  That quickly, the shark had eaten what looked to have been a 3-pound white in a single bite. Again, so glad my ankles were dry.

A few more casts and still no more bites.  I took out the camera and started taking a few scenic shots of the kayak on the island.  Again, I noticed a cruising dorsal fin on the Gulf side of the island. 

Cool, I’m going to get a few shots of the exposed fin.  I took a few pictures but, nothing exciting. The shark appeared to be on a well planned mission.  With camera in hand, I watched and shot some photos as it roamed back and forth, each time getting a little closer to the shore. 

Then, all hell broke loose.

About ten yards off that same little crook in the island, the shark made a lightening-speed charge straight to the beach.  Water was splashing everywhere and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. However, this time, I was looking at the amazing scene through my viewfinder and firing off burst photos one after another.  All I could do was hope that the camera was capturing the Discovery Channel moment that was happening before my eyes.

In the blink of an eye, the shark and its prey, a speckled trout, ended up beached on the island.  Thrashing and splashing, both seemed equally disoriented by being where neither belonged.  Almost in unison, they flopped around and quickly reentered the water less than a foot from each other.  Unscathed, each swam away in different directions.

Upon reviewing the photos on the camera, I realized that I had captured the entire sequence of the attack.  I also was able to see that the shark had a Remora attached to its right side that went along for the amazing thrill ride.  

From the photos, it’s difficult to identify the shark species, but one biologist I consulted said it appears to be a lemon shark.

It was a fantastic experience to have a front-row seat to this spectacle of nature and I could not believe how quickly it all unfolded.  The entire event lasted less than ten seconds.

Had that attack occurred on my leg instead of a trout, there is absolutely no way that I could have reacted quickly enough to avoid it.  My irrational fear of sharks has been reinforced.

My wade fishing days are over.