Catching My First Shark While Fishing In Orange Beach
Ever since the movie Jaws came out in 1975, I have been captivated with sharks. I can remember as a kid, our parents would bring all of us to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach each summer and we all would try to scare each by telling each other that there were sharks in the water. I would stand on the shores for hours, trying to catch a big monster from the deep and had some success catching small sharks that were in the surf. I would hook some big ones, but for some reason I never could get heavy enough line to keep them from breaking me off.
Everything changed when I was 15 years old. That was the year my father bought me a 16’ Monarch Aluminum Boat with a 15 Johnson on the back. I had a 6 gallon gas tank and one reserve. I fished everywhere from Fort Morgan, Dauphin Island, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and as far as Innerarity Point, Florida in my little skiff. I would catch Speckled Trout, Flounder, Black Drum, Sheepshead, Pompano and my old standby, The Gulf Flounder. No matter what species I caught inshore or up in the bays, I was always being drawn out to see like an ebb tide.
After I got my nerve up a bit, I would head out into the Gulf of Mexico and go as far as the Wallace Reef, some 10 miles offshore. Back in the days before over fishing, this reef was smoking hot and we could catch all the fish you wanted off her. I would catch 30 to 50 Vermilion Snapper and a few King Mackerels to help pay for my gasoline, which was about .54 cents per gallon back in the day. Yep, just me by myself with a mess of fish almost every day was just what a teenager needed to keep his mind off things that would probably have gotten me in trouble.
One morning I was offshore fishing and had a big 45 pound King Mackerel beside the boat and a huge Hammerhead Shark came up and hit the boat, trying to take my fish away from me. The event scared me to death. This shark was at least 12 feet long. It looked like it was 16 feet because I had never seen one before. I got my fish in the boat and back then, we used rags to wipe the blood off our hands and to help hold the fish so I could remove the hooks. After throwing the big King Mackerel in the ice chest, I leaned over the side of the boat and took my rag and began washing the blood out of it. The splashing around of a white, blood soaked towel in the water must have attracted the shark. This Hammerhead must have been waiting right below the boat, because he came and charged my boat and tried to take the towel from my hand. I guess he thought it looked like a fish in distress.
I had a 12 ought Penn Reel that my friend let me use and had some 100 pound test with some wire leader with a really big hook on it. I cut the mackerel in half and put it on the hook. I did it just like those two men did in the movie Jaws with his wife’s holiday roast. I buried that hook up to where he could not see it, and tossed my bait into the water. My heart was already racing enough because of the two previous encounters with this Hammerhead. I was ready for bear and I wanted my first big shark and I wanted to catch him badly.
After about five minutes, my rod began to slowly bend over with a steady pull. At first I thought I was hung up on the Wallace Reef, but then the line started spooling off my reel and the fish was going away from the reef. I could not slow him down. I cut my anchor line quickly because I did not have time to untie it and pull it back in the boat. I let this shark drag me around for almost 3 hours before I had him up to the boat and he was a whopper of a Bull Shark. I thought to myself for a second, “this isn’t the Hammerhead that tried to eat my fish at all.” I had caught a 10 foot 4 inch Bull Shark and did not know what to do with him. I ended up getting a big rope around his tail and tied him off to a cleat. It was a long drag back then, but I pulled into the Cotton Bayou Marina (where Tacky Jacks is now) with shark in tow. I went inside and called my father to have him come down and help me get this beast up out of the water. We put him on the scale and he topped it at 541 pounds.
This was a fish of a lifetime and I will always remember my childhood days of running around Orange Beach and having fun fishing. Although it took over 20 years to be able to return and open my own charter fishing guide service, the wait was well worth it. I have no regrets and nowadays, I promote conservation of all species of sharks. I had no idea of how over fished all shark species would become in the years since childhood. I really enjoy taking families offshore and letting them hook a big shark and have some fun. My goal is to share my fascination with sharks with others so they too can learn about how magnificent an animal they are.