Wading in the Shadow of the Shark

shark_0Ed Snyder/Outdoors
The hairs on the back of my neck alerted me to its sudden appearance as I stood waist deep in swirling clear waters of Tampa Bay, Florida. Only seconds earlier I was cheerfully reeling in my third speckled trout of the morning, lost now to the chill of sheer terror as a large, dark shadow slowly began circling me. Scary, frightening, and extremely dangerous situations often occur within seconds from out of nowhere. As my situation came about while wade fishing with my brother Pete on Tampa Bay. We had decided to fish the flats on the east side of the Sky Way Bridge for speckled trout.

So one bright early morning found us treading about 150 yards out on a grassy flat. The tide was incoming, promising good fishing action as we fanned out casting ¾ oz silver Sprite spoons. Pete chose to cast the grassy pockets on the flats, while I opted for a submerged sandbar near a channel about fifty yards away. Rising waters enabled me to wobble my spoon along the drop-off edges of the sand bar where I hoped feeding specks could take an interest. And it wasn’t long before I managed to string up two nice keepers. Calling to my brother to come on over to get in on the action, he yelled back that he was already on good specks with three already boxed. Another cast had me hooked up to my third speck and it looked like our mornings worth of trout fishing was going to provide some exceptional fishing action. … That is, until the shadow appeared!

The hairs on the back of my neck alerted me to its sudden appearance as I stood waist deep in swirling clear waters of an incoming tide. Only seconds earlier I was cheerfully reeling in my third speckled trout, lost now to the chill of sheer terror as a large, dark shadow slowly began circling me.

Bull Shark from thrills to chills

Bull Shark from thrills to chills

As the shadow circled in closer on its second run, I realized it was a six foot brute of a Bull Shark, which are very dangerous and known man-eaters. Not wanting to move for fear of provoking an attack, my mind numbing fear quickly turned to survival reactions, however when the shark suddenly rushed in on its third pass, I reacted by use my fishing rod as a whip and spear by forcefully thrashing and stabbing at the toothy critter to ward it off. The shark then veered off, swimming back towards the channel, disappearing into its ghostly depths.

Not believing my luck, I frantically alerted my brother of the shark and all but walked on water to close the fifty yard distance between us. But, with the shark seemingly gone now we decided to continue fishing for specks…WRONG THING TO DO!!

Unseen by us, the shark had slithered back onto the flats behind us. Then, while we began wading and casting towards another grassy pocket, something BIG suddenly SLAMMED into my back, knocking me almost silly and breathless. The shark was back!!

Spooked and frightened by this sudden attack, Pete reacted first by moving in between me and the shark to shield me from any further assaults. “They’ll sometimes ‘bump’ their intended prey before attacking,” Pete worriedly advised, which did little to calm my fears. As the shark turned about twenty yards out in front of us it began a wider circle around us, we began back-wading towards the distant shoreline about 150 yards behind us. Keeping our attention totally focused on the shark, which was now circling us in an agitated, head shaking manner, we began wading back to back for dual protection while thrashing the waters with our fishing rods to keep the shark at bay. Finally, after what seemed like “forever” we managed to reach knee-deep waters where the shark, now becoming uneasy in the shallows, bolted back towards the safety of deeper waters.

As scary as it sounds is as scary as it was, but my frightening ordeal could’ve been easily avoided if I had only used a little common sense with a little more working knowledge about wade fishing. First of all I was in the sharks’ domain and had unconsciously provided him with what he was hunting for, FOOD! with “Me” as its main course. A very scary thought indeed!

Wading in the shadow of the shark

Wading in the shadow of the shark

But after it was all over, I now believe the shark wasn’t really after me during that first confrontation, but had been attracted to me by the bleeding trout tethered to my stringer instead. But the rasping bruise on my back caused by the second confrontation, along with the hostile behavior the shark directed towards us while circling, was definitely that of an attacking predator. We did have some trout secured in my brothers’ float box, which may have diverted his aggression if we had tossed them out to thwart its interests in us, but when you’re back-stepping in water busily fending off persistent and aggressive shark, tunnel vision focuses strictly on surviving the situation of the moment. Besides, I will never forget the chilling stare of the eye of that shark as it kept its focus on its prey-US!

Mistake #1: Wade fishing in shorts and sandals. ALWAYS wear long pants, sneakers, and a shirt while wading. Flashing bare legs and feet attract attention like the silver spoon we were using to catch trout. Bare skin areas will attract baitfish such as piggy perch and pinfish, which are edible delights for hungry predators such as shark. Covered feet are a must, for that very same reason, but also for protection against cuts and abrasions from broken seashells and bottom clutter where chafing and bleeding can become an attractive lure for roving sharks. Sport & tackle shops, such as Academy, Gander Mountain, or Wal-Mart, sell neoprene type “wade-booties” that are excellent for wade fishing and are highly recommended for this type of water sport.

Mistake #2: Using a short, stringer type fish tether, that causes the fish to bleed, emitting fishy oils from stress, and regurgitate food from their gullets which acts like a chum-line to attract predators like cats to catnip. The use of Do-Nets (a floating net type fish holder) or float boxes, (tote-along Styrofoam coolers designed for wade-fishing) are best as they will basically keep you, and your catch safe from the scent trails of roving shark. Also be sure to have these devices connected to you with at least 50 foot cords to keep your catch away from your body, attached to quick release clips on your waist for emergency releases. This will allow you to quickly release your fish from your waist in case a shark latches onto your catch. AND BELIEVE ME you DON’T want to be tied to the other end of a cord that’s being dragged off by a hungry, marauding shark!

Mistake #3: Fishing by myself without the protection of the “buddy-system”. Two anglers fishing together can spot possible danger a lot quicker, and when that danger becomes hostile, two people are a much better deterrent when trying to ward off an inquisitive or attacking shark. (I shudder at the thoughts of what could have happened if I had been alone without the help of my brother as it was quite possible that this report would’ve become my obituary instead.) Wade-fishing is still in my blood as I still enjoy the sport, but with advanced wade-fishing knowledge and by taking some common sense precautions with my gear and tack, I feel that it’s safe to do so.

Mistake #4: When wade-fishing stay clear of fishing piers, docks, or boat ramp areas as these areas are known to hold shark fishing tournaments or have fish cleaning stations that draw the attention of predator sharks. Some anglers choose to wear life-vests while wade-fishing, which was good for one angler I witnessed being swept out into the Gulf by a strong outgoing tide, but he was soon rescued by his fishing buddy to wade-fish another day.

Wading in the shadow of shark is unavoidable when entering into their domain, and in most cases, the fear of sharks is often limited to the clarity of the waters that you are fishing in. Case in point, the almost crystal clear waters of Tampa Bay provide panoramic “in your face” views of whatever may be prowling near you, as opposed to the sandy green, and often hiding waters of Galveston Bay that suppresses any vision of what may be lurking around you, which may be a blessing to most waders who prefer not knowing what is swimming amongst them. But believe me, when wade-fishing in the warm coastal waters of the Gulf, “the sharks are ALWAYS there!

Although my experience on Tampa Bay with an aggressive shark was an extreme incident, it quickly became a fond and lasting memory of my brother Pete, who had moved in to protect me during a time of intense danger. So I wish to dedicate this article to my hero, my brother, my fishing buddy, Pete K. Rickman, 1951 – 2006, who taught me all about “A Bridge over Troubled Waters”. May he rest in peace. I will miss him DEARLY!
[10-19-2015]

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One Response to “Wading in the Shadow of the Shark”

  1. Andy Lindsey says:

    Great story!
    Sorry for your loss.
    Ive been there too.

    Thanks
    Andy

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