Small Shark Encounters

by Fly Fisherman

Because of the tremendous numbers of salt water fish, as compared to the fresh water species, the angler who takes his fly rod into the salt always has a chance of getting into something new and different. Perhaps the species which arc consistent fly takers could be boiled down to a dozen, but there are half a hundred more that are, at one time or another, within reach of a fly.
Many an angler out for bonefish and other shallow water cruisers. and having a had day, has made a desultory cast to a shark and found himself tied to a new and startling experience.

By nature sharks are killers. Their savagery is legend. One sniff of blood will send them charging recklessly to slash and bite and tear at any wounded creature. They will snatch big hunks of flesh from a still living body, piscatorial or otherwise, and practically every deep sea angler has seen sharks chew the flesh off the entire length of a hooked fish while it was being played. To watch some of those pelagic sharks in their own element is enough to raise a crop of chills that reach bumper size. The 25-foot jumps of the great mako, the peculiar spinning leaps of the black-tipped shark, the tremendous power of the thrashing, slashing hammerhead—these are ferocious and awesome sights at close quarters.

However cruel and relentless these live torpedoes may be out in the deep, the picture is different when smaller editions of their species come into the shallows. Then they are on the alert for foes, and they don’t like too much noise and commotion. As they cruise the shallows at river mouths, in bays, across bonefish flats, looking for food, they come within reach of the fly caster and they put up a fight that compares favorably with that of almost any gamefish. So much so that not only are anglers showing more interest in them, but fishing tournaments are beginning to include several species on their list of eligible fish.

These small sharks furnish a lot of fun, year round, and inexpensively, too. On most of the Florida Keys a fisherman can park his car within a few feet of the ocean, wade out to knee-deep water and be in business. Many times when other more publicized fish are down deep and won’t hit, sharks will come in to prowl and feed. If you don’t want to wade, it’s easy to rent a skiff and go for them that way. And if you’re fishing with a guide, you can often save an otherwise dull day when fishing is slow, by working on the sharks you see.

However you go for them, in the shallow waters of most of the warm seas you will see sharks and they will hit a fly if it is put to them right. On a good shark day you might encounter small hammerhead, bonnet or shovelnose, lemon, lesser black-tipped, dusky and many other kinds. All of them will hit flies. The only exception is the nurse shark, a lazy, reddish fellow that limps across the flats looking for a sandy patch in which to lie down and sleep. You can come right up on him and poke him with an oar and I have seen a guide rudely awaken one from its nap by grabbing it by the tail and raising it clear of the water. Many an angler takes a kick at one of these lazy beasts that happens to get in his way while he is bonefishing.
Using your feet to boot a shark is probably a very reckless gesture, however, unless you are mighty sure it is a nurse shark. After one try at it, I got over the habit.

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