March 30, 2012
By Ross Purnell, Editor
On Monday (March 26) I caught one of my most memorable fish. It was a 110-pound tarpon caught in the lower Keys, and it had absolutely no quit in it. While that was exasperating, what made the fish truly memorable was the game of cat-and-mouse we played with a 12- to 14-foot bull shark that wanted to make a meal of the tarpon.
The shark was obviously well trained. When it caught scent of the tarpon, it didn't chase the struggling fish. The great beast merely nosed up beside the flats skiff, and waited patiently for me to bring the fish to him. My stomach sank as I had heard too many stories, and seen too many videos, of sharks taking advantage of a hooked tarpon. I wanted the tarpon to survive, but on the other hand, I also wanted to land this fish!
Capt. Bruce Chard—one of the best guides in the Keys and someone who I've relied on for his saltwater expertise for more than 15 years—used the tip of his blunt push pole to spear the shark between the eyes, and when the shark took off, we pressured the tarpon up into shallow water near a mangrove island to discourage the shark. But the shark just didn't want to quit. Shallow water slowed him but did not stop him. He kept coming like Pepé Le Pew. In shallow water though there was less current to carry the scent and the shark's vision was greatly restricted. So while Bruce Chard and I jumped out of the boat into knee-deep water to get photos, fishing buddy Kara Armano stood watch on the poling platform watching the shark zig-zag back and forth getting closer and closer like a hound dog on the scent of a raccoon.
When the shark drew too close, we jumped back on the boat and while I held the tarpon by the lower jaw, we towed the fish to deeper water on the other side of the island. The moving water revived the fish, and by crossing the flat we managed to put survivable distance between the tarpon and that shark.
Many tarpon have been lost to sharks, but luck was on our side. The tarpon survived, and I'm not too worried about the shark. He'll get his meal ticket punched soon enough.