***VIDEO HIGHLIGHT!!!: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=A0-nkfHhdSo
A trip I had been really looking forward to all year has finally come and passed and it was as enjoyable as I could have hoped for. On the first weekend of August I took a 3 day trip down to Alligator Point, FL, accompanied by my wife Erin and good friend Wesley Allsbrook. I have fished Alligator Point on three other occasions, encountering big sharks every time.
I was really looking to employ new methods and take the time to learn more about land based shark fishing, particularly new and improved rigging schemes and bait dropping methods. Late in 2012 I had purchased heavier terminal equipment and set aside a shiny new Penn Senator 116L 12/0 reel for long distance bait dropping and stiffer backbone for something larger than the small/medium blacktips I have become most familiar with. In 2012 I had made a trip to the exact same stretch of beach for 48 hours of some of the worst imaginable fishing luck I have ever had. Equipped with the right rod and reel combos, I had become overconfident in my custom made industrial strength steel cable leaders that may have had the capability of towing aircraft, but lacked the necessary give or shock absorption to handle the quick, fast, and violent initial burst of a big shark. We broke off nearly 10 sharks that I am certain were well over 150lb in a single session. I left the sands of Alligator Point bound and determined to return to the same location in 2013 with a more scientific, intelligent approach.
I replaced over 1000 yards of 150lb braid that I had virtually emptied my wallet to spool the massive capacity of an intimidating reel with 130lb mono that would compensate for sheer power with the necessary shock absorption for the strong pull of a big shark. Heavy braid remained on the smaller Senator, but this time I abandoned the heavy steel cable leaders for more a more intelligent design consisting of a 20 foot section of 400lb mono serving as a “shock leader”. To protect the shock leader from abraision I utilized #15 Malin Hardwire doubled over and secured with a haywire twist to circle hooks up to 18/0. The final design was logical, pretty, and just plain bad ass. I think there is a particular joy and pride to be derived from creating your own rigs from scratch and subduing huge fish with them. I could not WAIT to put these things in the water.
Wesley was a great companion on the trip, like myself, he is in that stage of angling where the mind is open and hungry, but equipped with a solid foundation of knowledge from just enough personal experience with OTHER large fish and various angling successes. We packed the truck with a kayak, and a pile of rig bags, coolers, and rods. The 6-7 hour road trip from Charleston was nice, and conversation of the angling sort helped keep us driven and focused on what was ahead of us. I was all prepared for 3 nights of camping along the beach, grinding it out, getting little sleep and smelling like a bag of crap… content with the idea simply because its already been done time and time again, the idea is impractical and selfish considering my wife and I are expecting the birth of a baby girl in October (yes, my wife still battles huge fish despite the fact, rock star!). Wesley, thank the lord, had reserved a room at a quality hotel in Panacea for the weekend and it was a Godsend.
Friday, August 2nd we arrived in Panacea in early afternoon. I had inquired some info from locals of a man (Mr. Lawson is all I know) who will willingly go out and harvest stingray for people who call ahead and request them… for free! We met up with Mr. Lawson outside of Crums Mini Mall in Panacea. For such a small community that seems nearly void of all the life luxuries we’re so accustomed to having easy access too… Crums was a really quality outlet for bait and other fishing hardware. Wes and I remained inside of the store enamored by the seemingly endless supply of awesome fishing gear. Mr. Lawson showed up in his pickup with a cooler full of stingray, mullet, and a few sheepshead he had gigged in the night before. The great thing was that he offered these fish FREE, and even bought our ice for us (when I wasn’t looking). It was just one of many instances during our three day stay that locals would offer free information, bait, and other acts of generosity. I LOVE Alligator Point…
After checking in to our hotel we made our way to my shark spot and quickly fatigued ourselves lugging the NuCanoe, coolers, and other assorted pieces of heavy and exhausting gear. The shark station got set up and Wes and I took turns kayaking out baits. We used stingray and and sheepshead. Within an hour or so the first rod went parallel and the bait clicker was screaming, I happened to be near by as Wes scanned the shallows for additional bait species to castnet. It was one of Wes’s rods that had gotten the take, and he sprinted over to engage the fish. His customized rig held up during a violent initial run that saw the huge beast rocket out of the water and tear up the surface of the water in a series of jumps. I expected the fish to be a massive blacktip because of the jumps but as the fish wore down and Wes gained an advantage we saw clearly that it was not a blacktip, but a solid bull.
After some still shots and video action of the great fish, we wiped our brows clear and got his line back in the water. No more than another hour passed before the same rod, freshly baited up started singing again, this time Erin was up. The fight went about the same as the last, several exhilarating leaps and breaches, and blistering 100 yard runs. Erin methodically broke the fish until it was challenged in the shallows by Wes.
By this point we were feeling pretty dang good, considering the failures I had last year in successfully hooking up and keeping fish on… Another hour or two went by late into the evening and my smaller combo’s clicker went from a few tick tocks to a single tune and I tied into our third big shark of the evening. This was ideal… I did not go to Alligator Point expecting for everyone involved to get great action, but in a relatively short period of time on the first day all three of us already had beached nice bulls eclipsing 100lb.
There seemed to be some common trend, and the sharks in our area just didn’t have interest in the stingrays we had on ice. They flat out weren’t getting touched, but much as it was in 2012, the fish in our area loved sheepshead. On day 2 we went to a local fish market where fresh fish were harvested daily and put on ice for locals to purchase. We stocked up on several sheepshead and hit the sand around noon. The pace was much slower on day two and the wind was blowing steady at around 10-15… which ordinarily would have bothered me endlessly. The great thing about the waters surrounding Alligator Point is that they scarcely crest and even in the windiest conditions the paddle out is not intimidating or dangerous. When the ocean water is calm out there it is a spectacular thing to witness… the surface is very much alive and with the right conditions you can see V line wakes from even the tiniest species moving about. Fish from one inch up to tarpon well over 100lb could be seen making all sorts of activity on the surface. We hardly attempted to capture the tarpon just because for the most part the water was too turbid to see them, they were out of casting range, and we just didn’t have the appropriate gear.
On day two we had several bites and drops and at least one failed hookup, though Wesley did tie into a 4th bull shark of the trip. The fish took a large chunk of sheepshead off of the 12/0 and it was the first time I got to see my big rod and reel combo tested in a real time scenario against a formidable challenge to its integrity. What may have been the heaviest fish of the trip was subdued with relative ease at the end of the 12/0 and I was very pleased with the way it handled the fish with textbook efficiency.
On the eve of our last day we ate at a delicious local restaurant, Angelo & Son’s Seafood… a little pricey, but an awesome atmosphere. Nestled along the shores of Ochlockonee Bay, the restaurant was filled with other anglers who sported salt stained clothes and sunglass tan lines; and all seemed to be recapping the days successful catch. We got our fill and toyed around with the idea of trying a new area on our last day just to see what new fortunes we could find… ultimately we just decided to return to the same stretch of beach…
Day three had about the same action as the others, we had several runs but couldn’t seem to hookup with the fish before they dropped the lines or mysteriously severed them. The sun sank on a long unfruitful day before we spotted something spectacular. A group of huge lemon sharks began finning in the shallowest breakers, nearly beaching themselves at times right where the water crested over the sand. These were fish over 7 feet long gliding along in water that exposed half of their bodies and it appeared that they were hunting for scraps of old baits we had tossed out an hour or so earlier. We quickly retrieved two of our lines which were each out about 75 yards and placed baits obnoxiously close to shore… so much so that our 20 foot leaders were halfway out of the water. Not long after, one of the rods started gradually clicking and oh I knew this was going to be special. I have never caught a lemon shark, but wanted to cross this species off the list badly on this trip. I grabbed the rod, walked forward towards the water creating slack all the while tightening my drag so as the engage the shark with the circle hook at the point he breached that slack. The fish engaged and erupted through the shallow breakers, showering the immediate area of where the three of us stood in awe as it made a blistering run of 100 some odd yards in no time. Its massive elongated caudal fin thrashed about and it was a much more vicious fight than the dogged bulls had been putting on us. The fight ensued for several minutes before my line abruptly went slack… the mono shock leader was severely frayed from the course tail thrashing against it and it appeared that the wire trace had been severed. We had two more solid runs in shallow that were likely from other big lemons that were each failed hookups before the end of our trip.
All in all I think a lot was learned, but good memories were earned and I look forward to returning to the same stretch of beach with new tactics in mind!