Florida Keys First Sharks!

My fiancée, Meghan, and I headed down to the Keys for a long weekend of fishing. Our plan was to shark fish every night, and pick away at species from the bridges during the day. We arrived in Miami Friday at about 3pm, and had a rather long wait to get our rental, a bare-bones cargo van that we would be spending the next 4 nights in. We made our way down to a Winn-Dixie and picked up some snacks, Gatorades, and squid. We had about 45 minutes until dark, so we set up on a bridge and gathered about a dozen grunts, some of which were Tomtate Grunts, a new species for me!
 
 
We stopped and enjoyed a delicious dinner which consisted of a Dorado sandwich for her and a Cuban for me. Our next stop was a special place that Ken and Michael graciously told me about; It would end up being one of the most memorable places I’ve ever fished. We set up two 13’ Daiwa rods, one had a Penn Spinfisher V 6500 LL, and the other had a Daiwa BG5000, both spooled with 300 yards of 50lb PowerPro and about 30 yards of 40lb mono. The leaders consisted of 2’ of 210lb 7-strand and 4’ of 200lb mono, held together with 2 crimps at each connection. Credit goes to Ben Cantrell for helping me rig up. After setting up, I poked around shore for anything else willing to bite…however, the first bite came on my shark rod, and in came a little 10lb Bonnethead Shark. It was small, but I was very excited to catch my first shark so quickly!
 
 
Not long after, the other rod started moving, and although it was Meghan’s turn, she was in the van changing, so I reeled it in, and it turned out to be a Green Moray! I was excited to add this species, plus acquire a great bait!
 
 
As soon as we had taken pictures, the same rod started going again, and Meghan was also able to land a Green Moray! Things could not have been going better! A few minutes later, her rod started absolutely screaming, and as we tightened the drag, the animal only got more upset, and there was no stopping its initial run. It headed with the current, straight for a bridge and quickly broke us off. Little did we know, this was only the start of the intense action. Not 5 minutes later, another giant run… and another breakoff. I was thinking, wow, I am totally under-gunned here. We quickly set out another bait, and soon after got picked up again…. this time I tightened the drag even more, to around 20lbs, and was able to turn the fish! I was pulling as hard as I could, and gaining on it! After about 10 minutes, we saw the fish in the spotlight, a solid Bull Shark! It took me a while to work it in, and finally I was holding my beast by the leader. I really wanted to pull it up on the rocks for a quick picture, but it was far too angry and heavy. Meghan fetched a rope and I was able to maneuver it to an area where I could get a decent picture.
 
My first real shark, a Bull about 72” fork length and 150lbs.
 
We released the animal, and I had to go sit down and catch my breath. I was on an adrenaline high, and hooked on shark fishing forever! Soon after, we decided to call it a night because I didn’t have it in me to tame another beast.
 
The next morning, I caught a Dusky Damselfish that I saw in the shallows.
 
 
 We headed to Channel 5 bridge, and when we arrived, someone was getting ticketed for keeping a nice Permit out of season (idiot LOL).  We walked out a ways and set up a chum bag. It attracted a big Sea Turtle, which was cool to watch, but also was grabbing at the bag. 
 
 
I picked away with a sabiki for a couple hours, and weeded through dozens of grunts. I was able to add a couple species to my lifelist. 
 
Puddingwife Wrasse
 
Scrawled Cowfish
 
We were really hoping to catch some Parrotfish, and although we saw a fair number around the chum, it was too windy to properly target them. Some other species we caught, but were not new for us were, Gray Snapper, Yellowtail Snapper, White Grunt, Bluestriped Grunt, French Grunt, Houndfish, Blue Runner, and Slippery d!ck. We found a nice dock to enjoy the sunset on, had dinner, and called it a night.
 
 
I woke up at 3:45am to set up for sharks, and was quickly broken off by something large. Then, another huge run, and my 200lb leader came in, severed. A third bite came, and I think a Moray had taken me into its hole, and I ended up breaking off trying to get it out. Another bite, and finally something that was willing to play! It wasn’t a long fight, but I landed what would be about 60” total length Nurse Shark.
 
 
We hooked another shark, and Meghan fought it almost to shore. Just as we could see that it was a Lemon Shark, the hook pulled. What a disappointment for her. The sun started to come up soon, and we headed towards Big Pine Key, grabbing a delicious breakfast along the way.
 
 
We fished around the Horseshoe, picking away at new species. 
 
Schoolmaster Snapper
 
Yellowfin Mojarra
 
Dusky Flounder
 
Spotted Scorpionfish
 
Meghan also caught a small Barracuda and a Southern Puffer. A friendly manatee showed up and she enjoyed petting it! Very cool.
 
 
We ended up running into a cool dude, Bryan, who we shared some connections with in PV, Mexico…. Small world! He ended up catching a solid Crevalle Jack. After that, we ended up fishing the bridge to No Name Key for a while, only catching the usual fish, and then headed back to the Horseshoe, where we caught Sheepshead Porgy, along with a lot of fish we had previously caught. We headed back to the shark spot, and were greeted by a brief thunderstorm. It didn’t last long, and soon we were set up. The first hit was a strong run, and a cutoff when the shark started thrashing on the surface. The next 2 bites ended in a similar fashion. By this point, the tide was not moving, and we were exhausted, so we called it a night ending 0/3.
Monday Morning, we woke up and headed to A1A rentals, where we had a 21’ Sea Hunt reserved. I was really hoping to get out to the Islamorada Hump, but the seas were 3-4’ and it was a bit too risky in a small boat. We motored to Alligator Reef, and set out some tube lures for Barracuda. Soon, we got a giant hit and I got totally destroyed by what seemed to be a 4-5’ animal. After getting broken off in the reef, we had a couple more strikes but no hookups. The water was beautiful and there was dolphins everywhere.
 
 
It was only 9:30, and Meghan started feeling seasick. I was not going to stop fishing already, so we motored to Eagle wreck. I dropped a live shrimp and was greeted with a small Mutton Snapper on the first drop.
 
Next drop, I had a Yellow Jack on the line.
 
Third drop, I caught a White Margate.
 
I went a couple drops with nothing, and then had a decent tug from a 5lb Blue Runner!
 
She was really sick, so at this point, we headed in closer to shore to do some snorkeling. After an hour or so, I fished at another spot but only caught Yellowtail Snapper and small Blue Runners. We called it a day a little early, and I filleted the Yellow Jack and White Margate. We brought them to Lazy Days restaurant, and had a delicious meal prepared for us!
 
 
After dinner, we took a walk, bought a souvenir magnet, and watched the sunset from a random dock. Under the dock, there was over a dozen large Spiny Lobsters, and a small Nurse Shark. Very cool to watch. We headed back to the shark spot for one more session. Right away, we got a nice hit. Meghan fought the shark to shore, but it ended up in the same deeper area that I had the Bull Shark in the other night. I was holding it against the rocks by the leader, while she ran for the camera, but a second time, the hook pulled! She was so upset. 2 nice Lemon Sharks but no picture with one! As soon as I got the rods back in the water, we got another bite. She told me to take it, as it seemed pretty big. I fought the shark in as quickly as I could, and we were surprised to see a monster Nurse Shark in the spotlight. We landed it in a shallower area, and it measured 98” to the tail, and must have been close to 200lb, a true beast. 
 
 
As soon as we got set up again, we had another hit. Again, Meghan wanted me to grab it because the initial pickup seemed so violent. It had a spunky first run, but then came in relatively easy. I was fortunate to land my fourth shark species of the trip, a Lemon Shark!
 
 
We quickly released it, and got set up again. Another bite! I told Meghan she had to fight it no matter how big. I helped as we fought a larger animal to shore, and pulled it up onto the shallow rocks. She did it! Finally landed a Lemon Shark AND got a picture! This one was the biggest Lemon yet, about 72” fork length. 
 
 
We released it, and set up again. Another bite, another Lemon landed for me! Another bite came, and Meghan was able to land the 5th Lemon of the night!
 
 
With only 2 rigs left, and about an hour of fishing time, we set up again. We had a giant rip and a breakoff. One rig left. One more giant screaming run on 20lb drag, and that was the end of it!
 
What an amazing trip overall! We landed 4 species of sharks!!! Between the ones we landed, the rigs we lost to big animals, and the pickups with nobody home, we had nearly 30 bites in 4 nights. Amazing. I really have to give credit to Ken, Michael, and Ben for the intel, (and dealing with my live updates). Thanks so much guys, Meghan and I will never forget this moment.
 
Species List: 
Barracuda, Great
Cowfish, Scrawled
Damselfish, Dusky
Flounder, Dusky
Grunt, Bluestriped
Grunt, French
Grunt, Sailor's Choice
Grunt, Tomtate
Grunt, White
Jack, Yellow
Mojarra, Yellowfin
Moray, Green
Needlefish, Houndfish
Pinfish
Porgy, Sheepshead
Puffer, Bandtail
Puffer, Southern
Runner, Blue
Schoolmaster
Scorpionfish, Spotted
Sergeant Major
Shark, Bonnethead
Shark, Bull
Shark, Lemon
Shark, Nurse
Snapper, Lane
Snapper, Mangrove
Snapper, Mutton
Snapper, Yellowtail
Wrasse, Puddingwife
Wrasse, Slippery Dick

Comments

Susquehannock's picture

Those are some impressive animals. I just can't imagine what it would be like landing a two hundred pound fish, or to try to handle one for a picture...

Susquehannock

RoughFish's picture

Great trip, that puddingwife is beautiful. Some really great photos too.

Mike B's picture

Go to Florida with your lady and spend every night sharking and camping out in a van. Man, you got yourself a keeper, that's for sure. Can't wait to see what fish you guys catch on your honeymoon.

Nice fish by the way. Lots of species I haven't caught yet when I've been to Florida, including the sharks, which is zero.

 

 

mike b