Winter Fishing with a Shark in the Boat

November 27, 2012 by Larry Pentel

Thanksgiving week brought lots of folks and some beautiful weather to the beach here in South Walton. Plenty of vacationers and owners out to enjoy cool mornings, 75 degree afternoons, crystal clear water and calm seas.

There were still quite a few folks swimming in the mid afternoons when I was cleaning fish, and not all of 'em were kids! Lucky for me, a bunch of these people wanted to go fishing during their stay here at the beach.

On most trips, one of the first thing anglers ask is, "what's the biggest fish you've ever caught?" And if there are kids in the group, "have you ever caught a shark ?" is the second question.

Now, as anyone who has ever spent much time fishing offshore knows, there are lots of big sharks out there. The "landlord" as I call 'em. They eat one of our fish almost everyday. Sometimes you hook one, bring 'em to the boat, make his picture and cut the line.

I don't want to kill one, unless my folks are going to eat 'em. I had a group trip out with one family on my boat and another with Capt. Kerry, when one of my gal anglers hooked a good shark. Everybody was having a big time with the gal doing great fighting him, and the talk turned to letting him go or keeping the critter. After much discussion, Dad remembered there was a wager with the other group as to who would bring in the biggest fish. A free fishing trip for my anglers sealed the sharks fate.

A big one in the boat !

It was a Bull Shark - the most abundant of the local reef sharks, and we encounter 'em everyday. This one was "average" size (don't tell my party that, to them it was huge). It was seven feet long and around 180 pounds. In the past five years or so, the bull shark population has boomed in our area. While most are singles, it is not uncommon to see two to five, at the same time, under the boat following a hooked fish.

If you are fishing for larger reef fish (Groupers, Snappers, Jacks, etc), you can expect to lose several fish a day to the landlord. He is just coming by to collect some rent. We saw one last week on a spot about eight miles out, that was BIG - easily over 300 pounds - very impressive.

There were a lot of Black Tip Sharks (spinners) as well, up close in this summer/fall. They are almost always under 100 pounds, with most of 'em 50 pounds or less. Boy, are they cool when they jump up corkscrewing through the air! People see 'em all the time from the beach and don't realize they are sharks jumping - probably a good thing.

The gang with some of the rest of the catch.

The Jacks are here, but not in the numbers of a couple weeks ago. The Flounders are about as thick as they can be though. The flatties in these pics are from just a short time chasing 'em. If you want to spend the trip targeting the tasty treats, you can limit out pretty easy right now.

These folks wanted to catch a bunch of fish, so we pretty much 2-hook fished, after catching a couple of Jacks. I think we kept 70 fish total-- I cleaned fish for almost 2 hours.

Lots of those tasty Vermillions!

While most of my anglers are "freezer fishing", I get a few groups that just want to catch and release. I had 2 guys Saturday that did just that, catching 50 or so fine Red Snappers, along with this nice gag.

A happy angler and a Grouper that got to swim away.

About halfway through the trip, I asked my guys if they wanted to catch something different with light tackle. They said sure, so I put 'em on a few Flounders real quick. We were never more than miles offshore and had steady action the whole 4 hours.

I just couldn't let 'em release ALL the fish.. I got to keep these for dinner!

This group had never been here before, but had fished off Texas and in Mexico several times. I pulled up to the first spot, and they didn't understand why I was upset when we didn't have a bite right away. The fish turned on, and they were amazed at how fast and steady the action was, compared to what they were used to. 

These guys will be back- they had a blast.

The next three weeks are some of the slowest for visitors here at the beach. The weather is still nice, lots of fish, but few folks to go chase 'em. While I always have lots of projects, I plan on staying even busier than usual this winter, even if I'm not fishing every day.

I ordered a new boat from Twin Vee, and it is supposed to show up today. I got them to customize it quite a bit, so it will be very similar to the boat I built and have been running the past five years. Still lots of work, swapping all the engines, controls, railings, tower, etc. around . I hope to still find a few days to be able to go fishing myself here.

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Larry Pentel

Captain Larry Pentel is a native of South Walton, growing up just 300 yards from the beach. Having fished the local waters for over 40 years, he is very familiar with all the different types of local fish, their habits, and most importantly - their habitats. Captain Larry is the owner of Dead Fish Charters

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