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Tuesday, 24 August 2010 02:00

Thank God I'm Alive!!

Written by Shane Edgear
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Thank God I'm Alive!! Photograph by Brian Skerry

Ben Ciliberto is a great client of mine. He lives in Pennsylvania and came down a few months after starting our own business. He expressed interest in learning how to kayak fish. He flew in on a Wednesday morning...booked us for Wednesday afternoon, Thursday, and Friday morning...he flew back Friday afternoon. A great customer. His trip didn't yield too much success due to the weather, but he had a great time regardless and understood we weren't in control of the fishing. He had his shots, just couldn't connect on a nice fish. He ended up with a few smaller fish, but a well below average couple, three days.

He has fished all across the world and took his brother on a month long excursion of South and North America in pursuit of large game. He caught several large tarpon from a boat in Puerto Rico and also got him on a 6'+ Alligator Gar in Texas. He brought his brother down here to do some beach shark fishing for a shot at a large shark from the beach. Ben arrived on Wednesday morning and went out with David, Jeff, and me Wednesday night with him and his brother. We had baits out all night long and ended up getting Ben's brother Bill on an 80-100# tarpon from the beach. He also got a large stingray and Ben ended up losing a very large shark (7ft.+). The guys were excited that night and Ben asked to go on a kayaking trip for the morning.

We launched on Sanibel at the butt crack of dawn. We set out in search of tripletail...a prehistoric looking fish that hang around buoys. We struck out on those in the first hour and I persuaded Ben to try his hand at a tarpon further out. We went out with low expectations and by some miracle ended up hooking up to a 150# monster tarpon. To make a somewhat long story short...Ben fought that fish for almost 3 hours and after 7 great, water-clearing jumps...Ben had to cut the line after me telling him to.

Why would I do such a thing like that? After all, he fought the darn thing for as long as you can sit down and finish the movies Titanic or Armageddon. I don't know what prompted me to look behind me coming up to that third hour of observing Ben fight that fish, but as soon as I turned my head...all I saw was the back half of a very large shark directly under my kayak aimed towards Ben. I shouted several times to cut the line. Ben wonders why and looks my direction and sees a 12'+ Hammerhead shark coming straight for his fish. Ben quickly reaches for the knife that is not in his kayak and screams there is nothing to cut it with. As I search for something to assist with, Ben cleverly uses the blade of the paddle to slice the 50# test line.

As I am watching this unfold in slow motion I notice the tarpon sitting still under Ben's kayak. It looks hunched over as if injured, but it's just playing possum...it's sitting still under shelter as a survival tactic. Meanwhile, the shark (for some unknown reason) turns his attention on me. As the shark checks me out, he is doing figure 8's right under the surface of the water and bumping me with his nearly 2 ft. dorsal fin. If he bumped me 3 times harder I would have been in the water. He does this multiple times before I decide I need to get moving...sitting still is not the brightest idea at this moment. As Ben calmly watches from the safety of 20 yards of space, I am franticly screaming, lip quivering, paddling, and praying. I was screaming to Ben to get out of there. I was lip quivering at the nearness of tears. I was paddling to get the heck away from the bait (tarpon) and the curious 12' 1000lb. Hammerhead shark. I was praying to God to keep me safe and to make it all go away.

shark_finBen screams out as I start to paddle away, "stop paddling, he's following you." This was the last thing I wanted to hear. I look back and see the dorsal fin and tail slicing through the water like a scene from Jaws. I scream (in a very high pitch, girly voice) "I CAN'T". I figured he got too close when I was still...I can't die helpless...I'm going to make a break for it. While I am paddling 2 mph at the most (the shark could have done laps around me if he had wanted), the shark follows me for a good 25-30 yards. I kept looking back to see the progress and making mental images of this magnificent animal of the ocean and eventually looked back at nothing.

The three parts to this adventure was the appearance, the up close and personal bout, and the chase. The appearance was scary for me because I was worried for my client’s safety. The up close and personal encounter was scary due to the fact that he could bump me out if he wanted to, which very well could have resulted in splashing and pure carnage. The third part was most scary because it was like a nightmare you couldn't wake up from...I didn't know how long he was going to follow for and what his next move was going to be.

I thank God that I am alive. That is the scariest moment of my life and I doubt will ever be topped. The hammer on this shark was wider than my kayak is. The kayak is 31" wide and I could see the hammer on both sides putting it around 3' wide. The shear mass of this shark I estimated at a half of a ton. The thing was estimated to be almost as long as my 14' kayak. A quote from my client "I was in awe of this magnificent tarpon, then something that wanted to eat that huge fish showed up...it really shows you what a piss ant you really are out there." I shouldn't be here to retell this story. I should have been a statistic. Only by the grace of God am I alive and well. I am thankful for my client being safe and in control. He mentioned it was in one of the top 5 days of his life. I'm very glad the large shark went after me and not him...looking back in hindsight.  It was a quick 3 mile paddle back to the beach and after looking over my shoulder dozens of times, we made it safe and sound back on the beach with quite a story to tell.

We went off the beach for sharks later that night, but we had our fill of sharks for the day and only landed smaller blacktips and large stingrays. The end of the night resulted in a 3' blacktip being reeled in and being eaten in half 100 yards from the beach.

We had a different client on the beach for sharks last night and ended up landing our first hammerhead shark at 6.5'. A mere infant compared to its mother.

I won't be going in the Gulf in a kayak near any tarpon any time soon, you better believe that. I have a great respect for these creatures now and have a new aspect on life.

Thank you God for blessing me

Disclaimer: This was reprinted with the author, Shane Edgear’s permission.

Last modified on Monday, 23 August 2010 19:47

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