And here we are again, the tenth year of the new millennium, how fast time has gone? Again in early January we begin to come out of our winter hibernation that was full of a whole lot of nothing except football, and beverages. Time to get in shape for the next season ahead of us, the heat, the fish, the journey as usual. We begin our quest as we do every season, by bringing out the small gear to intercept the late winter/early spring black-tip migration down the coast. But this year, this migration was much different than ever before due to the long and prolonged winter we "endured" here in Florida . This year we saw snow flurries in the south, and hundreds of thousands of pounds of non-native, exotic wildlife carcasses littering the canals, as well as native brackish water species like snook and tarpon floating down endless mangrove shorelines in the backwaters. So with the end of winter we didn't know what to expect, the El Nino had lifted its spell off of us finally, and there was fish in places they shouldn’t have historically been in late January. The two strong black-tip strongholds to the north where the vast majority of the big breeders congregate were barren wastelands, and the fish held for over a month solid even south of where we are located, which in my 12 years of shark fishing I had never seen before. The water was much too cold to sustain anything of reasonable size, so we thought...
We decided to take advantage of the fish close to home for a change, with just terminal casting gear, we set off to the areas that they were holding up the thickest in, and promptly proceeded to take the fish to the woodshed. Between me and two other team-mates, in a 1 1/2 week period, fishing about 3 hours from dusk until night after work, we captured well over 150 and never even had to get wet. The action was insane night after night, putting 25 on the beach in one single night in the middle of our brief stint.
But one the last day we were in our full on pursuit of the schooling tips, we headed towards another spot we had heard they were holding at a bit thicker than the beaches we had been fishing. We arrived an hour or so before dusk and began setting up our rigs to start the mayhem all over again. But suddenly I heard a large splash come out of the eerily still and silent ocean behind us. As we turned we were stunned to see a large sickle-fin ripping across the surface only 200yds off the beach and a black-tip breaching the surface with blood pouring out of its lacerated side. The hammer was relentless in its putsuit,until the tip finally slowed down enough for the beast to finish the job it had started. All this as we watched helplessly with out 20-50lb bottom rods. That’s when we knew it was time to go fish this spot. Just to the north of a deep port with warm water flowing out of the inlet from a power plant and deeper water close, it all made sense. So we went back to Shark Command Central and began gearing up to chase the ghost of a giant that we figured may have already moved on.
We quickly got on the phones and started calling around looking for a bait source, a big problem due to the fact that we hadn't been in touch with our bait suppliers for a couple of months at this point. But a good friend of ours Jim, whom is a respected Charter boat Captain, was kind enough to enlist the service of a 50# fresh amberjack for our quest ahead. We spent the rest of the Thursday night rigging all of our gear and dusting off harnesses, cleaning drag washers, and greasing reels and rollers for the suspected task ahead. I made some calls to see who was interested in this journey the next night, and was able to enlist the help of long time friend Brendon, and his girlfriend Taylor. But nobody else was really interested, everybody thought we were just blowing off some steam to try to get everybody out of their winter hibernation early, and the other friends who were there when this event occurred, had to work, so needless to say we were short handed. But luckily there was Tyler, a student at the local university here, down from Connecticut for the spring semester, which happened to find us on Boatlessfishing.com and expressed interest in what we do. But as always we are weary and not to quick to take just anybody fishing with us, but from the conversations I have had with him he seemed like he was pretty genuine, and gave him the call to come fish with us for the night, even though his short experience with land-based shark fishing ended with black-tips, he was another hand on the beach that had a good attitude which is always a plus.
Friday at 6 in the afternoon we loaded up the gear and drug it the 300yds on this seemingly endless beach to the surf line and began setting up our camp before dusk, on a night we will all never forget. But that wasn't before a quick photo-op with the bait of the night.
We began to deploy baits at sundown on the three rods we brought, all 14/0s as usual, the trusty American Workhorse. But soon after our baits were dropped we began, to realize we had a problem, apparently through our tunnel vision with dreams of hammers we forgot about the black-tip infestation in the area, and quickly started hooking into the little guys like it was our job. So about after an hour of that mess I decided to put a big piece of the AJ out, in hopes to keep them off the baits for at least 30 minutes.
When I paddled out and dropped the big piece of bait and came back to shore. I was shocked to find that the reels have stopped going off every 30 seconds as they previously were, we thought that was a bit odd but didn't pay any mind to it at the time. The Amberjack slab soaked about 250yds off the beach for one hour, then two hours,and then hour 3 rolls around, with still an erie silence. Even the rods with the smaller baits haven't made a sound; we were just hoping baits were still wedged onto our hooks at this point. It was getting cold, Two of us were soaked, the wind had picked up and the newbie had never been in a kayak, nonetheless on a black night in the winter where a North East wind started blowing up the Atlantic over the course of the past few hours making kayaking a chore now.
I sat fixed in the chair at the North end of our camp, with my 14/0 being the last rod in the spread about 20ft away, just watching and staring in silence for a couple of hours at this point. I turned away for a second to check the time on my phone and when I peeked back over my left shoulder I saw my rod starting to make a silent and steady bend before the clicker rang out. I jumped out of my chair and made the short sprint towards the rod. When I picked up the rod I watched the line creep off the reel at a pace that was similar to that of a man walking down a sidewalk with no where to go. I counted to 7 and threw the reel into gear, and cranked tight with a couple of rotations of the handle before I threw the rod over my shoulder and headed West towards the condos. And this is where it all hit the fan....
I was stopped dead in my tracks in full stride like nothing I have ever hit before.
I spun around and yelled for Tyler and Brendon to strap me into the harness, which they did very fast and efficiently.
As fast as this all occurred, that’s how fast the line was coming off the 14/0 at this point. It was a very alarming rate of speed, one to that of which I hadn't seen in a few seasons. I looked up and down the beach and saw nobody in any direction except Brendon, Taylor, and Tyler, and a decision was going to have to be made in a couple of seconds. Over 300yds have disappeared off the reel in about a minute or so now, so I told Brendon to get a knife ready to cut the line, because I wasn't going to be strapped into a harness when the 130# mono runs out abruptly at the uni on the hub on the spool. So I sat there and looked next to me, Brendon with a knife in his hand, and standing next to him was Tyler, both with bewildered looks in their faces. There was 150yds left on the reel at this point, and on a whim I looked over and yelled
"Drop the knife, get the tail rope and clip it onto my harness, because we are going to turn this son of a bitch!"
I set the drag to terminate with 1/4 spool left, so much that I was beating the star down with a pair of pliers. Smoke was coming out of the drag now, and it was time to man up and hope all our connections were good to go. I began to lose my footing and Tyler leaned back on the rope connected to my harness with everything he could as I leaned back with everything I had....
And all of a sudden, the line stopped coming off the reel, and we had a stale mate, Not an ideal situation with 600yds of line out and little to play with. If the line snaps, I'm going to need facial reconstructive surgery at this point in time. So I leaned back and never let off, while Tyler on the rope did the same. This was a stale mate for ten minutes, and then all of a sudden we began to gain line. Then we couldn't keep up with the slack line. It was making a kamikaze run right at us!
If there’s one thing I have learned about giant sharks over the years, the ones that usually spool you, you stop. But when you stop the beast, they run right in at you, not allowing you to keep pressure on them, therefore letting them get the second wind to head North on you and its game over. I wasn't about to let history repeat itself again, like it has to us so many times and hundreds of others over the years. This isn't acceptable anymore and it was going to end now!
I reeled like I never had before, and I have cranked on some big ones before but nothing like the power this fish had. I caught up to the fish about 50yds before it ran into the beach. And for a split second we saw what appeared to be a dorsal cut the top of the water against the pitch black night-time horizon, and it was headed South. And when we finally came tight to the fish it was running the first gut slow but steady. The drag was still hammered and we had a full spool of line now. We weren't worried, but after about 15 minutes that spool was beginning to look pretty empty once again, so it needed to be stopped before we were out of line and out of luck.
We employed the "pull on the rope and hope it turns" technique once more and after a stale mate for a short minute it turned north headed against the current now. We knew once the fish headed in front of our camp this was going to be our opportunity to end this fight.
After another ten minutes or so the fish passed right in front of us, in a steady stride running only 15ft off the beach in 4-5ft of water and was taking a little bit of line on its last attempt to escape capture. After about a 50yd run north against the current, the fish turned and started headed towards me. By this point I was alone in the harness and Tyler, Brendon and his g/f Taylor were waiting their chance with the rope to get a shot at subduing the fish in the now rough surf break. The fish was only 3-4 ft from being run aground and I was tight with her. I saw a big wave coming in and I made a split second decision to pull back with all I had. When I timed this pull, with the wave it washed the Hammer right onto the beach. When it thought it was going to make another run we hit it with a sneak attack.
They roped the beast as quick as they could as I dislodged myself from the reel and ran towards the two as they were screaming for me to help them. When I ran into the wash I couldn’t believe what I saw, and the size of what it was.
Only two things went through my mind at this point, number one being get the fish back in the water as soon as possible, number two being snap as many pictures as possible!
When the fish washed up it washed up on its side, and it took all three of us about 40 seconds, with everything we had to get the big girl upright for her safety.
The waves were making this a hellacious experience, with the hammer getting hit by the raging surf now and throwing us around like rag dolls as we tried to clip leaders and get a few pictures before the release.
No time for measurements because this Hammers safe release was the only thing going through our heads. But we were severely undermanned for this task to handle a fish of this magnitude with only 3 guys, one being a newbie on his first "big shark" trip.
We finally got her turned around and it took all 3 of us, with running starts tugging on the rope, AND waves getting water under this fish to finally budge it. We spun her around, and a large wave blindsided us and blew us all backwards,we lost a hat, tail-rope and an Iphone to that wave. But I got up as quick as I could with the flash light, and when I peeked over the next wave I was happy too see a giant sickle fin cutting westward through the wash at an amazing pace still. She made it back alive thank god!
This catch will not by forgotten by any of the four of us who got to be part of this unbelievable catch. From the second I saw the rod bend, the abrupt silence of the hoards of black-tips, to my leg shaking uncontrollably when I first got in the harness (which hadn't happened to me for years). I had a feeling inside me from the start that this was going to be our chance to be part of the sports rich history. And to be able to land a hammer of this magnitude from a beach, to our knowledge has never been done before. I’m not going to sit here and say how big we think it was (weight, or length). Everybody can make their own judgment on that. All we know is the best gauge we have to compare this too was the 12'1" Hammer captured by Team Oldskool that is now the ILSFA world record. That fish perished in battle, it was 9'9" fork, an exact 6ft girth around. And their fish weighed in at 755 with the formula that has a 6% margin of error, with the hammers being on the high side of that due to its weird appendages. So in the end you be the jury.
Well we will call this our "fish of a lifetime" for now. Because a fish is only a fish of a lifetime if you let it be that. As for us, we are headed back out to chase another giant, bigger and badder than even this big girl. We are just pleased that she got to swim off with her pups to help the population. So, until next time, tight lines....
-Team Rebel out!