Capt. Jim Sharpe has run the charter boat Sea Boots out of the Florida Keys since 1988 and with over fifty years of offshore fishing experience, the stories he can tell will amaze you. Here are just a few that he shared with us at BD about memorable shark encounters.
Q:What’s the biggest shark you’ve ever caught?
A: While fishing off Looe Key in the lower Florida Keys, my son and I were with a charter when we spotted a 40-foot whale shark. We eased in front of the shark to see if he had cobia on him. Sure enough, out came about eight cobia. In all the excitement of catching the cobia no one got a good picture. My son dropped a live pinfish in front of the shark and the pinfish swam right down into the mouth of the shark. When my son tried to retrieve the pinfish it hooked the mouth of the shark. The shark was only ten feet behind the boat and five feet below the surface so the leader was in hand. I told my son that would be the largest fish he would ever release; 40-feet in length and 20,000-pounds?
Q:What’s the biggest you’ve seen?
A: We have encountered many very large whale sharks some up 60-feet in length but one of the most impressive sharks I have encountered was a great white. We were returning from dolphin fishing and ran across a massive great white right on the wall about 30 miles south of the lower Keys. We followed the white for 15 or 20 minutes trying to get a good picture but he stayed ten feet or more below the surface. This white was 18-feet in length and weighted probably 5,000 pounds. One member of our party remarked I did not know you had great white here. I answered the largest great white ever caught was caught forty miles south of here off Cuba. That shark was caught by a commercial fisherman in the 40’s longlining for shark for their livers. That shark weighted 7,300 pounds. There were also several sightings of whites off Key West in 50-feet of water by yellowtail fisherman last August. Just recently, Katherine, a tagged great white, swam inside the reef into Hawks Channel. Katherine is the 2,300 pound 14-foot white with a satellite tag. You can track Katherine and more at www.ocearch.org.
Q:Where have you seen the most sharks?
A: The reef line in 60 to 120 feet of water from American Shoal west to the end of the bar south of the Marquesas Islands extending offshore to our wrecks in 240 to 350 feet of water contains a massive amount of sharks including bulls, dusky, hammerhead, blacktip, spinner, mako, great white (occasionally) and tiger. It is my belief this area is one of the most heavily populated by great numbers of very large sharks. Aboard my charter boat the Sea Boots we release all sharks and have not intentionally killed one since 1987. In March and April, large schools of amberjack weighing from 40 to 80-pounds move on to our deep-wrecks in 240 to 400-feet. We like to spend a couple of hours catching and releasing amberjacks. Many of our clients have never caught a 60-pound fish. We call the jacks “one and done”, because one of these jacks is enough for most anglers. The big sharks know these jacks hang out on the wrecks and tap this natural food source. There are big tigers, mako, bull, hammerhead and occasional whites. There a days when every jack is eaten just minutes after hooking up.
Q:What species would you call your favorite?
A: I think the whale shark with its beauty, gentle attitude and very impressive size.
Q:What is your least favorite shark?
I believe the bull shark because it is extremely aggressive and known to frequent shallow rivers and bays. I think it is the most dangerous of all sharks.
Q:Please tell the story of your most memorable shark encounter?
A: While fishing in the Key West Marlin Tournament several years ago we had a strange encounter with a very large hammerhead shark. I spotted two man-o-war birds down on the water right on the wall south of Key West. I made a pass under the birds and all of a sudden it felt like I struck a reef with the boat. Something had gone into the prop. The mate was on flybridge with me and we observed a massive amount of blood and meat streaming out from under the boat. I had immediately pulled the engine out of gear on impact. The mate said, “we must have hit a shark, look at all the big pieces of liver floating”. I walked down to the cockpit and observed a very large tail of a shark. It looked like a hammerhead’s tail was protruding out from under the boat. The shark apparently tried to bite the 32-inch, four-blade prop. The shark attacked from the port side and was pulled in-between the prop and the rudder shaft. He was still alive by the way and we could feel him thumping against the bottom of the boat. I looked at a young lady in the party and her eyes were the size of dinner plates.
I reassured her; Caterpillar one, shark nothing.
It took more than an hour to dislodge the shark from between the prop and rudder.
Photo Credits: Capt. Jim Sharpe