Town Chronicle

A shark encounter worthy of the Discovery Channel (or maybe Comedy Central instead)




A shark encounter worthy of the Discovery Channel (or maybe Comedy Central instead)

A shark encounter worthy of the Discovery Channel (or maybe Comedy Central instead)

Eight o’clock in the morning might seem awfully early to pop open a cold beer. That is, unless you have been out on a boat since 6:30 a.m. casting lines to sleepy snook and redfish hiding in the shade of the mangroves.

With not a breath of a breeze, the crystal clear water was so flat it was difficult to detect the difference between water and sky. With the morning summer temperature already at 85 degrees, distant towering clouds gave us the rumble of thunder, the only sound we heard.

My wife, Nancy, and I drifted slowly with the tide, watching the bottom-dwelling marine life scurry out of the path of the shadow of our skiff. With each cast I made, the perspiration dripping down my face, arms and hands was flung off my body and looked like tiny raindrops close to the boat. The sun was hot — South Florida summer hot. The water temperature was 94 degrees, and the fish were lethargic. Now here’s a word that sums up how we felt: liquescent — as if every solid molecule of our physical and mental being was turning to liquid.

Dennis KIRK

Dennis KIRK

We decided to assist in the transformation from solid to liquid and swish our hands around in the Igloo chest for something we could catch. Lightly translucent clouds of vapor drifted down the side of the icy cold container. The bottle I grabbed looked like the exterior of a rocket departing a launch pad. The release of pressure as the top was popped made us feel cooler already, and the first swig could be felt through each cell of my body. I relaxed and thought of those Coors commercials featuring the snow-covered Rockies.

As I was about to take the second gulp of this internal air conditioning, my line went taught and the rod tip bent over double. My grip on the rod butt was so relaxed that it jerked free of my hand. Nancy jumped with a start out of whatever daydream she had been having.

I dropped my beverage and tried to catch up to the rod and reel as it bounced across the deck. Just within reach of my fingertips, the last bounce had it over the side of the skiff. I would like to say that I was very fixated on saving that rod and reel, since I was moving in the same direction as my bouncing rod — but I have to admit that I was surprised when I, too, went over the side and into the water. All this occurred in a matter of only a second or two.

A bonnethead (aka shovelhead) shark.

A bonnethead (aka shovelhead) shark.

The boat drifted away from me, but no worries (or so I thought). I stood up — turns out I was in only 3 feet of silty-looking water — and I had retrieved the rod!

That was when Nancy gave me a wide-eyed look. She saw what I hadn’t yet.

Just beyond me, only about 50 feet away, was a shark fin cutting the surface of the water.

Having a shark so close, in the same water I was standing in, made me start hearing things in my head — like the theme from “Jaws.”

My fishing line was attached to the shark at one end, bowed into a long horizontal curve. I was at the other end. By this time, the boat was 15 feet away and the shark was heading past the boat toward deeper water. My line went taught like a guitar string, then totally slack. My thought at this time was that either the line broke — or the shark had turned and was now swimming toward me. Nancy’s head darted from side to side, looking at me, then at the shark.

Perception vs. reality. Capt. Quint would’ve laughed me off the boat.

Perception vs. reality. Capt. Quint would’ve laughed me off the boat.

I wasn’t comfortable standing in the now murky water. I was watching for that telltale dorsal fin cutting the surface. My thinking was that the shark might be in the mood for breakfast … maybe start the day with a little surf-and-turf — with me as the latter. I reeled the line in slowly as I cautiously waded back to the boat. When I got there, I quickly rolled over the gunwale onto the deck like an exhausted manatee.

By now I was dripping sweat like a sponge being twisted tight. Nancy started laughing because I still had the rod held securely in my hand (talk about a death grip!). She handed me another cold beverage and we both laughed at our unexpected adventure.

Forget Discovery Channel. This was one Shark Week story we didn’t watch from the safety of our TV — we lived it. But there’s something I should mention.

Although, from where I stood in the drink, that shark looked like a great white ready to swallow Capt. Quint’s boat, I have to admit: It was, in reality, a bonnethead — and only about 3 feet in length. So much for “Jaws.” Capt. Quint would’ve laughed in my face — and probably used the shark for chum.

Still, it makes for quite a fish story.

— Capt. Dennis Kirk and his wife, Nancy, are avid mariners and outdoor enthusiasts. Since the 1970s, their love of nature in Southwest Florida has allowed them to experience the dream of writing about their travels and adventures of sailing, fishing or flying out of their homeport on the Peace River, the old DeSoto marina.

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