I’d heard of people describing the sound of drag being stripped off of a reel at high speeds as hearing the reel “sing”. I had no idea how true that description really was. As whatever was on the other end of my line zigged and zagged, the drag developed a rhythm that really did sound like singing.
Since before I even owned a kayak, I’d dreamed of fishing for trophy redfish in the Gulf of Mexico in what is essentially just a big plastic boat. My kayaking mentor, Jimbo had showed me pictures of 45 pound redfish that were caught in a 12 foot plastic boat miles off shore, and I was hooked years before I even owned a kayak. Well, as time would have it, I bought several kayaks before I bought the right kind to fish offshore. When I finally had the chance to make it to the coast and try my seamanship at offshore fishing, I had the honor of doing it with the man who’d inspired those dreams so many years before…I also had the immense pleasure of not catching a single fish. I did, however learn what “turtling” was as I learned the intricacies of launching a kayak in rough waters and trying to get “beyond the breakers.”
Fast forward 18 months later, and I’m sitting in a 12 foot plastic boat, listening to a reel sing a song of something huge of the other end of the line…
Now, I’d caught redfish (red drum), and I’d caught some big ones. This was not a redfish.
So, as I sat pondering the circumstances of whatever was on the other end of that line, I thought to myself – you’ll never know unless you try. In what seemed like an out of body experience, I watched my hand tentatively reach for that stainless steel clip of my anchor rope and thumb the release. I broke my terrestrial bond in one simple flick of my thumb, and tightened the drag spool on my reel. I was on the Texas version of a Nantucket sleigh ride.
As I held on to the rod, heart pounding in my chest, it occurred to me that I still had no idea what was on the other end of my line. I could have hooked a Russian submarine for all I knew. I wasn’t ignorant to the fact that at the speed I was moving, I could have been towing a skier behind my kayak. As I sat wondering if I’d remembered to set a GPS waypoint to find my truck when this adventure was over – as if it knew what I was thinking, fins surfaced a 100 yards or so in front of me. Shark Fins.
Now Jimbo had always told me that anytime you are fishing in the gulf with cut bait, you are essentially fishing for sharks, whether or not you wanted to. I guess I picked a funny time to remember that little tidbit of knowledge, as I realized that I was now getting a free lesson in shark fishing from a shark. Knowing how much line I had out, I wasn’t going to cut it right then. Stray fishing line is a hazard to other animals, so I did the only thing I could think to do…I hung on, and started reeling.
Sensing the increase in pressure, the shark turned around and headed straight for me. Now, I’m no shark expert, but I have seen Jaws. The part where Quint explains that you can tell how long a shark is by the distance between his tail and dorsal fins, to be exact. I’m pretty good with estimating spatial distances, but in a 12 foot plastic boat – half a mile off shore, I was pretty sure that this shark was anywhere between 47 and “way too many” feet long. I said a little prayer to the fishing gods, and started taking up slack in my line as fast as I could reel.
Having a dark grey underwater cruise missile with a head full of teeth tethered to you and your silly little boat is nerve racking enough. Having the same underwater cruise missile with a head full of teeth suddenly barreling down on you like a bulldog on a bowl of Alpo makes “nerve racking” the understatement of the century. Terror isn’t a strong enough word.
In the end, the shark passed within 10 feet of my boat, hell-bent in the other direction. I ended up getting even closer when I cut the leader to release him – actually if you think about it, I was releasing myself. If I had to guess, I’d say the bull shark was between 6 and 7 feet long, and I thank him to this day for the experience.
So, what I learned from shark fishing in a kayak is this:
Sometimes you don’t know what life is going to throw at you, but if you don’t try, you’ll never figure out what it is that you’re capable of. Sure, I could have just cut the line, creating an environmental nightmare of 200 yards of fishing line in the water, and missed out on one of the greatest experiences of my life. By reaching down and “letting go” of my anchor, I freed myself from my doubts and my fears. Even when those fears were actually realized and totally legitimate, I still had to take them head on.
Oh Yeah, I also learned how not to shit in my pants in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico…
I think we can all learn a thing or two from letting go of our anchors in life. The things that hold us back, no matter how safe they make us feel.
*NOTE: For the people that will complain about leaving the hook the shark’s mouth, he was hooked cleanly, in a location that wouldn’t interfere with his doing any of his sharky businesses. I use non-stainless steel hooks that dissolve quickly in saltwater, which I can attest to every time saltwater gets in my gear bags.