Palaver from Persimmon Crossingwith Warren Faulk
Sharks HappenThere have been several reports of shark attacks in US coastal areas in recent weeks. I wonder if it isn't time for the installation of shark exclusion barriers along our crowded public beaches. We could begin with small areas to accomodate those who would not otherwise swim or wade for fear of a shark attack on themselves or their children and let everyone else take their chances as they already do.
I don't care to be labeled an alarmist but I would also like to point out that sharks do not restrict their activities to open oceans and gulfs. They travel well inland in our bays and rivers, even into what you might ordinarily think of as fresh water.
Because of these recent reports I have begun to remember encounters and near encounters I have had with sharks. I have fished quite a bit over the years and I couldn't care less about catching anything that is too big to take home in a bucket or fooling around with something that might have designs on eating me.
Follows a ragtag bunch of shark stories, none very exciting taken alone, but these happened to me! I'm the guy with the sunburn and the surf rod, not the brave mariner who has set out to do battle. Who are you? And do you know where your kids are right now?Mama, Daddy, 'Tis and I were on the beach late at night. Daddy was wading the Gulf of Mexico (near the Pink Pony Pub where two men were attacked recently). Mama was wading back and forth carrying bait to him. He was just back from the Pacific and WW II and had really missed his fishing. So here we were, safe on our beloved Alabama beach. Daddy felt fish bumping into him and nibbling the hairs on his body. He didn't think much of it but after awhile curiosity got the best of him. He waded out and got his cast net and went back in about waist deep. When he felt the nibbling again he threw the net. Instead of catfish or whiting or whatever he might have thought had been irritating him, he had a net full of young sharks to contend with. We packed up and went home about then. It was late.As a young boy I can remember standing on an old wooden pier and watching a spear fisherman pass under the pier. He was towing a stringer of small fish and was being followed by a hammerhead shark on the surface. The stringer was just a rope tied around the man's waist. The shark might easily have drowned the man if he had just attempted to take the fish. I yelled, the man calmly left the water, happy ending.When I was 16 I went to La Jolla, California to visit my Aunt who was a Navy Nurse. She was one of my heros. A flight nurse and the only female veteran of the Normandy invasion that I have ever met. My first trip out of the south, first plane ride and first time to see a real ocean. Everyday when Aunt Ruth went to work I would take a bike and go to the beach near where Scripp's Institute of Oceanography was and perhaps still is. The Pacific, according to me, was pretty tame compared to the Gulf I had just left. Very calm and few fish. I swam all over the coves that ran around the shore to the south of the main beach. Swam around divers in wet suits and surfers with no surf. No girls around either. The same week, one year later, a man was killed by a big shark. Eaten wet suit and all in two gulps. His abalone diving companion witnessed the tragedy from just a few feet away. A helicopter pilot called to the scene reported seeing a shark about 20' long cruising the area. It was thought to be a great white.My brother Mike and I both took military leave together once back in the 60's and spent two days fishing out of Daddy's "speed boat" in the shallows over the oyster beds in Mobile Bay. The first day we had a lot of activity but landed few fish. Nearly every trout or flounder we hooked was promptly cut off by something we could not see. Several times we actually hooked larger fish but invariably lost hook and sinker. The next day we took along a heavy rod with a wire leader. We began fishing with our regular tackle and immediately caught several cleanly severed fish heads. So I took a small fish and baited the heavy rod. I no sooner got the bait in the water than I was fast attached to our trouble maker . It turned out to be a shark just a bit smaller than I was at the time. I managed to get it to belly up and after slitting it open I cut it loose. No more trouble. We cleaned a mix of 104 white trout, a few specks, a handful of ground mullet and two or three flounder that day. You can be sure we did not take a swim to cool off as we were prone to do.One of our favorite fishing "holes" was a spot along the Gulf called the "Cutoff". During our heyday there was a storm caused, and very small channel joining the Lagoon with the open Gulf. A place where lots of shrimp and fish passed back and forth from Lagoon to Gulf with the tides. On this particular afternoon Daddy and I took a few lures, waded across the knee deep channel and began to cast into the Gulf. It was a great day for fishing. No weather to speak of and a rising tide teeming with fish. We were taking speckled trout mostly and were so busy that I think we just turned everything loose. Didn't keep anything. Well ... along about dark Daddy hooked a good sized tarpon just as he was finishing a retrieve. The tarpon came in fast, jumped and landed between Daddy and the beach in about 6" of water , broke off and escaped. We were stunned. Neither of us had ever seen a live tarpon before. Shortly thereafter I had my lure out of the water preparing for another cast when a shark rose up from my feet, took the lure about four or five feet in the air, splashed me good and ended our fishing for the day. Of course, by then it was almost dark and the tame little knee deep channel we had crossed was waist deep, flowing fast and full of mullet which were struggling to get away from something really big. I think we would have spent the night on the beach but the black flies and noseeums showed up about then. A shark might eat you. The bugs at Gulf Shores definitely will. Each of us was hit several times by fast moving fish on the wade out. For some reason we always fished the near side from then on.I have on several occasions loaded up specifically to catch sharks. Bucket of blood, big chunks of fish and beef liver, rope lines and chain leader. This is a good way to catch blue crab I found. Never caught a shark that way though. On the other hand I have caught a shark in Miflin creek near the bridge and in Bayou Grande just outside the yacht basin at Pensacola Naval Air Station where all the children take sail training on dinkey little catamarans. Once I laid a live minnow in the surf while fishing from a pier, thinking to catch a flounder. More than 10 people were wading beyond my bait on the Gulf side. A shark of 50 to 60 pounds took the minnow and reared up. I locked the reel and broke him off. I could just see that 30 pound line, hook, wire leader and shark sawing through those swimmers and I still called to the swimmers to leave the water, fearing an attack by that shark or others. Nobody argued.In 1959 I went swiming in the Gulf near Destin Florida. There was a four foot deep trough of water right against the beach stretching about 100 feet to a sandbar and then the main Gulf. I swam the trough, waded the bar and ventured into clear but deep water, whereupon I saw a fin coming toward me. I backed up onto the bar and the shark followed me to the point where it could no longer make any progress. I was safe until the next wave, or so I thought. I hustled across the bar and dove into the trough executing my best Mark Spitz immitation toward the dry sand. I forgot that there was a break in the sandbar just a few yards from where the shark made its first run. Of course this was the sharks kitchen ... I barely made it clear and I'm glad I was scared enough to keep going beyond the shoreline because the shark didn't stop there either. In fact, if I could have stopped shaking I could have dragged it on up the beach. Maybe next time.Not all shark experiences are bad. On one grand day shortly after Hurricane Fredrick, my Dad, my Brother and I were fishing from the Alabama State Pier at Gulf Shores. The pier was badly mangled by the storm and was out of service ... but ... Daddy was the pier manager so......... Like three mountain goats we climbed over the wreckage and found a dream like situation. Really unique. We had Redfish and Sharks, all about 12 pounds each, running East to West on the surface and in easy casting range. The action was fast and sustained. Being a competition beagler I had a chain leash and choke collar in my tackle. We made leaders out of these and caught dozens of fish. Most of the hookups were made on the surface and in plain view. We made steaks out of everything. The sharks were excellent table fare and the reds were even better.Sharks are where you find them. They are sometimes where you least expect and once in awhile do things that "sharks don't do". They are a very important part of the Eco System. We should respect that and even protect them where indicated . I once saw a tiny shark, all dried out , bent, wrinkled and apparently dead try to take a finger off a man who was cleaning up the pier and throwing fish overboard. Respect? Yes. Protect? Even that. Trust? ... next question.
-- Warren Faulk
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