Sharks, other predators taking a bigger bite out of offshore anglers’ catches

“You’re on! Reel ... reel ... reel!” I constantly emphasized as we sat over a spring 40 miles offshore. “Don’t stop or they’ll get you!”

Seconds later a large thump hit the line, resulting in either a break or something much larger eating our hooked snapper below. On rare occasions the head of a yellowtail snapper would be brought to the surface, only further emphasizing our disappointment.

It’s apparent to me that the Gulf of Mexico has a shark and goliath problem.

Our trip last Sunday could have been epic. We had yellowtail snapper chummed up to the surface eating extremely light 1/8-ounce Hogball jigs tipped with shrimp or small whitebait. A few snapper even ate free lined baits with no weight. Of the probably 25 large yellowtail snapper that we hooked, only four made it in the boat whole.

I sent the GoPro down to inspect what I thought might be happening. When I watched the video, it was apparent why we were struggling to land our fish.

About 30 feet below the boat there was a school of barracuda. About 70 feet below the boat a few massive sharks that appeared to be sandbar or bull sharks patrolled the depths waiting for their next free meal.

Just below the sharks about 100 feet down nearly two dozen large goliath grouper hovered slightly above the structure, curiously watching the GoPro.

The problem that anglers are running into is the sharks and goliath grouper are thriving in the Gulf. It’s not only large wrecks and springs that hold these predators that can quickly make a meal out of anything hooked. Both are opportunistic feeders and the strain of a hooked fish rings a frenzy inducing dinner bell.

It’s no wonder we couldn’t land much. Goliath grouper relentlessly attacked our struggling gamefish when they were close to the bottom. If our fish got past the first wave of Goliaths, the sharks would pick off what they missed. Then there is always the threat of a barracuda or amberjack as well. All of these make it difficult for anglers to actually land their target.

Often it is easier to leave than keep dealing with the copious amount of break offs caused by aggressive apex predators. It’s nearly impossible to reel in a fish fast enough to get through waves of opportunists, and that is unfortunate.

Other offshore anglers have noticed the increasing presence of sharks as well. Commercial fishermen have had large, 30-plus-pound grouper cut in half more frequently, putting a damper on their total catch.

Captains have also been vocal about the recent aggressiveness of sharks both inshore and off, hurting their anglers’ catches. During tarpon season there seems to be more and more tarpon lost to big hammerheads and bull sharks every year. Those fishing for snapper and tuna often have the same results we saw.

We got here by protecting goliath grouper in the early 1990s after their populations were shrunk. Since that time their populations have rebounded and been amplified around the gulf. Talks of a potential opening last year were quickly ended.

Only certain species of sharks are currently allowed to be kept, and very few anglers do so. Are their populations also expanding? Possibly so.

I don’t have all the answers, but it’s something that needs to be tracked. Anglers are growing increasingly frustrated, and gone unchecked, it will not stop anytime soon.