Do you ever wonder what large sharks swim close to beaches where swimmers make daily recreational visits?
It's not every day toothy beasts as big as small boats hit the sandy shores of west central Florida.
Perhaps the people who truly know what lies underwater are the shark fishermen who spend nights on the beach kayaking large baits offshore to wait for the next battle with finned creatures larger than they are. It's a true test of will and one that angler Jonathan Novio witnessed first hand Wednesday night.
"We knew that night would be the warmest in a long time," Novio said after venturing with friend Jimmy Ferro. "Longing for something heavy on our lines, we called the shark guy in our group, Ryan Machado, and decided to fish a local beach. We get there and started rigging up some stingrays that we had caught about a month ago. We tied our steel leaders, attached our breakaway rock and sent our first baits through the breakers and several sandbars."
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To get the baits farther off the beach, the anglers took turns kayaking them to deeper water, where larger sharks are more likely to frequent.
"Every half hour, we would get runs on different poles but we couldn't get a solid hook-up. Around 11 p.m., Jimmy gets a good run on his rod. He reels tight and gets a solid hook set on the shark, which started coming in like a sandbar shark."
After what seemed like it was going to be a quick fight, the shark decided it wasn't giving up that easily. After approaching the beach, the shark turned and ran off a hundred yards of line on the now-stressed 6/0 Penn Senator and Crowder rod.
During the fight of the larger shark, Machado also hooked up with about a 5-foot sandbar shark that was landed quickly, in contrast to the shark Ferro was fighting.
"Jimmy maxed his drag, and the shark was still pulling line!" Novio described.
As they worked the shark back into shore, Novio finally got a good look at it. "Tiger!" he yelled to his colleagues. "It tail-wrapped his line. I went in the water and grabbed it by the tail and dragged it on shore. We took pictures and released the sharks as fast as possible."
The tiger, which the group measured at around 9 feet, is not an uncommon catch from beach shark anglers and one that frequents west central waters. Tiger shark attacks are extremely rare in Florida, and the last confirmed death of a Floridian by a tiger shark was in 1998.
The Florida record land-based tiger shark was caught by Joey Polk as brother Earnie measured it to be 12 feet, 9 inches on May 10, 2010.