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Editor's Notebook

Encounter with a Tarpon eating Shark

by Ross Purnell, Editor   |  March 30th, 2012 7

Towing a 110-pound Keys tarpon away from a shark

On Monday  (March 26) I caught one of my most memorable fish.  It was a 110-pound tarpon caught in the lower Keys, and it had absolutely no quit in it. While that was exasperating, what made the fish truly memorable was the game of cat-and-mouse we played with a 12- to 14-foot bull shark that wanted to make a meal of the tarpon.

The shark was obviously well trained. When it caught scent of the tarpon, it didn’t chase the struggling fish. The great beast merely nosed up beside the flats skiff, and waited patiently for me to bring the fish to him. My stomach sank as I had heard too many stories, and seen too many videos, of sharks taking advantage of a hooked tarpon. I wanted the tarpon to survive, but on the other hand, I also wanted to land this fish!

Capt. Bruce Chard—one of the best guides in the Keys and someone who I’ve relied on for his saltwater expertise for more than 15 years—used the tip of his blunt push pole to spear the shark between the eyes, and when the shark took off, we pressured the tarpon up into shallow water near a mangrove island to discourage the shark. But the shark just didn’t want to quit. Shallow water slowed him but did not stop him. He kept coming like PepĂ© Le Pew. In shallow water though there was less current to carry the scent and the shark’s vision was greatly restricted. So while Bruce Chard and I jumped out of the boat into knee-deep water to get photos, fishing buddy Kara Armano stood watch on the poling platform watching the shark zig-zag back and forth getting closer and closer like a hound dog on the scent of a raccoon.

When the shark drew too close, we jumped back on the boat and while I held the tarpon by the lower jaw, we towed the fish to deeper water on the other side of the island. The moving water revived the fish, and by crossing the flat we managed to put survivable distance between the tarpon and that shark.

Many tarpon have been lost to sharks, but luck was on our side. The tarpon survived, and I’m not too worried about the shark. He’ll get his meal ticket punched soon enough.

Photographing a tarpon with a large bull shark hovering nearby

  • http://www.uprisingflyfishing.com Brent

    Right on! Well done Ross (and Bruce).

  • http://www.facebook.com/EditorSimpson JeffSimpson InFisherman

    Nice Work Ross!

  • http://www.photoblahphy.com Robert

    Catch and release!… Awesome

  • https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1554558069 林育葦

    Wow ! Where did u get it ?

  • Bill

    The shark probably ate the tarpon anyway. When you exhaust a fish to the extent you did it's recovery time is long and they are easy pickings for sharks.
    I'm not saying that you shouldn't have taken all the photos of your fish, but maybe next time you'll pressure the tarpon more so you can release it sooner. Who knows, Mayb the tarpon I release this week will be the one you catch the next time you go.

  • ross_purnell

    Bill, We released the tarpon on the opposite side on an island a long way from where we last saw the shark. We took time to properly revive it and it swam away strongly. That's the best you can do.

  • pweimer

    Great Adventure Photo and intentions were good while the comments of "Experts" come in I say just enjoy the story and move on with your life.

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