Both…here is a story from February 2008…very close call
Cherry Poppin on the Treasure CoastDuring the last several days Mandy and I have had the pleasure of hosting a visit from one of our closest friends. Our friend Bree mentioned long before her visit that the only thing she HAD to do while here was to get in the ocean, spear a fish or two and prepare a meal of her catch. All of this seemed like a good plan to us so we counted the days till her visit, prayed to the weather gods, hatched a plan and scheduled a dive out of our home waters on the Treasure Coast. Just a note Bree is from the beautiful state of Oregon and although outdoor recreation is a way of life for many of the residents there being from the eastern side of the state makes ocean visits rare and this would be only her second time freediving. Her first freedive ever was actually on another visit with us where we took her to the keys almost three years ago for a very basic shore dive.
Sunday came early…well early to some (yours truly) and not so early for others (ie team GLOS Gorgeous Ladies Of Spearfishing). Preparations were complete and we made haste some time after high noon. Knowing that this was to be more of a pleasure trip than anything I decided to keep things shallow and concentrate on spots where the sight seeing would be best. Things started off brilliantly with Mandy stoning a big sheepshead just seconds after hitting the water and nearing the structure. Her success and excitement was contagious and a short while later I managed a mongolid sheepshead and called Bree over to spear one of the other curious buddies my fish left behind. Bree executed a perfect dive, stalked her fish cautiously and put a solid shot together bringing her her fist speared fish. Her elation was clear as she gleamed with her accomplishment and thanked us for the opportunity to give this sport a try. After due congratulations and backslapping we sorted our spears but before we got going again Mandy wisely suggested we go and deposit our fish in the boat.
I say wisely because although we were each consumed with the joy of gin clear water, large fish, early success and perfect conditions Mandy recalled that this very spot had recently produced an encounter of the gray suit kind for her and I on an earlier dive. Although the encounter was brief it could have easily turned into a bite. The first time it happened I ended up with a cut float line, two lost fish and a troubling excited charge from a frenzied reef shark. That time the fish, when strung, were allowed to travel the length of the float line ending up right next to the float so fending off that shark off proved impossible.
I too recalled the encounter and reasoned that keeping the fish close to my body this time using the float line by tying them off about a foot from the handle of my gun might discourage the taxman or give me some extra time to prepare a proper defense. Our anchored boat was now almost 300 feet from were we were. I volunteered to save the girls the trip to the boat and do it alone so I could deposit all of our fish, pull the hook and relocate the boat closer to our target rich location. The first fish Mandy harvested was left close to where it was shot and I secured it to the bottom using a large flat loose piece of bottom to weigh it down I was nearing that location only 40 feet from the boat and made a quick dive to retrieve it. That is when “it” happened.
Now most of the way to Mandy’s fish on the bottom I feel a large object of the fishy kind making contact with my leg from my ankle to my waist. I turn around and I have a 7ft reef shark literally on top of me firmly clinging and chomping the larger of the two strung fish. I have felt the thrill and fear of some wise and not so wise decisions and happenings on my trips afield but I can not accurately describe just how I felt at that very moment. No warning, noise, hints…..just a mouth full of teeth and a thrashing beast instantly devouring fins, flesh and scales. Remember these fish were attached to my gun via the float line so the first thing to leave my person was my loaded gun. After some violent headshakes it made for parts temporarily unknown with the whole lot in tow until the float line gave way. The other half of the 9lb fish (with a neat half circle bite taken out) floated to the bottom a short distance away. My now gunless float line had fish number 2 still attached and dangling mid water. The shark liked that first snack so much he instantly returned making violent lunges and passes at a now seriously freaked out and unarmed spearo. The shark keyed in on me naturally since to him I was the last confirmed source of piscine comestibles. Pucker factor 10 and I have no doubt a well positioned piece of coal would have surely rendered flawless diamonds. All I can say is thanks to my long fins and a well placed stabbing kick the shark swam about 15-20feet away and finally the smell of the blood from the half sheep on the bottom told him where he could resume his feasting. Picking up that last half seemed to satisfy his hunger and he left me there in shock. I am sure it took less than a minute but time has a way of slowing down when such events occur.
Elated to be otherwise intact I began to search for my gun. Took some time though…hard to concentrate on the bottom when you are checking your six every 2 or three seconds. I looked for the girls before this and Mandy’s face told me she understood what happened. Turns out the shark swam close enough for her to almost touch and it was clearly on a beeline to me. Gun now in hand I grasped the tattered end of the float line with fish number two and retrieved the first one from under the rock. A quick dash to the boat and I was now a happy camper. I pulled the hook and brought the boat to the girls and we all took a well deserved break from the action. Iced down the fish, tied a knot in the float line and re-rigged my outfit. After a few minutes we discussed new rules of engagement which now included mandatory trips to the boat for anything harvested without exception.
We each took a few more sheepshead and although my crew was satisfied with our results my spidey senses tingled and I begged for a little solo time in the water to hunt for a “biggun”. Boy am I glad I made that decision. This is the second best for a species I often describe as my favorite fish. This one as well as my PB came from the skinny water to boot. We snapped a few pics and headed for home….enjoy Dive safe and Happy Hunting!
PS Notice the teeth marks on the sheep in the stringer pics. That was the other fish strung on the float line. When he grabbed the bigger one the overbite shredded that small patch on fish two. I didn’t notice his presence until he shook and his body made contact with my leg. I know I was just super lucky because in the position I was holding the gun the fish were resting on my hip when I was swimming on top. I figure that when I made my dive the fish were probably suspended just above my butt when he hit them. The power and speed they have is just incredible…this was not jaws (med size reef shark) but there was no holding on to the gun much less ripping the fish from his grasp. Looking back over the event I am sure the fish he hit was not completely stoned. He had the dangling fish in front of him after the initial strike and swam past it several times. He had the now half a fish directly under him but his bite took all the life out of it and even though it was pouring out copious amounts of blood he passed by it without notice. The blood may have made him curious but the pulses of a wounded or dying fish to a shark is irresistible.