Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Dive with the Sharks presents special opportunity

TAMPA — Sharks are funny creatures. For the most part, they leave people alone. But every once in a while, one gets a little too curious and takes a nip out of a human. Then the newspaper headlines scream "shark attack," adding to the animal's fearsome reputation.

As a surfer, diver and open-water swimmer, I've spent plenty of time thinking about these toothy critters, professing to family and friends that my "good shark karma" will protect me from danger.

"I don't eat sharks," I often say. "Sharks don't eat me."

But I must confess that I did feel a little uneasy as I knelt in the shark cage at the Florida Aquarium on Sunday and watched as a pair of sand tigers slowly circled the oversized fish tank.

"Don't make any sudden moves," Barbara Henneke had warned me a few minutes earlier. "You don't want to get them excited."

Like every participant in the aquarium's Dive with the Sharks program, I went through a mandatory education session to learn the do's and don'ts of diving with the ocean's apex predators.

In addition to a pair of menacing-looking sand tigers, the 65- by 35-foot tank also held a sea turtle, moray eels and a large barracuda that looked like it could rip off my face in one bite.

But experience has taught me that as long as one remains calm, animals will usually do the same.

The sand tiger looks a lot meaner than it really is, thanks to its gaping mouth and protruding teeth. In fact, it is seldom labeled a "man-eater" even though it has been implicated in isolated attacks on divers.

According to the Florida Museum of Natural History's Department of Ichthyology, most human versus sand tiger confrontations involve scuba divers who had been spearfishing.

Still, no matter what your brain says, your body does what it wants the second a 7-foot shark swims a few feet from your head.

It would be just my luck, I thought to myself, that this shark will nip off an ear, sending a cloud of blood into the water, traumatizing my children watching on the other side of the glass.

But I knew that in the more than 10 years that the aquarium has been conducting shark dives, no one has been injured. And it was comforting to know Henneke had a stick, about the size of a walking cane, that she could use for defense if things got dicey.

The sharks, however, are well fed and really have no interest in their human companions. In fact, some days the sharks keep their distance and can't be bothered with divers.

The typical dive lasts about 30 minutes, and I must confess, I spent the first five trying to control my breathing, afraid I would suck my tank dry and be forced to end my dive prematurely.

Eventually, I felt more comfortable and the sharks might have sensed this, as they circled closer and closer until I could sense them just inches from my face. I wanted to reach out and touch one, but that's a big no-no and would have terminated the dive.

Then, just when I was getting comfortable with my new friends, Henneke signaled it was time to go. Too short a visit, I thought. But hopefully someday I'll meet their cousins in the wild.


Captainís Corner: Itís a good time to focus on snook

Snook have been a main focus on my most recent trips. This time of year, snook inhabit the beaches, gathering in the ditches and swashes along shore. Jetties or rock structures are also a favorite habitat for snook to lurk, looking to ambush bait fis...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Captainís Corner: Tips on targeting American Red Snapper

American Red Snapper (ARS) season opened a few days ago and some types of bottom are holding bigger schools of ARS then other bottom types. The hard bottom areas that most fishermen prefer are holding large schools of ARS, but the fish have yet to m...
Published: 06/18/18

Captainís Corner: Trout bite at its best

The trout bite has been the best Iíve seen all year. Fish up to 26 inches have been common recently. Fish are sitting on the flatsí deeper edges, where the water is deeper and cooler, and moves a little more swiftly. Live sardines and hard plastic ba...
Published: 06/16/18
Updated: 06/17/18

Captainís Corner: Fishing this month is all about diversity

This is the month of diverse opportunity. The choice of species is unlimited, as long as you have the bait. You can target snook and tarpon in the morning, then fish for Spanish mackerel, bluefish, snapper, sharks and cobia in the afternoon. The tarp...
Published: 06/15/18

Captainís Corner: When itís tarpon time, itís also shark time

Tarpon get most of the attention when talking about exciting fly action for large fish in our area. Baitfish are more prolific, and large tarpon follow their forage and populate most of our local waters. Following them are fish that consider tarpon t...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/14/18

Captainís Corner: This is your best time for tarpon fishing

Now is the best time to target tarpon. Silver kings are cruising the beaches on their yearly migration up and down the stateís west coast. This weekís strong new moon tides and the strong full moon tides in two weeks provide some of the best action f...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/13/18

Captainís Corner: Turn attention to gag grouper and red snapper

Attention has turned to gag grouper and red snapper for many offshore fishermen. Red snapper can be best targeted in waters 105 feet and deeper, with some available in water as shallow as 60 feet. Although the snapper will be found on high profile st...
Published: 06/11/18
Updated: 06/12/18

Captainís Corner: Pompano popping up at passes, along beach

Over the past few weeks, pompano have started to appear around the passes and along the beach. These tasty members of the jack family are one of the most difficult fish to find and keep track of. Just when you think youíve figured out a reliable time...
Published: 06/10/18
Updated: 06/11/18

Captainís Corner: Many fish now in their deep summer areas

Many fish have moved into their deep summer areas. This has been the pattern the past week. Snook are in their spawning areas waiting for the tide and moon to align. Iíve been leaving them alone and opting for the more steady action trout have been p...
Published: 06/08/18
Updated: 06/10/18

Captainís Corner: Pompano in the spotlight

Pompano are arriving at the locations where they will be found for the next six months. The most underutilized species in Tampa Bay, pompano are not only among the best to have for dinner, they fight great. Targeting pompano is pretty easy. You have ...
Published: 06/05/18
Updated: 06/07/18