Weather Channel's 'Catching Hell' turns bay area spearfishermen into stars

The Cubera snapper looked at home with the amberjack. At 75 pounds, the fish would fetch a nice price back at the dock.

Scott Childress kicked toward the school of jacks and tried to "herd" the monster snapper into deeper water. But the commercial spear fishermen suspected he wasn't the only hunter hovering above the rocky reef.

"We are always on the lookout for sharks," said the 45-year-old captain of the fishing vessel Just Shoot Me and one of the stars of a new Weather Channel reality show, Catching Hell. "They are the top predator out here and after the same thing we are — fish."

Childress shot the fish, which shook the spear like a wet dog getting out of a pool. So he had to chase it to the bottom and pull it from underneath a large rock. That's when he saw the shark.

"It was a sandbar, about 9 feet long," he said. "But that wasn't the problem. It was the dusky circling overhead that really got my attention."

He said the shark was as wide around the middle as a 55-gallon drum. And it had a mannish, "alpha" attitude. "Let's just say he looked well-fed," Childress said. "And I knew that if I wanted to get my $250 fish back to the boat, I had to get past him."

What happened next? You'll have to tune in tonight when Childress and a half-dozen other spearfishing professionals get to work on the 10-episode series.

It chronicles the exploits of Childress, Tampa's Ritchie Zacker, aka, "The Great One", as well as Hudson's James Butler, captain of the Suzy B, Rick Cain, captain of the Laura Jean, and Lisa Rollins, who splits her time between Hudson and Siesta Key.

When it comes to high-stakes, dangerous jobs, few compare to commercial spearfishing. Childress, who was born and raised in Tampa, said there are probably fewer than 30 "shooters" working full time in the Gulf of Mexico.

They chase grouper, mangrove snapper and hogfish, facing the inherent dangers of diving at depth, while competing with sharks and the fickle weather the gulf's famous for, hence the cable tchannel connection.

Childress, who once ran a private investigator business, retired recently to pursue his true passion, spearfishing. "We typically do two- to three-day trips," he said. "I want my fish to be fresh so I like to get them back to the dock as quickly as I can."

On a good trip, Childress, who captains the boat, and two or three divers, can shoot 600 pounds of fish. The spearfishing boats have to pick the days they can run, so there is a lot of talk of cold fronts, wind and waves.

"That is always our biggest issue," Childress said. "There is nothing worse than being kept on the dock."

Childress said he knows spearfishermen are often viewed negatively by their angling brethren, so he hopes Catching Hell will help change some attitudes.

"I care about the fishery and I want the stocks to be there in the future," he said. "We don't take undersized fish, and we never take a fish out of season. The by-catch is low. So spearfishing is one way to help maintain a sustainable fishery."

Tonight

Catching Hell, a new TV series on spearfishing on the Weather Channel, was shot around Florida in the Gulf of Mexico and features an all-Floridian cast. The show premieres at 9.

Weather Channel's 'Catching Hell' turns bay area spearfishermen into stars 05/31/14 [Last modified: Saturday, May 31, 2014 10:08pm]

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