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Shark fishermen sink teeth into cash prizes

The six-foot bull shark hung Sunday afternoon from a chain attached to a forklift. It had been dead long enough that even the heavy rain couldn't wash away the thick odor of rotting fish.

Paul Amari caught it Saturday night, about seven miles offshore, while his partner, Michael Stanley, drove their 23-foot motorboat. The shark thrashed about so violently they had to kill it with a shotgun blast to keep from sinking, he said.

Weighing in at 183 pounds, their shark was good enough to earn the two Tampa men second place and an $833 cash prize in this weekend's Hernando Beach Shark Fishing Tournament.

Since Friday evening, tournament participants had been out in the Gulf of Mexico, prowling from Crystal River to Tampa Bay. The predator of the seas became the prey.

A heavy rain drenched the crowd as the last sharks came in. Alfred Richardson, the contest judge, and weigh master Danny Humphreys waited until the rain slackened for a few minutes before weighing each one.

"We had one that would've blown everybody away, but we lost it," Amari said as his shark was weighed. It was a 12-foot tiger shark he guessed could have weighed as much as 500 pounds. But it bit through the steel leader as they were trying to reel it onto their boat.

"That ain't no fish story," he said.

The largest shark brought ashore belonged to Donald Grove of New Port Richey, who has won the tournament so many times he's lost count. "Four, I think," he said.

Along with his shark, Grove captured $1,850 in cash.

Ten winners shared a total of $3,700 in prizes in the eighth annual tournament, which drew 127 people despite rainy weather.

"The rain doesn't stop 'em," said tournament organizer Nancy Forshier, owner of Hernando Beach Bait and Tackle.

Next to her shop, sharks were piled up on the grass by the dock. On top was a hammerhead, jaws open wide as if to bite the spectators who gathered for a closer look. There were 19 in all, tiger sharks with bright white bellies, lemon and bull sharks and brown nurse sharks, including the winner, which floated in the water, tied to a nylon rope. At 237 pounds, it was too heavy to drag over the sea wall.

The size of the sharks caught depends on the time of year and the weather, among other factors, Forshier said. Last year's winner weighed 268 pounds. Three years ago, the winning shark weighed less than 100 pounds.

The pool of prize money, funded by the $35 entry fee, was also a little light this year because not enough people signed up for the tournament, Forshier said. "This is the first year that we haven't paid out the $4,000."

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