Tiger Shark Fishing Aboard the BnM 4-17-2012

Tiger Shark Fishing Islamorada, FL is out of control!

Tiger Shark Fishing Islamorada, FL

Capt. Charlie Ellis holding it down with a monster Tiger Shark

I practically lose my mind each time i get the opportunity to fish with Capt. Nick Stanczyk of Bud N’ Marys Marina in the Florida Keys. I bust my ass day in and day out to help others – and in my rare (but becoming more frequent) moments of self indulgence, I steal away offshore in search of pelagic game. Fishing with Nick is always a remarkable experience – and when I got the call to join him for a tiger shark fishing excursion the other week…i absolutely couldn’t pass it up.

Nick’s 34′ crusader runs like a champ – conquering seas with classic stride and shoving its way through swells. The boat is reminiscent of a classic era in sportfishing which doesn’t get nearly as much credit as it deserves. After an ill fated attempt to rally up some blue runners to the north of Alligator light, we charged offshore towards the islamorada hump.  We stopped over the smaller hump to the north to vertical jig some “live bait”.

Fighting a 40lb amerbjack hooked in 200′ of water by a vertical jig is like playing tug of war with a wild pig.  These fish go absolutely ape shit when they inhale (and often bend) a butterfly jig rigged with extra sharp Aki hooks. The initial run is simply unstoppable and for a fleeting moment, it reminds me of chunking for bluefins way offshore from Ocean City, MD. The blitz of the fish sounding is humbling and I can’t imagine i’ll be able to do this forever.  Amberjacks are relentless back breakers and never cease to amaze me.

The gentlemen who joined us for the trip came from England – Jon and Tim.  Jon had joined Nick last year for a Tiger shark fishing venture and was quite successful – releasing two hefty specimens. This year would prove no different – largely in part to Jons inhuman capability to land reef donkey, after reef donkey, after reef donkey.  I think he totaled out at six all 40+ during the course of the day.  He was so apt at pulling them over the gunnel we actually had two – alive on the deck with saltwater hoses crammed down to their gills – ready to be deployed as pitch bait. Between the live lined amberjack and slab of fresh jack suspended from a buoy – ya just can’t miss.

Nick and Matt saw the first fish cruising in the waves behind the boat – I couldn’t make it out until it pounded the bait with freight train ferocity. Tim was the first to take a turn on the tiagra and buckeled in for the ride. The second fish swam the buoy bait back to the boat, dropped it, then picked it up again and sounded. Jon was able to get tight on the fish and gave him hell from the rod holder.

Tiger Shark Fishing Islamorada, FL

Jon and Tim hooked up on double header tiger sharks

Double header tiger sharks is a surreal feeling – hard to imagine and impossible to comprehend at first sight.  It is an unimaginable feat anywhere except the islamorada hump – where massive schools of these fearsome predators ominously cruise around tightly schooled amberjacks during spawning season.

After near two hours of battle – the fish ultimately and begrudgingly surrendered (the smaller of the two first) and the reel test of skill, patience, and bravery began.  Once you hit the wind-on, its a tug of war scenario where you cautiously pull the leader up towards the rod.  The sheer size and girth of these fish give them an advantage superior to any human capacity for endurance. Your legs go first as you hoist one up, carefully palming the leader so as not to take wraps.  A mildly dull rusty fillet knife rests in a bucket by your feet in case “shit gets real”.  Not that you’d be able to slice through a 400LB braided monofilament leader double crimped to a 20/0 offset commercial shark hook.

Tiger Shark Boatside at the BnM

Capt Charlie Ellis "petting" a 700+ lb Tiger Shark

At boatside, their strength is immeasurable.  Even in an exhausted state, these titans are still menacing and furious. Your arms simply can’t hold them for long and with each swell they wallow in the wake of the crusader.  Nick keeps the boat bumping ahead slowly and evenly into the waves as he snaps away shots from the tower. Your legs and lower back ultimately ache with strain as each push of the fish’s tail laboriously propels it downward. To be next to their head, wider than your shoulders, is perilously alluring.

They are captivating creatures of unmatchable dominance and to be side by side with one puts you in a trance.  These are the fish of nightmares – a pinnacle  of predatory perfection.

…and if it wasn’t enough to battle double header tiger sharks in mildly sporty seas, i clumsily hooked a hammer head shark at the end of the day that would go 400+.  The hammer pulled his face off and sounded towards the hump after engulfing yet another slab of amberjack.  While the fish certainly didn’t have the stamina of the enormous tiger sharks – it certainly put on a spectacle as we fought to bring him boatside.

Matt on the BnM wrangles a 400+lb Hammer Head Shark to the Boat

Matt on the BnM wrangles a 400+lb Hammer Head Shark

Its a safe bet to me to paint Nick and Matt as superior shark fishermen in the Florida Keys. They’ve refined their skill set to the point where catching tigers is more entertainment than challenge.  It’s a bold venture and not for the faint of heart.  The sport itself is actually picking up momentum as more people start talking about it. Nick posted an impressive write up on BDoutdoors.com and also put together a hell of a video from an earlier trip (hopefully he’ll have a new one out shortly).

If you’re thinking about taking a shot at battling a tiger shark – call Nick directly and get after it.  These fish are only here to feast upon the migratory amberjacks – and once they’re gone the fish will become significantly fewer and far between.

I guess we’ll all just have to go back to swordfishing.

Capt. Charlie Ellis

Capt. Charlie Ellis

Captain at Miami Fishing Charters LLC
Capt. Charlie Ellis of Miami, FL has 25 years experience fishing for big game species like Bluefin Tuna, Sailfish, Swordfish, and Sharks. Capt. Charlie is also an avid scuba diver, world traveler, writer, and entrepreneur.
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