Some people spend a month trying to hook a tarpon to no avail. Dave Hanley spent 15-20 minutes off the Florida coast before he had one on the line.
Forty-five minutes later, it wasn’t he who got the best of the acrobatic fish, however. It was a 14-foot hammerhead shark that stole his prized catch.
“It’s fun even if you get just a couple minutes to fight them,” said the 39-year-old Highlands Ranch engineer, who has been fishing since he was 7 and heads north to Canada each year to chase smallmouth bass. “It probably weighed just over 100 pounds, and I’m being conservative. Most fishermen pad their stories.”
Hanley’s story needs no embellishment, though. After all, he has video footage to back up his tale of the sea. The YouTube clip Hanley put up – which his guide, captain Brady Nelson, captured on Hanley’s iPhone – has cleared 1,200 views in just over a month following his return to Colorado.
“The shark had been following us around, and it was like Jaws, a 14-foot shark on its side swimming on the surface looking at us,” said Hanley, who was alone in a 22-foot boat with Nelson. “I didn’t know if I should break off and let the fish get away, but the shark just went right for it.”
Hanley cited Nelson’s opinion that the shark sensed the fight the tarpon was engaged in and could detect the accelerated heartbeat and stress of the fish. As evidenced in the video, the fish tried to make a final run for it, but the shark caught up and, after breaking off Hanley’s reel a couple hundred feet from the boat, chased the tarpon into the side of the vessel. The shark pinned the fish there, shaking the boat, similar to the glass being rattled after a hockey player checks someone into the boards.
“I was in shock,” Hanley said, adding that he would have been more nervous if it wasn’t for how calm his guide was. “I was excited just to catch the tarpon, and those would have been some real nice pictures, to get it in the boat and then release it.”
Hanley, who was enjoying the guided tour as a Father’s Day gift from his wife and kids while on a family vacation to Anna Maria Island near Tampa Bay, was far from done fishing after his experience.
“After we caught the tarpon, we went in-shore fishing the rest of the day,” he said.
The result? Hanley completed the rare feat of capturing what is known in those parts as an In-Shore Slam, a term fisherman use when someone catches three different species in the same day – snook, red fish and tarpon.
“That’s a really good day,” he said. “They have special tournaments where people try to do that. If we would have went out and tried to do that it would have been very hard to do.
"The whole thing was just a crazy, crazy experience. ... I had never seen a shark like that up close. Where we were fishing was not far from the beaches, maybe within a couple miles and I had no idea there were sharks that close. Hammerheads aren’t known to be that aggressive toward man, but that made me nervous.”