Tiger Kingdom - Discover Light-Tackle, Big-Shark Action in the Clear Bahamian Shallows
Text by Mike Mazur
Photos by Adrian E. Gray
Sport Fishing Magazine July/August 2013 Volume 28 Issue 7
Tigershark - the name alone has conjured fear and intrigue ever since Richard DreYfuss famously introduced the term "bite radius" to the world as the character Matt Hooper in the 7975 movie Jaws. You remember the scene: The local fishermen ofAmity Island hadjust caught a whopper tiger shark and were celebrating back at the docks. But, as Hooper rightly predicted after measuring its jaws, it wasn't the shark. I was thinking about that scene on a sultry August afternoon while anchored over the turquoise-greenwaters of the Bahamas. Until then, except in that movie,I had never even seen a tigershark. Now I found myself suddenly surrounded by them. Along with Capt. Colin Rose and the International Game Fish Association's Adrian Gray, I had just caught and released a dandy 200-pounder. Heck, we had even walked in the water along side the animal, carefully tagging, measuring and weighing it. And here we were, completely unscathed - so much for "that bite-radius crap," to quote a line from the movie.
Actually, that tigershark did leave its mark. As Rose was maneuvering it boat-side, it unexpectedly thrashed its head, jerking Rose's upper body like a rag doll. He didn't realize it at the time, but his rotator cuff had just been torn in half. Brushing off the injury like a true seaman, he simply wore a sling on hisl eft arm the next few days. It seemed to fit him. Born in Britain and raised in the Bahamassince age 3, the now-70-year-old Rose has been a fixture on Grand Bahama for decades as the owner of boat-service center OBS Marine, as well as Freeport Skiff. He's known as something else too: a certifiable shark nut. For the past three years,Rose has perfected the science of luring big tiger sharks into the shallows north of Grand Bahama, and catching them on light gear.A seven-time IGFA world-recordholder,Rose has already led a client to the women's 8-pound tigersharkrecord, a nO-pounder, and atpress time,two other clients had just submitted to the IGFA pending women's records on 4- and 6-poundlines. Rose anticipates establishing several other line-class records for the species- and he'll very likely achieve them. But these magnificent sharks aren't dying in the process. Rather, Rose, an tiber-tinkerer, has developed a fishing system in which he sets up a portable tripod scale on a shallow sandbar before heading out to wet lines.When he catches a shark,regardless of whether it's a record-caliberfish, he quickly tows it back to the scale alongside the boat. "That's our main objective when fishing for these sharks," he says. "We want to get these animals safely to the scales, record their data, and tag them for NOAA's Apex Predator Program." The story began more than a decade ago, in 2001,when Rose built an experimental floating bait cage (pictured, left) structed with chain-link fence and two-by-fours, and began chumming the waters around Grand Bahama.About three years ago, he discovered a productive stretch of water that started consistently producing tigers- what's more, it close to a shallows and bar where he could weigh fish. "ButI didn't even fish for them in the beginning," Rose rembers. "I just fed them and watched them. It was unding how many came in - we've had as many as 10 around the boat. But what's amazing is that only tigersharks ar.We've never had any otherspecies come in, which is ge because there are lots of other sharks on the bank." Most of these fish that arrive in the shallow, 6- to 8-foot hs Rose fishes range from 150 to 300 pounds, but 400 to 500-pounders are not uncommon. The biggest he's is a 14-footer. "Normally you only see that size fish well offshore," Rose says "He would've gone 1,200 pounds. We didn't fish for though - we just watched. They're amazing animals."
THE AMAZING TIGER SHARK
Apparently, they're even more amazing than we've previously known. Tiger sharks are proving to be one of the most unique predators in the sea, according to Dr. Mahmood Shivji, director of Nova Southeastern University's Guy Harvey Research Institute in Dania Beach, Florida. Shivji has been studying the speciesforthe pastseveral years, tracking the movements and behavior offish using satellite tags. He's discovered that once these sharks mature to about 10 feet and longer, they become ultrasolitary and begin undertaking incrediblylengthy annual migrations, typically spending the winter monthsin the Bahamas and other areas of the Caribbean, and then migrating north in the summer,well past Bermuda, to very distant and specific areas in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. "The thing that amazes usistheirfinely tuned sense of timing to the migrations, and the fact that they travel to virtually the exactsame locations each year," Shivji says. "These are individual animals making these treks on their own - they don't travel in groups. So half their life is spent around reefs, and the other half is spent out in the middle of the Atlantic. No other shark is known to do this." Perhaps that's why the tiger shark is such a distinct-looking predator, Shivji says, which a blunt head and short, rounded fins similar to a reef-going shark, yet with a pronounched caudal keel (the narrow area just in fron of the tail) similar to makos and other open-ocean pelagic species. And perhaps it's also why the tiger possesses such an amazingly broad diet. "They eat everything," says Shivji, "from small fishes to huge tunas to marine mammals to sea turtles to birs, lizards -- everything." Rose has become quite familiar with this proclivity for indiscriminate feeding. He targes his tigers from March though October, primarily because that's when yellowfin tuna migarte though the famed Alley just south of GrandBahama. "The arrival of the tuna basically provies us with a steady supply of fresh chum and bait, which is an absolute requirement for drawing in the sharks," says Rose, who stuffs literally hundreds of pounds of tuna carcasses into his cage, which is typically deployed 24 to 48 hours before a day of fishing. "The tide runs through the area we fish at about a knot," he says, "so you get six hours of in-and-out tide in both directions. You're covering about 12 miles. Once the sharks out there smell it, they swim right down that stream."
FIGHTING AND RELEASING THE BEAST
Rose had been chumming for a couple ofdays when Gray and I arrived last August, and after we set up the tripod scale in the shallows that first morning, we slowly motored out to the floating baittrap. As we got closer, dark shapes quickly became visible, with some sharks actually poking their head out of the water around the trap. No less than six tigers prowled the area. With so much activity, you'd think that catching one would be relatively easy. But that's not always the case. Yes, the sharks are active, but it sometimes takes a little teasing to coaz them into grabbing a baited hook, especially the larger specimens, which tend to be more cautious. Rose dangles hookless chunks of tuna from a stout rod on heavy mono, and eventually, one ofthe sharks gets up the nerve to investigate.After the first bite, the animal usually engages in a full-on feeding mode, not relenting until the bait is totally consumed. This is the fun part, watching these animals chomp and snap at the tuna with their head completely out ofthe water. They're so close at times, it would be possible to reach down and pat one on the back of the head. When a shark begins feeding like this, Rose uses chunks of tuna on an Eagle Claw Lazer Shark 9/0L1l3MGG hook with four feet of 1/16-inch cable leader. He's found that the sharks will also readily grab a drifting fly once they get chummed up. Then the fight is on. "They're very powerful and capable ofstrong runs," says Rose, "but they don't last very long, especially in the shallows, since they can't go deep. Still, they kick and thrash violently, and have a knack of rolling their body near the boat, so you really have to be careful, as I learned the hard way." Once safely landed and towed for data collection and tagging, more care must be taken, as this is a shallow-water game requiring wading alongside the shark in only about two feet of water. "We had this brilliant idea earlyon that we'd be able to weigh them in six feet of water while staying in the boat," says Rose, "but we learned that's impossible. You've got to physically walk them into the netting system." Carefully controlled with ropes from the head and tail, the shark-weighing process has been honed over the years so that it takes only a couple of minutes with three people. Done properly, no harm comes to the shark, and the crew remains perfectly safe. Gray and I weighed and released several sharks during our trip- no records were set but each was a thrill. And it made me think again of that old movie, and how for years after it had folks actually afraid to get in the water. Slowly, but surely, the sterotypes of sharks as man-eaters are going by the wayside- and in the case of the tiger, anglers are learning that it is one of the sea's most incredible animals.