“Like a quiet next-door neighbor, the bull shark seems an unlikely killer.”

By Cindy Braun – AMS Bowfishing 

There’s something about these fish, something that makes you miss the largest target ever offered to you as a bowfisher. And to think, you missed it, at point blank, when you can hit thin little gar fish or anything for that matter, anything that is smaller than a shark. It almost makes you sick. I know the feeling, many of us know the feeling all to well.

After two years of pursuing shark without boating even a small one, in Mid-August, My husband Jeff and I headed south for our third annual trip with Marsh Masters Bowfishing in Leeville, Louisiana. Our truck was loaded with all of our gear and we headed south for the 19 hour drive from Wisconsin to South Louisiana. The green farm fields and rolling hills turned to flat farmland. Flat farmland turned to lush forests. Lush forests turned to swamps and bayous and countless miles of interstate over water.

We arrived late Sunday night and met up with two friends and avid bowfishermen, Joel Maxfield of Mathews Inc. and Richard Leftwich, Pro shooter for Mathews. Jeff was the designated cameraman and the rest of us were going to work together with hopes of boating our limit, one shark, per boat, per day. We spent a little time talking about what to expect while we converted our equipment from carp-ready to shark-ready. For the shark, we were each armed with Mathews bows of various types, AMS Slotted Retriever reels loaded with 400# Fast Flight line, AMS Bowfishing arrows with the AMS Safety Slide System installed and Muzzy bowfishing points.

By 11 a.m., Monday morning we set out on the water with Captain Bobby Bryan in pursuit of the elusive and deadly bull sharks of the Gulf of Mexico. According to an article written by Douglas McCollam at slate.msn.com, he writes, “Like your quiet next-door neighbor, the bull shark seems an unlikely killer.

Still, many experts consider it the most dangerous shark in the world.” Large bull sharks usually measure from 7 to 10 feet in length, “but their size is a poor indicator of their lethality.

The bull’s pugnacious disposition and penchant for sudden attacks in seemingly safe surroundings make it the pit bull of the shark family. All sharks sometimes venture close to shore, but bull sharks are the only killers that like to hang out in water where your feet touch bottom.” These are the shark that are most often blamed for attacks on shallow water beaches, these are the ones that are to be feared. And here we were, hunting them off the Louisiana shore of the Gulf of Mexico.

We found them exactly as predicted. We found them cruising the shallows over the sandbars as they searched for a bite to eat. It was only day one, so the decision had been made to hold out and wait for a big shark, something from 7-10 feet in length. We waited quietly in anticipation. We hoped to at least see a shark, and within 10 minutes of dropping a small amount of chum, a small shark approached the boat. Fifty-four inches is the legal size limit on these fish and this one was only about 5′ long so we decided to pass it up. However, now we were excited. Then we saw another eerie shadow, about 25 yards out, a big shark was headed in to investigate. He was wary and turned back. Then another, and another, all out of range, but daunting. There were literally shark all around us.

Nothing of any size came in close enough for a shot. The waves slapping on the boat must have given them warning that something may not be right. We decided to relocate a bit differently and moved where we had seen most of the shark coming from. We also repositioned the boat in an attempt to eliminate the slap of the waves on its side. We were now sitting on a sandbar point with deeper water on both sides. We tossed some more chum and waited. Again within 15 minutes of putting out fresh chum, another small shark came into view and departed without giving us a shot.

Richard and Joel were on the bow of the boat and I was just behind the bow, on the right hand side. “Here comes one!” Richard said in great excitement. “It’s a shooter!” A nice shark, about 6 1/2′ long approached, cautiously, moving side to side and then directly toward the two men standing on the bow of the boat. They drew and shot simultaneously. The beautiful, powerful fish bolted and both of their lines went limp, yes, limp. “What?” (long silence) “What?” Joel said in disbelief as they both retrieved the line back into their AMS Slotted Retriever reels. They had both missed a perfect shot, a “should-have-been-easy shot”, at a beautiful Gulf of Mexico Shark and couldn’t believe it. I smiled to myself thinking, “Been there, done that.”

There’s something about these fish ?something that makes you miss the largest target ever offered to you as a bowfisher. And to think, you missed it, at point blank, when you can hit thin little gar fish or anything for that matter, anything that is smaller than a six foot, 6″ shark. It almost makes you sick. I know the feeling, many of us know the feeling, all to well.

I guess we could call it “Shark Fever”.

They reloaded their arrows and were ready. The action in the first hour of this day was absolutely unbelievable. We had already seen countless shark. We patiently waited in the hot, midday sun of south Louisiana. Temperatures were in the mid to upper nineties and the humidity was almost unbearable. We were all hot, sweat literally dripped from our bodies as we stood and cooked in the sun. We were drinking and drinking and drinking our water and Gatorade every chance we had, but it seemed as quickly expelled through our skin.

The fish began to disappear and after about an hour of waiting in the blistering heat, we decided to check out another sandbar with no luck. After scouting around for an hour or more, we again headed back to what we now call the “honey hole” and climbed up on an abandoned oil rig to watch what went on below.

From the top platform, we could see fish coming from 100 yards away across the sandbars. We had seen some, not many, but decided to set out some chum and wait it out. Richard and Joel posted on a ledge 10 feet off the water. Jeff was the spotter off the top and I went back in the boat with Bobby to increase our odds. “Here comes one!” Jeff called to the guys. “It turned the other way.” Then another and another came and went in different directions, never offering themselves to Richard, Joel, nor I.

“Here comes one! Right to you! It’s kind of small!” Jeff called again. “I see it!” hollered Richard. “It’s legal, but kind of small.” He commented in hesitation. I could hear all of this discussion from the boat at a distance and yelled “SHOOT IT!” knowing that it may be the last chance of the day! That’s all it took to push Richard into drawing his bow and shooting this fish.

“Thwack!” He nailed it. The line zipped out of his AMS Slotted Retriever reel and popped the attached float from his bow. The chase was on! They all hopped back into the boat and we were quickly in pursuit of Richard’s fish. We followed the float, grabbed it and put pressure on the shark by playing the line. He made a couple hard runs popping the float from our hands but finally let us get close enough to put another arrow into him.

We gaffed him and pulled him into our boat. Richard was thrilled. It was almost as long as he was tall and approximately 75 pounds and full of teeth! We had a great day, our limit in the boat and one happy Richard, so we headed back to the dock and called it quits for the day.

For More Go To AMS Bowfishing.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005 – Shark Hunt – Day 2

It started out as another beautiful day; however, the skies to the northwest were grey and beginning to threaten. The forecast called for a slight chance of thunderstorms throughout the day. We threw the anchor, positioned ourselves, and tossed the scraps from the fish we shot the night before and waited and watched the skies. In the distance, lightening lit up the skies. Storms build in the Gulf quickly. They come and go with little warning. We knew we only had a little time before we would have to take shelter by a nearby oil rig.

We continued to watch the storm, which now seemed to be dissipating and felt comfortable staying on the water. In the distance a large shadow appeared in the water and began to approach the boat. It was a long shot, one that I didn’t want to take, but couldn’t resist after seeing the size of the fish. It was at least an 8′ shark. Joel and I drew and released. Our arrows headed for the shark. They hit within 6 inches of each other. They both hit at the same time. They hit in the sand, below this awesome shark.

We waited and again began watching dark shadows approaching in the distance. When, 10 feet behind the boat we heard a splash! We all turned to the right and drew as the fish cut out around the right hand side of the boat, toward deeper water. There was no question that he was a shooter. Joel and I instinctively, without words, fired at the fleeing fish. Our arrows flew together, again, within inches of each other, this time right over the shark. Again, we watched as the fish retreated and shaking our heads in disbelief, and quietly retrieved our arrows back to the boat.

How can you possibly miss a fish that’s within 20 feet (that’s 20 feet, not yards) of the boat, about 7 feet long and nearly a foot wide? We’re both avid bowfishers who practiced and connected with countless 5-10# fish the night before. We’re both bowhunters that know that a 10 yard shot is supposed to be easy. But things change in bowfishing. The depth of the water, the refraction of the light at that depth, the effect of the water on the arrow, the speed of the fish etc. all play a role on the shot. Judging each of those things correctly within seconds of spotting a fleeing fish are the challenges bowfishermen face. These challenges are, I believe, what makes bowfishing so addicting.

We were just about ready to call it a day when another “shooter” appeared off the bow of the boat. It was an easy shot. Again, we drew simultaneously. I hesitated. “Take it. Take it!” I whispered insistently after realizing my arrow line was messed up. He shot. I let my draw down, disappointed for only a second. “Things happen for a reason.” I reminded myself.

“Thwack!” A hit! The fish bolted and the line ripped out of Joel’s Slotted Retriever reel and popped the football-sized float off his bow to track the fish. We decided to tire the fish more quickly by attaching another larger trophy float to the float line. This was not necessarily an easy task. Twice the fish ran, snapping the float out of his hands before we could loop the larger float over the top of the first float. Now, two floats were attached and the storm was approaching.

We were confident that we could land this fish quickly. Joel took control of the line and carefully, hand-over-hand, pulled the fish closer to the boat. Richard was ready for the backup shot. With the fish alongside the boat and the arrow visible a second arrow was shot into the fish. It wasn’t long before the fish was able to be brought in the boat. We pulled him up and over the side of the boat and celebrated another successful hunt. It couldn’t have worked out more perfectly. The shark was in the boat and we headed for cover in plenty of time from the impending storm.

On these larger fish, we like to secure a second arrow as soon as possible as an insurance policy. By having two lines attached you double the chance of boating the fish. You decrease the odds of the first arrow pulling or ripping out, you increase the drag on the fish to wear him down sooner, and you are able to more confidently put pressure on the fish when bringing him boat side and into the boat.

It is also critical on these larger fish to be EXTREMELY careful when handling the float lines. A wounded fish can bolt and change directions without warning. We used extreme caution when handling these lines. A running shark, a loop of 400# line around a hand or finger could cause you to be without before you realize what happened. The power of these fish is unbelievable!

For More Go To AMS Bowfishing.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005 Shark Hunt – Day 3

We had talked smart Tuesday night about this little 14′ flat bottomed, 25 hp, Jon-boat that was sitting in the lift at the Marsh Master dock. This boat was something that we might use in Wisconsin when going after carp on small bodies of water. “We should pull this little ‘dingy’ out there tomorrow.” I said kind of joking, kind of not. “Then we could get two shark.” The limit on shark is one shark per day per vessel so we thought we had a good idea. “Yeah!” the guys agreed. But, the chances that the water 15 miles out in the Gulf would be calm enough for such a boat were slim to none.

Unbelievably, Wednesday turned out perfect for shark hunting. Clear blue skies, oppressive heat and humidity but, it was absolutely dead calm on the water. There was not a ripple anywhere. A few minutes before pulling out, I thought I’d throw the idea out there to Captain Darel. He’s kind of like me, always looking for an adventure.

“Hey Darel,” I said. “Let’s haul this dingy out there! Then we can get two shark today.” Without hesitation he said “Yeah. That would work! I’ve got a long tow rope. Here, hook it up!” Grinning, like 3 kids in a candy store, we loaded the dark colored, aluminum dingy down with chum and towed the little skiff behind our 24″ Bay boat. It was hilarious. The little boat skimmed along behind us as if it were being driven by someone. It trailed perfectly.

Again, there was no question as to the location. We were headed for our sandbar. We started out by dropping Richard and Joel into the little skiff. They headed right for the spot that had produced the fish each of the last 2 days so consistently; they anchored and dropped their chum. We weren’t seeing much. I kept looking at them and what they were up to. We could see them at a distance, moving around, taking shirts off, standing up, sitting down etc. (I know now that they were literally frying in that dark aluminum boat and doing their best, short of jumping in, to stay cool and maintain their balance as the slight waves broke the water beneath them).

Then someone shot, we didn’t know who, but a bright yellow float was being pulled around in the water so we headed over to see if they needed help. They appeared to have it under control so we moved in on their chum line and dumped some more of our own.

Literally, within minutes a large dorsal fin and tail fin appeared above the surface. I knew it was a good fish because there were nearly five feet between the dorsal fin and the tail. I knew this was “the” fish I was waiting for. He approached the boat from 30 yards out, parting the water with his torpedo like body. I couldn’t believe it. He continued to approach. Twenty yards, fifteen yards, ten yards.

I was completely focused on the fish. Somehow, I was calm and completely collected. Seconds seemed like minutes. “Draw slow.” I told myself. I drew my 40# Mathew’s Sportsman bow more smoothly and more cautiously than it had ever been drawn. I checked my arrow, my slide, my arrow rest visually at full draw. “Perfect.” I held the bow at full draw, with no let-off, and waited for the perfect shot.

Twenty feet turned to fifteen. Fifteen feet turned to ten feet. The huge fish continued right at me as if interested in the boat. (He may have been interested in the two legs that were walking next to the boat. Darel had gotten into the knee deep water to perfectly position the boat on the chum.)

I calmly, instinctively, chose the small location of intended impact. This was something I had done literally thousands of times before on smaller fish, but never on a shark. I had never been completely focused. This time it was different, for whatever reason. All things were silent. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t rushed. I didn’t even have “Shark Fever.” I was completely focused on “the spot.” I lowered my bow with the fish as it came closer and closer; never once thinking about anything but nailing it. I released when he was 15 feet from the boat and held my breath.
“THWACK!” The arrow slammed the fish. The water absolutely exploded as the fish charged the boat.

Picture this. I remember every detail as if it happened in slow motion. The arrow hit the fish exactly as I had planned, however, I didn’t plan what happened next. The nock end of the arrow was now pointing straight at the boat, at a 45 degree angle into the fish. The fish now had a spike that surely would rip off or break as it crashed into the boat. I saw the fish surge ahead, I saw the water swirling; the enormous sand cloud the shark kicked up when he fled.

I saw his torpedo shaped body, his eyes, gills, dorsal fin, back, tail fin, and his enormous tail. I heard Darel yell as he jumped, I’m sure, higher than he had ever jumped before as the fish surged toward the boat and his legs. Then, he cut-out, right alongside the boat and headed for deeper water.

As everything continued to transpire, I prayed that my arrow wouldn’t break; that Darel would safely escape his charge first from the fish and then the pursuing line; that my line wouldn’t be sliced by something underneath the boat; that finally my luck would change after 3 years and I would boat this fish.

The sound and slight tug on my bow brought me back to reality as my float was ripped from its perch on my bow. I heard it thump the ripped up water. I watched it disappear beneath the surface of the water for 10-15 seconds. Seconds that literally seemed like hours. I heard nothing. I saw nothing. My eyes were on the water, on the wake that this fish had made. I could not see the fish, the arrow, the line or the float.

The red and white football-sized float appeared for a split second. It wobbled away and disappeared again. I held my breath. It appeared again; went under again. Ahhhh! I couldn’t stand it! I was not calm anymore, believe me! Somehow, Darel was already at the Captain’s seat pursuing the fleeting fish. He must’ve jumped there; clear from the left side of the boat to his captain’s chair, because I surely didn’t see him pass by me.

We let him run. We knew we needed the help of the other two guys that somehow during this time landed a nice 7 foot shark of their own, so we picked up Richard and left Joel alone with his shark in the little skiff. Richard attempted to hold the line and attach another larger float to increase the drag on the shark, but failed several times when the monster fish chose to run again and snap the float from his hands. He ran, we chased, he ran, we chased. The float went under, the float came back up. We’d get close on one side of the boat; the fish would cut back underneath the boat causing us to shut-down the motor to keep from winding the line up in the prop. Several times this happened. Several times the motor was shut off and quickly trimmed up.

Finally, after several attempts to attach the bright yellow trophy float to the smaller one, we did it. Now this fish was hauling two good sized floats around. He ran and pulled them both under, they came up, and they went under. He was not happy with this situation. We were going to have our work cut out for us. I hastily reloaded my Retriever with another 25 yards of 400# line, a new arrow and a new float.

Actually, within minutes of the shark running with both floats on, Richard was able to pull him up boat-side for me to put another security arrow into him. Now my heart was beating out of my chest. I shot and missed a shot four feet away.

Remember the saying “Haste Makes Waste”? Need I say more?

The shark bolted again. I retrieved my line, kicking myself! Richard pulled him up again. This time I hit him just inches from the first impact. This second Muzzy point was, for sure, entirely embedded into the tough hide of this fish, and I could see that my first arrow had a very strong hold. I was starting to feel better.

Again the line peeled out of my Retriever reel. When it came to the end of the line it pulled the second Trophy float off and after the fish. We now had two AMS arrows, rigged with AMS Safety slides, 25 yards of 400# line, one red and white float and two large bright yellow floats trailing this fish. Things were now starting to look good and were beginning to slow down.

Well, it was looking better, until we pulled him up again and he cut underneath the boat and became entangled with the motor. “Only this would happen to me.” I thought in disbelief. Richard was on it. Darel trimmed the motor up. I was completely expecting to see the both lines wrapped up in the prop. Not so. It had snagged somewhere on the lower unit and Richard was able to pull the fish up to get the slack he needed to free the line.

Off we went again. Things again were looking better. The floats were still attached. “Whew.” “I’m going to get a broadhead.” I said as I hurried to the back of the boat. “Good idea!” they all agreed. (I still didn’t know who shot their fish.) Anyway, I grabbed an old hunting arrow with a broad head and knocked it on my bowstring hoping to install the final, fatal shot with this 3rd arrow. I was ready. The fish was tiring and was getting increasingly easier to bring up to the boat. Richard was able to bring the fish up again for another shot. I was focused again on that “spot” and slammed the fatal shot with a broadhead, into his unbelievably tough hide.

We just waited and watched. He didn’t do much. We were all relieved. We almost had him in the boat. I set my bow down. We waited. We waited for one more burst of thrashing shark. Nothing came. We waited and admired him. We waited. Finally, we were ready. Carefully we leaned over the side of the boat, using the arrows to position the fish. Carefully, Captian Darel positioned the gaff. With a sudden burst of strong intent, Darel slammed the gaff perfectly under the massive jaw of my shark; getting only a slight reaction from the shark. We waited. Based on his reaction to the gaff, or lack there of, we decided it was safe to pull him into the boat.

Darel continued to man the gaff, Richard grabbed one of his pectoral fins, and I grabbed the other. “One, twoooooo, threeeeeee.” He came up, half way. We paused. “Careful now. One, two, three.” Over the side of the boat he came. His chin rubbed the side of the boat, which revealed his deadly jaws.

Hundreds and hundreds of razor sharp teeth lined his upper and lower jaw. His grey skin was glistening in the sun. His eyes, an eerie tone of green. Again, I noticed every inch of his body as we hauled him into the boat. His teeth, the tip of his nose, his teeth, his nostrils, his strength, his teeth, his gills, his back, his teeth and his dorsal fin and tail that so clearly identified his presence 30 yards away. I noticed the bright, glistening white of his underside, the texture of his skin, his teeth, his eyes, his tail, his teeth. I was really focused on those teeth.

When his tail hit the floor of the boat we celebrated. “Great Fish!” “Alright!” There were smiles, high-fives, compliments, stories. I, finally, at about 3 o’clock, on the third day, of the third year of my pursuing these Gulf of Mexico Bull Shark, I had my Trophy in the boat! I couldn’t believe it! It was awesome! Everyone’s excitement for me was awesome! I had gotten what I had come here for. A “Good’un!” as Darel would say.

Let’s take ’em in!” said Darel anxious to show off the catch of the day. After taking several pictures on a nearby sandbar of our sharks, we headed in for the Marsh Masters Dock. The congratulations began again. Five other shark hunters and fellow bowfisherMEN were there to witness my fish of a lifetime. Everyone shook my hand and congratulated me. We hung him up on the scale. It took three men to hoist him up. “Two hundred and nine pounds.” I proudly reported. Then I took out the tape measure. “Eight feet?two?eight feet, two and a half inches.” I reported again. Then I measured from eye to eye. It was exactly 9″ between the eyes. What an unbelievable fish!

A trip of a lifetime. My “shark hunt” of a lifetime. I will never forget this trip! I will never forget the weather we had, the quiet solitude of the water while we were there. We had three days, that were unbearably hot, unbelievably calm and beautiful.

You might call it the calm before the storm. Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast one week after we left. I can’t imagine the devastation that now plagues those living on the very coast we were fishing from. I was always impressed with the massive structures out in the Gulf, the way of life, the modest homes on stilts, the old weathered shrimp boats, and the list goes on and on. Marsh Masters evacuated in time but came back to water-logged homes with shingles and siding ripped off. Mother Nature’s unpredictable wrath has not shut them down. They are the lucky ones!

Bowfishing Equipment List

  • 40# Mathews Sportsman Bow
  • AMS Slotted Retriever Reel with 400# Fast Flight Line
  • AMS Bowfishing Arrows with Muzzy Points
  • AMS Floats

When playing these fish out you have to be extremely careful of several things. First off, and most importantly, you must make sure your AMS Slotted Retriever reel is rigged correctly and the float line tight and completely under control. This float line must always be tight from the float to the slit in the side of the reel.

The float line must be pulled tight over the gear cover assembly, not under it. Also, you must control the float line by using a small loop that is pulled from the slit in the bottle. This loop must be controlled by a rubber band or electrical tape to ensure the float line is tight and to ensure that the loop of line does not fall back into the bottle and intermix with the perfectly stacked line. Tangles can result and fish lost if the loop of line used to control the float gets back inside the bottle in the middle of the stacked line.

If you are using a large float at your feet, which we were at times, it is especially important to control the float line down to that float. Use one wrap of electrical tape to attach the line from the reel to the lower bow limb so the float line cannot entangle with the bow or the reel in any way. This can prove dangerous and can be the cause lost equipment yanked from you to the depths of the ocean should things tangle up.

On these larger fish, we like to secure a second arrow as soon as possible as an insurance policy. By having two lines attached you double the chance of boating the fish. You decrease the odds of the first arrow pulling or ripping out, you increase the drag on the fish to wear him down sooner, and you are able to more confidently put pressure on the fish when bringing him boat side and into the boat.

It is also critical on these larger fish to be EXTREMELY careful when handling the float lines. A wounded fish can bolt and change directions without warning. We used extreme caution when handling these lines. Pulling on the lines, hand-over-hand and leaving the pulled-up slack in the water behind us reduced the chance of us entangling with it.

Avoid piling the line at your feet in the boat. Never wrap the line around your hand for more leverage when pulling on a fish of this size. A running shark, a loop of 400# line around a hand or finger could cause you to be without before you realize what happened. The power of these fish is unbelievable!

For More Go To AMS Bowfishing.