Summer sharks

  • Grace Roberts, right, is all smiles after catching this bonnethead shark. SPECIAL
    Grace Roberts, right, is all smiles after catching this bonnethead shark. SPECIAL

Some 45 fishing seasons ago, Jack Burling, daughter Sue and son Mike bordered Capt. Jimmy Gavin’s 45-foot charter fishing boat, the Lisa Ann. The fishing adventure departed from  Mayport’s historic Monty’s Marina for a day of shark fishing.

“We specifically targeted sharks and began our day by catching a pair of huge amberjacks while fishing offshore reefs,” Mike Burling said. “Once our guide, Capt. Jimmy Gavin, had guided our party to a 70- and 80-pound amberjack, we directed our fishing to big reef sharks.”

The warm summer months off Northeast Florida attract some of the South’s best shark fishing, particularly at offshore reefs where tiger and hammerhead sharks regularly dine on fairly large game fish. A weak kingfish, cobia, ’cuda or amberjack are watched closely by large reef sharks and, when the moment is right, the kill only takes a split second.

“Capt. Gavin cut the large amberjacks into large, bloody chunks of meat and then barbed them on fairly large shark hooks rigged with airplane rudder cable,” Mike Burling said. “The baits were dropped down to the reef and immediately drew attention from a large hammerhead shark. 

“My father was in the fighting chair and reeled in the slack fishing line to set the hook, only to find the hammerhead shark had opened his toothy mouth and let the bait go. However, while reeling the barbed amberjack baits back to the Lisa Ann’s transom, the massive hammerhead charged the bait and our fishing boat.”

This time, the 10-foot hammerhead shark took the bait deep into its toothy mouth and was solidly hooked.

“We actually took turns fighting that large hammerhead shark,” Mike Burling said. “It took some 30 minutes to wear that big shark down and, when it came time to land the big hammerhead, Capt. Jimmy Gavin retrieved a 12-gauge shotgun from a storage compartment and shot the shark twice in the head.”

The 450-pound hammerhead shark took first-place honors in a Jacksonville fishing rodeo in 1975. The large hammerhead shark was also mounted by Gray’s Taxidermy.

After Jack Burling passed away, the shark mount was brought to Fernandina Beach by his son-in-law, Curt Dickey. Burling’s shark is now on display at Amelia Angler Outfitters, 111 Centre St.

Shark fishing during the summer months is very popular, especially if fishermen are looking to fight a very large fish. In fact, Amelia Island has also played host to great white sharks.

“Seas were perfect for offshore fishing as I navigated my charter guests, Timmy Fedick, Marcus Mullis, Austin Vanzant and Landon Edgington, to a popular Fernandina Beach offshore fish haven,” Capt. Tony Peeples said. “After dropping the anchor and fishing dead on the bottom with fresh squid and fiddler crabs, my guests began hooking up to a variety of saltwater game fish, including sheepshead, black sea bass and black drum.

“Suddenly, out of the deep ocean waters a dark shadow rose to the surface and attacked one of my customer’s hooked black drum. It was a huge white shark that had to have measured at least 15 feet.

“It soon began to swim slowly away from our fishing boat. My guest was now hooked up to a 1,000-pound fish that soon parted his 20-pound fishing line.”

Several fishing seasons ago, I was tarpon fishing with Hugh Stone and his grandson, Hugh III, when Stone hooked a large hammerhead shark. After a four-hour battle, he finally landed a 500-pound, 14-foot hammerhead shark, which is still one of the largest sharks ever landed off Amelia Island.

On a more recent note, Keith Williams and son Cutter were fishing with me just north of historic Fernandina Beach for bull reds. The reds did not show up, but the dusky sharks did.

Most people probably do not realize the numbers of large sharks that hold right off the downtown docks. They are attracted by the fish carcasses tossed in the water after fishermen clean their catches, and the shrimp boats’ by-catch is also a major attraction to sharks in this area.

Rodeo canceled

Many fishermen are still reaching for answers for why Fernandina Beach canceled this weekend’s Fernandina Beach Kingfish Tournament and Rodeo. With little time before the event was scheduled to take place, the Nassau Sport Fishing Association was informed it could not hold the popular event.

Several kingfish tournaments were held from Jacksonville and St. Augustine prior to the event; all were held outside, and fishermen wore masks.

“With little time left before the tournament dates, we were told we could not hold our annual Fernandina Beach Kingfish and Rodeo Fishing Tournament,” tournament director Mitch Fields said. “We thought about downsizing the popular event, but we just did not have enough time.”

The NSFA is a popular fishing club which holds competitive fishing events throughout the year and monthly meetings with the best food on the island. Visit for information.