Fishing & Boating News

The Grey Ghost

by: Ed Snyder, Ed Snyder Outdoors

Although the Great White is the most dangerous they are very rare in the Gulf-.
Photo by courtesy National Geographic
Tiger Shark are 2nd most dangerous off TX shores.
Photo by courtesy National Geographic
(Aug. 10, 2011 - Gilchrist, TX) Wading towards a submerged sandbar near the channel the angler shuffled out to it and began casting for speckled trout. Five casts later resulted in three nice trout tethered to his belted stringer. All seemed well until catching a glimpse of a ghostly shadow rising from the depths of the channel. Alarmed, his fear was soon confirmed as the shadow took the form of a shark, a rather large shark.

Startled, the angler began pulling in his stringer to escape this menacing danger. But the shark quickly turned in towards him for an attack!

Shark attacks are rare along the Texas coast but they do occur from time to time causing mini-seconds of sheer terror for those of us who?ve experienced facing these grey ghosts in the water, for it's a chilling sight to see a sharks eyes locked on you when attacking.

Anglers such as shark attack survivor Michael Walker knows. "As soon as it hit me I knew what it was and I screamed 'shark attack!'" It was a surfing trip gone bad, Walker stated, who was out in the water near Meacom's Pier in Galveston County surfing when a shark attacked, biting him on the foot and leaving a jagged scar. Another shark attack victim wasn't so lucky.

Eleven year old Aaron Perez almost lost his arm and hand when attacked by a shark while wade fishing off Bryan Beach in Brazoria County. He was rushed to a hospital where surgeons saved his arm and reattached his hand.

Shark attacks on humans in Texas are rare, In fact there have been only the 18 attacks on humans along the Texas Coast since 1980. Which is why some people don't even think twice about wading or surfing in coastal waters.

One such wader, Benjamin Pierce, said, "You know, you don't really hear it happening around these area waters, at least not this part of the Texas coastal area." Although shark attacks are rare, Pierce is still cautious when he goes wade fishing. "You don't know what's out there in the unknown." When I was attacked I believe it was due to the fact that I was surrounded by bait-fish with other fish furiously feeding on them." I think it was a mistaken identity type of attack."

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recommends that you don't wade fish in the morning or at dusk, when sharks are most active feeding and might mistake a fisherman for food. BUT unfortunately those times are prime wade-fishing periods. So we wade.

Shark attacks resulted in over 900 incidents on people on the coastal areas of the United States since record keeping began decades ago, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History, that tracks shark attacks throughout the nation. Florida, with its clear, pristine waters leads the country tallying 500 confirmed attacks, and Texas, with its sandy green and often murky water is tied for a distant sixth with a total of 32 known attacks.

In Texas, five of those incidents were fatal, with the last fatality occurring in 1962 when a surf angler wading South Padre Island was bit on the leg and died from loss of blood. The story was that the man was surf fishing with a stringer of fish tied around his waist. The shark was probably going for the fish when it hit his thigh. He crawled to shore bleeding badly, but by the time they got him to a Port Isabel hospital he was dead."

Veteran tarpon angler, Larry Haines, told of a big tiger shark he encountered while wade-fishing South Padre that he estimated to be at least 10ft long. "We were fishing down the beach near the Mansfield cut, where a tremendous amount of bait was in the water." "We would hook up with these big 30 pound jack crevalle's when wham, this huge tiger shark took the whole fish. This happened several times. We left and were incredibly nervous wading through waist deep water looking over our shoulders for any sign of that shark."

Worldwide the number of shark attacks have increased at a steady rate over the past century. Overall, in the 1990's, was the highest attack total (481) of any decade. However, this statistic is not necessarily a warning of more aggressive sharks, but rather the result of more people spending more time in the water. Shark populations are actually declining throughout the world as a result of over-fishing.

More than 350 species of sharks inhabit the world's oceans, but three species are primary threats to man, and they are the Great White, Tiger and Bull shark. The white is not normally found in the Gulf of Mexico, but the bull and tiger do prowl the Texas surf. The bull shark reaches a length of nearly 12 feet and the tiger can measure close to eighteen feet weighing in at more than 1700 pounds. But the Bull shark is probably the most threatening and dangerous as it is a shallow water predator and can be found in the bays as well as along the surf. An 8ft plus bull was recently caught, landed, and released in the surf during July 4th weekend on the Bolivar Peninsula. So wade anglers beware!

The good news is that surfers, swimmers and wade fishermen are not a shark's favored food as they prefer marine creatures such as fish and turtles. Millions of people swim in the water every day, mainly in the summer months, but the chances of a shark attack are rare. Sharks do not have good vision, and sometimes a surfer or swimmer might resemble prey. Such as what happened to a couple on Bolivar Peninsula in 2010. They were just lazing in shallow water not 20 yards out on flotation devices known as noodles, when all of a sudden they were viciously attacked by an unseen shark that bit them several times, resulting in bloody bites on their buttocks, feet, and hands. They survived to tell their friends about the ordeal.

In another shark incident an angler was wading with a buddy out to the historical concrete ship in Galveston Bay. Managing to string up several nice speckled trout, one about 5 lbs, when the tide turned they decided to leave. While wading towards Sea Wolf Park trailing their 25ft stringer behind them, a large Lemon shark suddenly popped up on the surface grabbing the stringer of fish tied to his waist. The shark savagely attacked the stringer of trout pulling the angler along with it before severing the stringer. The panicked anglers quickly exited the water soon after, trailing an empty stringer behind them.

Another denizen of the deep that can inflict serious pain and if left untreated possibly could lead to death. The stingray is a common bottom dweller in the bay and surf, and if stepped on by wade fishermen or swimmers they will whip their barbed tail into the foot or ankle. The sharp spine at the base of the tail is filled with venom causing intense pain.

I had my unfortunate incidents with rays after being hit in my ankle while wade fishing. The pain was so excruciating I had to go to a hospital to have the barb removed. In the other incident I was just careless after catching a small ray, not wanting to kill the little critter I wrapped a towel around to hold it while removing the hook when its tail suddenly whipped its barb deep into my hand. The pain was just as bad as my first encounter.

According to reports from the Texas Dept; of Health, there were 32 reported cases of vibrio vulnificus, a deadly bacteria from stingray stings in 2004 and eleven fatalities. Vibrio is a bacterium in the same family as those that cause cholera.

While sharks, stingrays and vibrio vulnificus are among the most dangerous threats to saltwater enthusiasts, there are several other critters that pose hazards during the summer months. There are days when the tides wash ashore thousands of jellyfish onto the beaches with stinging tentacles of the sea nettle, Portuguese man-o-war, and cabbage heads that can inflict painful welts on tender skin.

If you come in contact with a jellyfish, do not rub the wound but remove the tentacles with a gloved hand or towel. Rinse the wound immediately with seawater and soak it for 30 minutes with vinegar or rubbing alcohol to inactivate the toxins.

Avoiding Shark Attacks;

  1. - Always wade-fish in groups, as sharks more likely won't attack groups of anglers.
  2. - Do not enter the water if bleeding, because a shark's sense of smell is highly sensitive.
  3. - Do not wade fish with a stringer close to your body using stringers at least 25ft long.
  4. - Avoid wearing shiny jewelry due reflecting light similar to the glitter of fish scales.
  5. - When wading wear wet suits or long pants to avoid bare flashing legs attracting sharks.

Avoiding Stingray Encounters;

  1. - Do the stingray shuffle when wade fishing, as when you carefully shuffle your feet you are less likely to step on a stingray and the vibration from your feet will spook them off.
  2. - Wear protective foot gear that covers well above the ankle and is tough enough to repel the sharp barb of a stingray.
  3. - If struck, immediately clean and disinfect the wound and soak it in hot water for 30 to 90 minutes as this helps break down the toxins.
  4. - Seek medical help if the barb remains imbedded and be alert to signs of infection. Vibrio vulnificus must be treated promptly with specific antibiotics to prevent serious infection.

Now for the outcome of the anglers predicament in the first paragraph. Wading towards the submerged sandbar near a channel the angler shuffled out to begin casting for speckled trout. Five casts later resulted in three nice trout tethered to his belted stringer. All seemed well until catching a glimpse of a ghostly shadow rising from the depths of the channel. Alarmed, his fear was soon confirmed when the shadow took the form of a shark, a rather large shark. Startled, the angler began pulling in his stringer to escape this menacing danger. But the shark quickly turned in towards him to attack!

Either panic or face the danger was the anglers mille-second choice, the angler chose to face the shark by using his fishing rod as a weapon. He parried like it was a spear warding the shark off where it turned and quickly disappeared back into the channel. The angler then waded out the water thinking of just how lucky he was to be alive that day! "For I was that angler!"
Stingray are responsible for severe stings and infections.
Photo by courtesy National Geographic
Bull Shark in TX are responsble for most attacks on humans.
Photo by Ed Snyder