Published May 15, 2022

Florida Fishing Fury

Written by
Kim Fundingsland
| The Dakotan
*Mort Bank, Bismarck, with an excellent Jack Crevalle that smashed a surface lure in shallow water near Key Largo, Florida. Jack Crevalle hunt in fast moving schools, often pushing smaller fish to the surface. [Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan]
*Mort Bank, Bismarck, with an excellent Jack Crevalle that smashed a surface lure in shallow water near Key Largo, Florida. Jack Crevalle hunt in fast moving schools, often pushing smaller fish to the surface. [Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan]

KEY LARGO, FLORIDA — It has to be seen to be believed, but even then seems unbelievable. Spinner sharks cruise Florida’s saltwater flats like other sharks – black-tipped, lemon, bull, and hammerhead, but that is where the comparison ends.

It is the spinner shark, and only the spinner, that goes absolutely berserk when hooked. Sure, other sharks are downright cantankerous and dangerous, maybe even leap out of the water a time or two, but the antics of a spinner defy description. The shark fisherman knows in an instant when a spinner attacks a bait suspended beneath a large bobber.

The spinner is no slacker. Never. Spinner sharks attack bait with speed and power, ripping line off a large reel while bending a sturdy fishing rod in half. As soon as the bobber disappears beneath the ocean’s surface the spinner shark leaps high into the air. Not just a jump, but rolling over in the air several times before crashing back into the water.

Then, as suddenly as the spinner lands back in the water, he is airborne again with the bobber spinning wildly above his head.

Forget about landing a spinner. It is rare. The spectacular, spinning leaps shred 150-pound test line as if it were sewing thread. It is not the catch an angler is after, but the incredible, unforgettable experience.

The speed and energy of the acrobatic spinner is a remarkable sight. They leap high and spin much too fast to count the rotations, repeating

the craziness multiple times even after the line has snapped, which normally occurs with the first leap.

Spinners are not the biggest sharks in the sea, averaging 100-125 pounds, but they rank among the most unique fighters a fisherman will ever encounter. There's no stopping them. No give and take. No pumping of the fishing rod and reeling in of line. Just a draw dropping experience followed by a wave goodbye.

A rarity, a spinner shark brought boatside after a lengthy battle on hook and line. This spinner attacked bait five times, became hooked three times, breaking 150-pound test line twice before becoming wrapped in fishing line and tiring after one hour and 10 minutes. The hooks were removed and the fish was released. [Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan]

More Saltwater Action

One thing is certain during any day of saltwater fishing – the unexpected will happen. Such excursions may have been the origin of the phrase “expect the unexpected”. There was plenty of the unexpected for fishermen Mort Bank, Bismarck, and Casey Jaensch, Minot, during their time in the boat on the shallow flats of the Florida Keys recently.

The unexpected started rather rudely. A broken propellor on a bow-mounted electric motor cut short a scheduled afternoon on the water. However, not before both Bank and Jaensch landed respectable barracuda, whose long teeth give them a fearsome smile and earn the respect of saltwater fishermen.

The following day, with a new propeller installed and the promise of perfect weather, the fishing destination was one of the tall and long bridges common to the Keys. It was there that Bank used a surface popper to entice a big barracuda into a spectacular strike followed by a high leap out of the water. It took several minutes to land the impressive cuda before it was released back into the sea.

Casey Jaensch, Minot, helped land this barracuda caught by Mort Bank, Bismarck, right. The fish was hooked underneath the bridge in the background and landed after a lengthy battle. [Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan]

A few minutes later two fighter jets roared overhead in the blue, Florida sky, apparently after taking off from nearby Lackland Air Force Base. The sound of the jets was just starting to fade when the unmistakable clicking of the shark reel caused both anglers to look to the back of the boat where the baited shark rod was secure in a rod holder.

There was so much stress on the fishing rod that it was bent like a rainbow. Then it broke just above the reel. A few seconds later the 150-

pound test fishing line broke and whatever hit the bait, likely a big shark, was never seen. Expect the unexpected.

Perhaps an hour later, after moving to an area of a shallow bay known as a speckled sea trout spot, Bank and Jaensch caught several trout. The sharks knew the spot well too, as several were seen dashing past the boat or swimming with fins out of the water.

Bank had an interesting incident at that location. He had hooked a trout and had it close to the boat when a shark slashed by, sheering off the back half of the trout.

A Fitting Finish

The following day dawned with a slight wind, 5-7 miles per hour, with temperatures forecast to reach 86 degrees. It proved to be the right conditions for shark activity with several circling the small boat for about 90 minutes. Several times a shark attacked the chum stringer hanging from a boat cleat, but they clearly were ignoring fish meat on a hook and bobber.

Frustrated, our fishermen reeled in the hook and bobber, replacing the bait with fresh cut fish and tossing the old bait overboard where it was grabbed by a circling shark within seconds. Frustrating again.

Later that day Bank used a methodical walk-the-dog presentation to catch a big Jack Crevalle and several barracuda. Occasionally a stingray would swim past, stirring up the bottom and leaving a long trail of muddy water in its wake.

When it was finally time to go, to say goodbye to fishing the flats, Bank put the boat up on plane, driving it across a large bay toward the dock. Then, in the wake and spray boatside, a dolphin came to play. Even at high speed the bottlenose made an appearance, a fitting farewell to several remarkable days on the water. Expect the unexpected.

Extra Florida Flair

This homemade raft drifted ashore near Key Largo, Florida. The orange tag on the side of it was placed there by the U.S. Coast Guard, indicating it had been occupied by “illegal immigrants” fleeing Cuba. Floats on the raft were covered in material resembling trash bags. [Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan]
Florida Fish and Wildlife officers have a variety of duties, including patrolling vast expanses of saltwater for everything from safety checks to emergencies. [Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan]
Few experiences in fishing can match the fury and excitement of a spinner shark that explodes from the water as soon as it realizes it has been hooked. The thrashing and airborne rolls of the spinner generates enough force to easily break 150-pound test fishing line. [Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan]
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