I think at some point during our time kayak fishing, there comes a moment that triggers a miniature heart attack for every kayak fisherman, especially those who are new to the sport. Whether it be a small thud on the bottom of the yak, the shadow or silhouette of a piece of structure in dirty water, hell even a dolphin popping his head up within close proximity to the kayak. We’ve all been there and know exactly what I’m talking about. Those dreaded shark encounters.
Now for the most part it is a completely irrational fear, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that there is some primal instinct that kicks in and triggers our bowels to pass uncontrollably. This is a story of a trip a mate and I made into Southern Moreton Bay where this very encounter happened.
It all started with my friend Matt Hall asking me about targeting snapper from a kayak and whether it was possible for me to put him onto some. I told him about a few little patches of broken up gravel and reef where they could be caught and arranged a date to take him out as this was his first time ever fishing in a kayak. Looking back now I probably should have taken him somewhere a little more beginner friendly, however, the forecast was looking perfect and he was pumped to get his first snapper on lure.
The morning of the expedition began with the typical ‘hype’ talk us anglers often have before a trip, but I could detect a hint of hesitation in Matt’s voice. I thought it would just be nerves as this wasn’t exactly an easy trip to make your first time out in a kayak. I reassured him that everything was going to be fine and that we couldn’t have asked for better conditions. That’s when he asked the question I was hoping he wouldn’t ask. “Do you reckon we will see any sharks out there?”
Now for those familiar with Moreton Bay, you will know that there are some monster bull sharks out there and that they are actually quite a common sight. I gently said to Matt that there’s a possibility that we would, but they won’t be too big. If he had of known what was to come, I don’t think he would have made the journey out to the reef with me.
We set off bound for Canaipa point on the tip of Russell Island. The tide was with us, the wind was down, and boat traffic was minimal, a perfect day on the water. We began to chat as we paddled our way to the point and again we broached the subject of bull sharks. Matt asked me to be honest with him and tell him about some of the encounters I have had in the past whilst fishing out there. I told him of the small reef sharks that often jumped out of the water, and the few times I had been bitten off by small sharks I had hooked, but he didn’t seem convinced about his safety in the kayak. He continued to bring up a video he had seen about large bull sharks following crabbing boats and eating the scraps they tossed overboard. I bit my tongue for a moment, then proceeded to tell him whilst they are out there it was highly unlikely we would come across any.
I should have bit my tongue for maybe an extra 10 seconds, for no sooner than I had finished saying that sentence a large bull shark in the range of 7 feet long breached the surface between Matt and I, splashing water into both our yaks. Now to Matt’s credit he dealt with this very well. He only squealed like a girl as loud as he physically could, and high tailed it for shallow water. I only spent about 15 minutes trying to convince him to come out of the shallows as our destination was no more than 50 meters away.
He reluctantly paddled out with me, ensuring I was no more than a few meters away at all times. We began fishing and no more than 5 minutes into the session what should happen? A reef shark around 5 feet long jumped out of the water about 10 meters away from Matt. The panic set in again and he paddled straight over toward me with the mindset of safety in numbers. Again we continued to fish only this time he stayed much closer to me, which in fact played to his advantage as he scored himself a nice 48cm snapper on a small plastic. Once he had accomplished this it was like a light had switched on in him. He suddenly lost interest in the sharks and was keenly set on landing another snapper. He ended up landing 3 to my zero and saw a total of 8 sharks breach across the 2 hours we were out. To this day we still talk about his first encounter with that big bull shark but the topic quickly changes to how he out fished me that morning. Matt came out with me several times after this trip and never once showed any sign of fear towards the sharks, which just goes to show how keen an angler he was, once he got a taste for the sport. He even once broached the idea of targeting bull sharks from the kayak to me; however I politely declined, for I have a great respect for sharks but do not want one in my kayak.
To this day I still see lots of sharks in the kayak. It just comes with territory.
If you spend a lot of time fishing canals and up the backs of rivers, it’s only a matter of time before you have your first encounter. Keep in mind they are very curious creatures and will often come right up to a kayak for a closer look. A gentle nudge with a paddle will convince most sharks to move on, but remaining calm is key. Splashing around and running for shallow water simulates a prey item in distress and will likely cause the shark to become more interested in you. Remain calm, let the shark scope you out and let them move on. You will find them to be very interesting critters when you sit back and just watch.
And above all else, don’t let an irrational fear ruin a sport you love.