Filming The Madfin Shark Series

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For those anglers who, like me, love to watch fishing on TV, the Mad Fin is possibly the best thing going.

This catch-and-release shark Tournament

has gained great recognition in recent years, and appeals to a wide audience of viewers.  Sharks in themselves are mysterious: threatening, dangerous, incredibly powerful.  They make for some seriously exciting TV.  NatGeo and Discovery have their own versions of Shark Week which play into viewers’ fear by depicting these animals as ferocious.  No doubt sharks can be tough customers, but in my experience, they are no different than any other predatory species.  Their survival requires them to use their genetic strengths to survive. [pull_quote_center]The Mad Fin pits the genetic gifts of sharks against the skill of anglers, and showcases the talents of both.[/pull_quote_center]

The Mad Fin, depending on the year, is made up of 4 to 6 teams.  Teams consist of qualified anglers who have spent countless hours on the water in pursuit of both sharks and other game fish.  Though sharks can be incredibly dangerous for anglers to handle, the Mad Fin serves to show a TV audience how proper technique and handling can make the shark as straightforward to release and any other fish species.  I have been fortunate enough to fish in 5 different Mad Fins, and I’m proud of my first and second place finishes.  I’m equally proud that in every case, all hooks were removed and all sharks were released successfully and without harm to either fish or fisherman. There are, of course, multiple shark species, but the Mad Fin targets Lemon sharks, Black Tip sharks, Bull sharks, Hammerheads and Tiger sharks primarily.

Over the years, there have been some unbelievable catches.

A few years back, Steve Rodgers and his team Spear One, released 3 Hammerheads on the final day of the tourney to win the Mad Fin.  There have been sharks up to 12 feet in length caught and released.  Bow Johnson and his teammate Deidra have caught and released more Bull sharks than any team in all of the Mad Fins combined.  Tony Murphy was such a skilled shark angler that he won the first 3 Mad Fins.

My first Mad Fin victory came while fishing with RT, aka Robert Troset, the king of Key West.

This year, I was replacing RT with my wife Heidi,

as all the teams were made up of couples.  Teammates were required to alternate on fish catches as well as hook removal and releases.  I had plenty of faith in Heidi’s ability, and plenty of faith in Key West, where the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic meet.  The richness of these waters makes this an incredible sharky place.  I was confident that Heidi and I could repeat history, and take the tourney.

[quote_box_right] MADFIN TOURNAMENT

  • 3 – Day Event
  • primary species include lemon, bull, blacktip, hammerhead, tiger
  • Teams allowed 3 of each species
  • Bonus points for hook removal, fly fishing, and hand lining

[/quote_box_right] The Mad Fin is a 3-day event.  Each team is allowed to catch 3 sharks of each species, one of which, for bonus points, can be caught on fly, lure or hand line.  Bonus points are also awarded for every shark from which the hook is safely removed.  After 3 of a species are caught, anglers are required to target another species, which typically means moving to a new location.  For this reason, contending anglers are rewarded for having a very good knowledge of the local waters and tides. For the competition, SeaVee Boats provided me with a 39Z, their new step hull.  With a boat of this size, my plan was to spend the entire tournament offshore in search of Tigers and Hammerheads, which are the highest-point sharks.  Unfortunately the seas were too rough for this plan to work out, and the weather did not cooperate. Heidi and I changed our game plan and decided to fish the flats and near-shore wrecks.

[pull_quote_center]With a boat of this size, my plan was to spend the entire tournament offshore in search of Tigers and Hammerheads, which are the highest-point sharks.[/pull_quote_center]Mad Fin06

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Madfin grabs07Day 1 we caught all 3 Lemons, all 3 Black Tips, and received bonus points for removing hooks from all catches.

Heidi hand-lined her first shark, which was a Lemon, for added points.  As we were planning our 3rd move to the Bull shark hotspot, the National Weather Advisory sent out a marine advisory, demanding that we “seek shelter immediately!” In our near future, there would be winds gusting to 50, heavy rains, lightning and thunder.

The Mad Fin was called early that day, and all anglers were asked to return to the docks. Day 2 was much of the same for us.  We had a little bit of trouble with the tides, and it took us longer than we’d hoped to catch our sharks.  We ran out of time and didn’t make it to our Bull shark spot.

[pull_quote_left]the National Weather Advisory sent out a marine advisory, demanding that we “seek shelter immediately!”[/pull_quote_left]

Listening to Bo reporting his bull sharks, and hearing that Steven Impalomeni was hooked up to a huge hammerhead, we knew we were in trouble. By the end of day 2, we did not know anyone’s score, but it was feeling like the standings were pretty close.

As we moved into Day 3, Heidi and I realized that if we were going to win, we had to change our game plan.

Our Lemon shark spot, which had been very consistent, did not have suitable tides for the early morning.  We assumed that if we could get to our Black Tip spot fast enough, we would still have an hour of the outgoing tide.  After anchoring up and getting our chum in the water, we start to catch a few small sharks.  Unfortunately, they were all under 5 ft and did not count.  We were running out of tide, which would be slack quite soon.  We had to get those fish fired up. [pull_quote_center]We were running out of tide, which would be slack quite soon.  We had to get those fish fired up.[/pull_quote_center] Heidi started catching some smaller jacks in the area, which got the bigger Balck Tips excited.   The plan was to use those jacks as live bait for our Bull sharks later.  But the excitement of the jacks must have triggered something, because all of a sudden we were on to a big one.  This Balck Tip was over 5 ft, and it was the first one caught for the day, which afforded us bonus points.  Soon after, we lost the tide, and had no more bites.  We decided to run further west to some of the shallow wrecks to find our Bull sharks.

Madfin grabs03

At the first wreck, which had always been productive,Madfin grabs02

we found Bo and Deidra.  We ran a couple more miles to the next wreck, quickly set up our chum line, but due to a poor tide we were not feeling terribly optimistic.  We were not seeing any sharks swimming, so we put one bait on the bottom and immediately got a big bite.  As Heidi was fighting the fish, I quickly realized it was not shark, but some other very big fish.  It turned out to be a Goliath Grouper that puts us in the wreck.  We had to make something happen, so I rigged one of the live jacks, put a small slice in its side, and drifted it back 100 yards or so. Sometimes Bull sharks can be very leery of the boat, especially if there has been a lot of pressure in the area.

[pull_quote_center]We had to make something happen, so I rigged one of the live jacks, put a small slice in its side, and drifted it back 100 yards or so.[/pull_quote_center]

It wasn’t long before Heidi noticed two dark shapes coming toward the bait.

She picked up the rod and fed the shark perfectly.  She was now hooked up to a beast of a Bull shark.  After a 30 min. fight, we got the shark boat-side, got the hook out, and released it.  But time was ticking away.  We had not seen the other shark again, but we figured that if the live bait tactic worked once, it would work again. Madfin grabs04 We sent another jack out long.  The pressure was building; we needed another Bull shark. Mad Fin03We did not see the shark before it ate.  I quickly grabbed the rod.  Heidi dropped the anchor line, drove and maneuvered the boat while I fought the fish. We landed and released it.  At that point we had just over an hour before lines-out.  We were forced to decide whether to stay and try for another Bull shark, or leave to look for our Lemons. Heidi convinced me to make the run and try for the Lemons.

If we could get all three Lemons, and get hooks out, not to mention a bonus for a hand-line, our total points would put us in a far better position than we’d get from landing one more Bull shark.  We took the chance and hammered down the SeaVee to make the run.  By the time we get to our spot, we only had 30 minutes to fish.  We got a lot of chum on the water, but still had weak tides; the sharks were not showing up.  With 20 minutes left we had 2 sharks show.  Heidi hooked up, we landed the Lemon, and got the hook out for the release.  I hand-lined the next shark.  We got the release.  We still had a few more sharks behind the boat, but they were not eating very well.  Less than 10 minutes remained, and it was all up to Heidi.   She hooked a shark, but while she was playing it she kept saying it was less than 5 ft.  We got it to the boat and I realized she was right, but just barely; we taped it at 4’10”.  After releasing that shark there were only 3 minutes remaining.  Heidi picked up a spinning rod with a Stella reel on it and threw it back as far as she could.  We got the call on the radio – 1 minute left.

The cameras were rolling, the sharks were there, the tension was building…

 and Heidi gets bit!

She hooked the fish.  This was the shark that could win it for us.  She knew this was the one, and played him carefully so as not to pull the hook.  We got the shark to the boat and realized it might not be 5’.  I pulled the shark up on the gunwale for a measurement.  He was 5’2”!  In that last minute, Bow Johnson called in a hook-up as well.  I was freaking out.  I knew it was going to be close.  I also knew that no matter what, this was the best Mad Fin I had ever fished, and this was the best partner I had ever teamed up with. When Heidi and I got back for the awards ceremony, we were really not sure where we were going to end up in the standings.  We knew we’d done well, but Bow and Deidra could have easily pulled ahead.  The announcers awarded the 4th place team, and then 3rd place team, and then it was down to Bow and Deidra and Heidi and I. The announcers awarded 2nd place… to Bow and Deidra, and there it was…

Heidi and I had won the 2014 Mad Fin Shark series!!

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