Editor's Note: Louisiana Sportsman was contacted by Rob Heffner, park ranger at the Bonnet Carré Spillway with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, after this story was posted. The possession of a firearm is only allowed in accordance with the Spillway's hunting regulations, which are available here. The decision was made to leave this story up to educate the public on the Bonnet Carré rules and regulations.
Earlier this summer, I went on a fishing adventure that turned out much different than originally planned — when I came within inches of a monster bull shark’s jaws. The trip also produced some giant alligator gars, as well with one going around 130 pounds.
The Mississippi River was high in June, and flowing out of the Bonnet Carré locks toward Lake Pontchartrain. The water must have been close to 100 percent fresh. I figured the current would have the gar feeding well, so my buddy Brian Cifreo and I tossed out gar lines early in the morning using whole perch and mullet on my custom-made gar noodle lines. (Here’s my article and video on how to make these strong custom noodles.)
But before we were even finished setting the lines, one of the noodles was slicing through the water at unbelievable speeds — I had never seen a noodle moving so quickly. We fired up the boat and ran down the line, but it wasn’t a big gar that we were pulling into the boat.
Instead, it was a big 6-foot bull shark.
We went to the bank and released the beast back into the waters, totally amazed at seeing one so large where we often swim and spearfish.
To keep a shark it must be in the legal season (July 1– March 31). Also, one must have an offshore permit and HMS Tuna permit for the boat, even for freshwater. However, if one is not using a boat the HMS permit is not required, but I was told the offshore permit is still needed. Also, the shark must have at least a 54-inch fork length to be legal size.
After a three-hour long training run in the midday heat, we returned to check lines with noodles dancing and darting all over the place. We caught six alligator gar, with the biggest one measuring well over 6 feet long.
We had mother-shipped along my tiny 8-foot kayak to have more of a fun workout fighting the hooked fish with a rod and reel to tire them out before unhooking them. Often, I only keep a few garfish and release many to grow bigger. Plus, it’s much easier to unhook a worn down gar.
One noodle had quite the surprise on the end. Brian paddled out and hooked on and encountered another shark – a big shark!
Instantly, he got drug in the kayak for around 20 minutes at nearly the same speed of my bay boat. Then, the bull shark turned and attacked the kayak, popping several of my stability floats connected to the vessel. Brian had to keep lifting his feet out of the water to avoid those razor sharp teeth.
The fish wasn’t wearing down one bit, so I got in the chest deep water and grabbed the rod. With more leverage from a standing position I could work the fish better, but the hooked shark wasn’t the only dangerous obstacle in the water with us.
Several other bull sharks were swimming very close to me, but I had no fear. Some passed between the bank and where I was more than 10 yards into the water. Seeing those dorsal fins of other sharks was a hair-raising spectacle, while the hooked 7-footer was way too close for comfort.
Could these sharks communicate and get the others to attack? I didn’t want to wade in the water long enough to find out, and decided to make a quick dash back to shore.
We wanted to cut the leader as close to the hook as possible so the fish could be released safely, because the hook will soon rust away and completely dissolve.
I stood in the water and attempted to bank the shark, but it had other plans. It turned and attacked me: I jumped as fast as I could onto the bank while letting out a high pitched shriek, but I wasn’t fast enough.
Luckily, its jaws caught hold of a big stick in front of my leg, and it ripped at that log with unbelievable power while I was still in the water. Finally, I was able to get it up on the bank briefly to unhook it, then took a quick picture before we released it.
The video of the day’s events can be found here.
I knew small bull sharks come into the Bonnet Carré area in the late summer when the salt water moves in, but catching large ones in the early summer was quite a surprise. The shark was heavier than the giant gar we landed.
That day we caught and released seven bull sharks and many alligator gars. Battling those sharks in the water and in the kayak gave us thrills we’ll never forget. Witnessing the speed and raw power of a large bull shark gave me a new perspective on how dangerous those creatures really can be.