When Jake Freeman saw a couple of the jugs he had just set out in the Copasaw Canal take off late one afternoon last month, he was expecting some really nice catfish on the other end of the lines.
“When we got up to it and started pulling up, I said, ‘Get the net.’ It felt like a big 40- or 50-pound cat at first,” said Freeman, of Houma. “I pulled it up, and what a surprise.”
Freeman, who was fishing with his friend Johnathan Savoie in Terrebonne Parish near Bayou Black, said he pulled up a big blacktip shark, and the duo would catch two more within the hour.
“The first one you think, ‘Well, it’s just getting around,’” Freeman said. “Then we caught another one and it was like, ‘Dude, this is crazy.’
“Then we caught the third one, and it was like, ‘What! Something’s going on here.’”
The sharks were all more than 3 feet long, and one went about 4 ½ feet, he said.
“Bob’s Marina has some pictures of some bull sharks caught back in there and we’ve always heard of that because Dularge isn’t too far of a run from there,” he said. “But blacktip sharks, that’s taking it to the next level you know.”
Freeman was jugging in the Copasaw, right across from the Bluebird Canal, and the two men had put in at Bob’s, he said.
He thought perhaps the persistent south wind had pushed enough salt water deep to make the sharks feel right at home.
“We’ve caught redfish on jug lines and we catch sea cats all the time on jug lines right there,” he said. “But in the same process, you can cast a line right there and catch bass and perch, so it can’t be too salty.
“The water’s real high and the wind might have pushed that saltwater in further and they just came in with it. Those sharks tore up our lines — there must have been a bunch of them out there.”
Freeman said he was using 400-pound crab line with No. 5 wide gap hooks.
“We had so many popped lines,” he said. “I catch 4- to 5-foot alligator gars on them and never have any trouble.”
Jason Adriance, finfish program manager with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said he couldn’t positively identify the sharks from the photos, but suspected they were either bulls or blacktips.
“Blacktips could be in the estuary. That or a bull shark,” Adriance said. “Without knowing the salinity and the conditions, it’s hard to say what it would be right there.
“Bull sharks can tolerate freshwater more so. They’ve branched all the way up into Illinois.”
Despite the run-in with the sharks, the guys enjoyed a successful jugging trip and caught several nice catfish, including three that went 20 to 30 pounds, Freeman said.
“It wasn’t a bad night for catfish,” he said. “But we got tired of retying those lines.”