Anglers at Gulf State Park Pier who expressed frustration after reeling in pieces of desired fish species that had been attacked by sharks have gained some relief.
The Alabama State Parks System managers instituted a pilot program to allow a limited number of anglers to fish for sharks on the octagon end of the pier on consecutive Tuesday nights recently.
The first night was relatively slow as several sharks were hooked but only one undersized (minimum of 54 inches fork length) fish was landed. The shark was released back into the water.
The action on the second Tuesday night and the overwhelming interest of anglers and spectators prompted Parks officials to expand the shark-fishing opportunities in July. Numerous sharks were hooked last Tuesday, and a 130-pound spinner shark was hauled onto the 1,540-foot pier.
The next chances to fish for sharks on the pier will take place on the south end from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. the following morning on Sunday and Tuesday nights on July 8, 10, 15, 17, 22, 24, 29 and 31. The previous shark-fishing times had been 8 p.m. to midnight. Parks officials realized anglers had a great deal of success just as the sun was setting and decided to start the fishing an hour earlier. Anglers said the sharks were causing problems at daybreak as well.
To accommodate the shark anglers, the octagon will close to routine use 30 minutes prior to these events and reopen to routine use 30 minutes following. During the events, the octagon area of the pier will be reserved for the exclusive use of participating anglers and their designated assistants. Other anglers and pier guests can use the remainder of the pier as usual.
Another adjustment by Parks officials is an increase in the number of anglers allowed and a decrease in the number of assistants. In the last session, 10 anglers were designated to fish, and they were allowed two assistants each. Anglers were also allowed to use two rods.
During the July shark-fishing events, 15 anglers will be allowed to fish per occasion with only one rod and reel per angler in use. Each angler may have one assistant. A maximum of 30 individuals will be allowed on the octagon area during each event. Anglers are encouraged to assist each other while fishing.
Anglers are required to provide their own gear. Larger reels are allowed during the shark event. Other pier rules regarding equipment will remain in effect.
The husband-wife duo of Melvin and Kayci Dixon of Gulf Shores teamed up to hook and fight the only shark landed during the second Tuesday. Kayci, who is six months pregnant, had a live bluefish for bait when she hooked the fish. She soon handed the rod and reel to her husband. Melvin fought it until other anglers and assistants were able to get snatch hooks into the shark to laboriously lift the fish over the railing and onto the pier deck.
“She fought it about five minutes and then handed the rod to me,” Melvin said. “When she first hooked up, I didn’t think he was that big. When he was way out there I didn’t think it was much and we were going to have to break him off. But when he got within 100 yards of the pier, it changed. It ended up being 70½ inches long.
“Luckily, there were some great guys out here who jumped in to get the fish over the rail. Everybody worked well together to get it. It was great team spirit.”
When the shark comes over the rail is when those on the octagon must be most careful, as Lamar Pendergrass, State Parks Regional Manager, told the anglers before the start of the event.
“Our biggest concern is safety once a shark is brought up on the pier,” Pendergrass said. “Everybody needs to stay clear of the shark until it is identified and dispatched if it is a legal shark.”
Also on that second Tuesday, Stephanie Langston of Foley, a regular at the pier along with her husband, hooked but lost a shark that went under the pier, cutting the line on the sharp barnacles. And the brother-sister team of Grayson and Greta Graves both had sharks on during the night but, like Langston’s, both fish escaped when the fishing line snapped at the pier.
Pendergrass and other Parks officials said it is too early to tell how the pilot program will affect the sharks’ impact on pier anglers.
Several sharks that make the northern Gulf of Mexico home are protected, and the Alabama Marine Resources Division had officers on hand to help identify the species. When the Dixons’ shark was hauled onto the deck, it was thought to be a black-tipped shark. Marine Resources officials used a shark identification chart to identify it as a spinner shark because, paradoxically, the spinner shark’s anal fin has a black tip, while the black tip has a white anal fin.
Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein said he’s not really surprised by the interest in shark fishing, which had previously been prohibited on the pier.
“We’ve been hearing for a while that people wanted the opportunity to catch sharks out here,” Lein said. “What has surprised me is the diversity of interest. There are some people who want to catch sharks to eat them. There are some people who just want to hook one for the sport of having a shark on the line. Others want to catch sharks to remove them because they think there are too many sharks around the pier.”
Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship added, “The number of spectators crowding the pier to watch these events has been interesting. On both nights we had hundreds of people who came out to the pier to see what would be caught. At one point on Fox 10 Facebook Live there were over 880 people watching the first night. Sharks are fascinating creatures, as evidenced by the participation and the crowds. That is why the Discovery Channel has a whole week of programming dedicated to sharks every July.”
This year, Gulf State Park Naturalist Kelly Reetz is partnering with the Alabama Marine Resources Division and state universities to provide hands-on educational information and activities during Shark Week July 23-27. More information can be found here.
Lein said after monitoring the shark-fishing events in July, the State Parks staff will evaluate the program and determine whether to extend the fishing for upcoming months.
Registration for the shark-fishing events continues. Anglers are selected in the order in which applications are received. To register for the special events, visit www.alapark.com/shark-fishing. Applicants are required to provide contact information for notification of selection. Those chosen will be notified a week or more in advance of their designated fishing date.
Visit here for the latest information on shark-fishing and other pier events.
David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.