RUSKIN - Perhaps you’ve heard of the area known as a warming hole for manatees.
The Apollo Power Plant in Ruskin, marked by billowing smoke that churns over Tampa Bay, provides warmer water for species such as manatees, which typically gather by the hundreds near the plant for the winter.
But Capt. Ric Liles of REEL Simple Fishing Charters showed me that some smaller shark also inhabit a flat extending just beyond the power plant.
Along with Capt. T.J. Stewart of Cast Away Charters out of Palmetto, we fished an area where the bottom turns into a giant bowl. And it invites tons of bonnethead shark, which look like small hammerhead shark and are a fleshy mass of fighting fury. (Bonnethead shark are a member of the hammerhead shark genus.)
Typically, shark fishermen use heavy spinning rods, large hooks and butterflies of Spanish mackerel, ladyfish or other oily fish, as well as giant chunk of cut meat.
But Liles rigged with light tackle, including lightweight spinning outfits, 10-pound braided line and 25-pound fluorocarbon leaders and live shrimp on jigs or small "J" style hooks with split shots.
“I tell people, when they come out here they’re not going to catch a giant hammerhead and be on the cover of a shark magazine,” Liles said.
But on light tackle, the bonnethead will sure peel line, as many did on an overcast morning in which 30 mph winds shook the bay.
Bonnethead shark are rare in New England, but also range from the Gulf of Mexico and Brazil to south of California and Equador. Bonnethead are constantly moving to follow fluctuating water temperatures to maintain respiration.
According to Wikipedia, a bonnethead will sink if it does not keep moving because hammerheads are among the least buoyant of marine vertebrates.
The shark is said to not be a danger to humans, unlike the aggressive bull shark. Indeed, most shark are not as dangerous as the “Jaws” movie series portrayed them (those were great white sharks). But sharks are simply more dangerous the larger they are.
The bonnetheads we caught were as large as 3 feet long.
Bonnetheads are available by the power plant this winter, and in areas around Dunedin, Clearwater, St. Pete and Safety Harbor. Click here to find a shark fishing charter near Dunedin.
The spring and summer months can be prime for anglers to anchor in the open waters of Tampa Bay and drop a butterflied bait out of the back of the boat. It’s not uncommon for some monster blacktip or hammerheads to come.
But anglers must bring a shark in the boat with extreme caution. The shark must be either released by the side of the boat, or, if it's to be kept (blacktips are great eating, although not a healthy option), killed immediately. Sharks will thrash on the boat floor and, as one might assume, will bite a human if an arm, foot or finger is within range.