KEY WEST, Fla. - Sharks were made to be feared, at the least respected. That just comes with the territory for a sleek, voracious predator with a mouth full of teeth.
For a group of salt-water anglers in Key West, Florida, though, they are the center of a returning popular sport - the Mad Fin Shark Series, a made-for-television fishing competition set to air on Outdoor Channel. And their hands will be right down near those dangerous teeth.
Scheduled to debut in April 2011, and then run seven consecutive weeks, the Madfin Shark Series is a new look at shark angling with a completely different approach. Shark tournaments are nothing new. Most are catch-and-kill affairs with big cumbersome sharks at the center of the fray, putting up a monumental battle that ends with a club to the head.
The Madfin Shark Series captures that excitement but adds a twist. This one is a catch-and-release tournament, where anglers are not only judged by their skill at hooking up with a mountain of flesh and teeth, but also with their skill of bringing the fish to the side of the boat and plucking the hook from those teeth and letting it go to fight another day.
“When we came up with the idea for the Madfin Shark Series, we knew that these fish provide a lot of sport and danger,’’ said Tim Schick, producer of the event. “Our biggest goal was to force the competitors to let every single shark caught swim away freely in order to count; not only that, but with the hook removed. We knew this was not only the right thing to do, but would add a lot of drama right beside the boat in front of our cameras.”
That’s where the twist of the Madfin Shark Series comes in. That hook removal that is so easy for trout and bass anglers, but a completely different set of circumstances with a 200 or 400-pound shark bent on eating whatever is front of it.
“When you get a shark on the end of your line and close to you, he’s angry," said Steve Rodger, a competitor in the event captaining the Spear One boat. “And when he’s angry he wants to bite something, and that something is you.”
While no angler in the Mad Fin Shark Series has been bitten (seriously,) there were a few sides of boats and tail gaffs that were munched on during previous events. The practice of removing the hook just added another factor, but it was the skill of the competitors that added the backbone of the tournament series.
It doesn’t boil down to hooking up and landing just one big fish. These events see close to 100 sharks hooked and released, all of them measuring at least 5-feet in length in order to count, with some tripling that size. A three shark per species limit adds even more strategy, forcing captains to move to different areas to target different sharks.
The event is made up of eight saltwater Captains, split into four two-man teams and for the most part fishing out of light-tackle, inshore boats on shallow grass flats more suited for redfish anglers.
The shallow, clear water and big sharks provide a visual aspect to the event never seen before in shark events, especially from the ever pervasive helicopter cameras watching from the skies.
The competition is based on a simple concept. Points are awarded for the first shark caught, the most sharks caught and the biggest shark. Within that point system, each species of shark has its own set of points equaling its difficulty and danger to capture.
For instance: A Lemon Shark is worth 100 points to catch and release, with another 100 to remove the hook. A Bull Shark or a Blacktip is a little more difficult to catch, and so is worth 200 points with another 200 for removal of the hook. A Hammerhead shark is most difficult to catch, and thus is worth 1000 points with 500 bonus points for removing the hook. And so on…
To make it more interesting, a Nurse Shark, one of the most sluggish and prevalent species in the Keys, is a 300 point penalty, and is to be avoided at all costs. Removing the hook is worth 300 points, so if this is accomplished, the team breaks even.
Under this year’s format, the four teams will fish Day 1 and Day 2, and then one of the four will be eliminated. The remaining three teams will fish Day 3 with the points being reset to zero to see who will be crowned the 2011 Madfin Shark Series Champions.