Best of Hammerhead Show 2015 -Photog Blog: By Jason Stemple

Best of Hammerhead Show

Long before I moved to the coast I had been a big fan of sharks, shark week and anything sharky. I remember reading articles about shark fishing and watching the Saturday morning fishing shows and thinking about how much I wanted to do that. Sharks might not always get their due as sportfish, which is something I never quite understood. We are talking about some of the most powerful fish in the ocean, and let’s not forget that many of them could eat you if they so desired. Don’t get me wrong, I have great respect for all sharks and completely understand that nearly all shark bites are the result of mistaken identity or just as likely, stupid human behavior. But, even armed with all the knowledge and respect in the world, it’s hard to be on the water when a large toothy critter calmly and fearlessly approaches your boat and not have your pulse quicken as you hear the soundtrack from Jaws somewhere in the back of your mind.

When I moved to the coast of South Carolina I quickly bought a few large spinning rods and learned to rig up for sharks. It was pretty easy to catch decent size Bonnetheads, Blacktips and Sandbar sharks but the big guys eluded me. Around that time I watched Tom and Rich on TV battling the monster Hammerhead at the bridge and wanted to do, or at least see something like that in person. It was a few years later that I got the call and began shooting with Saltwater Experience and Into the Blue and would be able to experience truly big sharks and have my first Hammerhead encounter.

An offshore Hammerhead Shark ready for release. Nikon D700, 44mm, f/8, 1/640 sec with Into the Blue

An offshore Hammerhead Shark ready for release. Nikon D700, 44mm, f/8, 1/640 sec with Into the Blue

The first hammerhead I saw, we were shooting offshore of Hawk’s Cay for Into the Blue and while we were running down a sailfish that had peeled off a couple hundred yards of line, a hammerhead chased down the boat and grabbed a bonita that had been left dragging out the back of the boat. I was impressed how they calmly took care of the double, first landing and releasing the sailfish, then bringing the hammerhead boatside for a quick release. It was very cool to get my first look at one in person even if it wasn’t one of the bridge monsters that fatten up on the spring tarpon migration.

A hammerhead that just emerged offshore. Nikon d300s, 200mm, f/5.0, 1/400 sec 

A hammerhead that just emerged offshore. Nikon d300s, 200mm, f/5.0, 1/400 sec 

Over the last couple of years I’ve seen a lot of hammerheads with Into the Blue, they seem to pop up every time we get to “the spot”, but until this year hadn’t seen any while shooting with Saltwater Experience. That changed this spring. We were nearing the end of a long day of great bridge tarpon fishing at Bahia Honda and Tom had hooked a nice one. The tarpon put on an aerial display between the two bridges before taking a turn offshore and dragged us past the old bridge. Tom made relatively quick work of it even though it was a big fish and we were getting out into a little deeper water. They brought it along boatside to remove the hook and get a few quick photos. They kept her in the water, pulling her into the current for a few minutes to revive her before she gave a nice kick off and seemed to swim off back towards the bridges.

The massive hammerhead grabbing the tarpon by the tail with its own tail still under our boat. nikon d300s, 70mm, f/5.0, 1/800 sec Saltwater Experience

The massive hammerhead grabbing the tarpon by the tail with its own tail still under our boat. nikon d300s, 70mm, f/5.0, 1/800 sec Saltwater Experience

A few seconds later, a huge dark form emerged crossing underneath the camera boat. I know better than to shout while we are filming, but couldn’t help it and blurted out “Hammerhead!” It’s massive dorsal crested the surface a few feet from our gunwale and much of its body and tail was still underneath us, past our boat on the other side. As it slid out from underneath us, its size became apparent, as did the silver flash that it was chasing. It appeared to have Tom’s tarpon by the tail and it made the 6 foot tarpon look like a mullet in a redfish’s mouth. It only lasted a second or two and both fish disappeared into the green water.

Hammerhead Shark eating a tarpon at Bahia Honda NIKON D300S, 70MM, F/5.0, 1/800 SEC

Hammerhead Shark eating a tarpon at Bahia Honda NIKON D300S, 70MM, F/5.0, 1/800 SEC

The short sunset ride back to the Bahia Honda boat launch had us all recapping the encounter and guessing the beast’s size- 15ft, 17ft, 18ft? We returned the following day to see if we could hook the massive hammerhead and get it along side for a closer and more controlled look, but it was not to be.

Sunset at Bahia Honda Bridge after the encounter. nikon d800, 35mm, f/5.0, 1/800 sec

Sunset at Bahia Honda Bridge after the encounter. nikon d800, 35mm, f/5.0, 1/800 sec

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