Cape Coral and Southwest Florida Feature Stories

Sharks on Sanibel Island Beaches

Sharks on Sanibel Island

Selachophobia is the clinical word for it.  The terror induced in the presence of an animal that's existed on this planet for over four-hundred million years.  A cold, sterilized word describing one of the human race's deepest rooted fears...the fear of sharks. 

To most people the image of a large shark awakens an ancient and primal fear, one which evolutionary psychologists theorize is hard-wired into our brains, a gift from our primordial relatives and all their offspring.  During the infancy of our species the fear of sharks worked as an adaptive measure to help keep human beings alive, allowing them to pass on their genes to the next generation.  Those coastal dwellers without a healthy fear of sharks were more apt to die off as victims of shark attacks.  Thus, the fear of sharks was reinforced within the haze of passing centuries, and still exists within many of us today.


Statistics from the International Shark Attack File, housed at U.F.'s Florida Museum of Natural History, help keep the reality of shark attacks in perspective.  According to their data, the number of worldwide unprovoked shark attacks in 2007 was seventy-one.  The only casualty resulting from those attacks was a swimmer vacationing in the South Pacific.

George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File, focuses his blame for our fears on other culprits.

It’s quite spectacular that for the hundreds of millions of people worldwide spending hundreds of millions of hours in the water in activities that are often very provocative to sharks, such as surfing, there is only one incident resulting in a fatality.  The danger of a shark attack stays in the forefront of our psyches because of it being drilled into our brain for the last 30 years by the popular media, movies, books and television, but in reality the chances of dying from one are infinitesimal.

That being said, Florida is considered the world leader when it comes to the location of shark attacks.  Thirty-two of the seventy-one attacks in 2007 occurred on Florida shores.

Perhaps that explains the small furor which recently erupted at the popular online message board forum on  A newcomer, by the name of Doug Schallmoser, signed up and posted some pictures of himself with a big hammerhead shark he caught while fishing off a beach on Sanibel Island.  The images posted made some of the forum regulars uneasy.  Many of the individuals who commented on the images accused them of being fake and Photoshopped, until video footage of Schallmoser releasing the hammerhead shark surfaced verifying the authenticity of the earlier images.

The gut reaction of the shark-doubters is understandable.  The website is a haven for tourists, hungry for their next one week stay on our tropical coastlines.  They've got countdown clocks measuring the number of days left until their next visit.  They trade shell collecting tips, read restaurant reviews, research the best lodging opportunities available on the islands, and fantasize over the beach images frequently posted by other travelers.

Hammerhead Shark Caught in May 2008

Tourists don't want to know they're sharing our beautiful beaches with ten-foot sharks.  But that's exactly what they're doing.  ChrisR, one of the members at, said it best, "My husband (who grew up on the water in Pinellas County) looked at the picures and said, 'So what.  If you've been in the water in Florida, you've been that close to that big a shark.'"

After Schallmoser's images made their impact, I had a chance to do a short question and answer session with him on the topic of shorebound shark fishing in Southwest Florida.  Here's what he had to say:

Would you please introduce yourself to my readers?

My name is Doug Schallmoser and I am originally from a Wheeling, IL, a suburb outside of Chicago. My family and I moved down to Cape Coral in 2000 to get away from the cold weather. Currently I am studying Environmental Engineering at Florida Gulf Coast University, and in the meantime have been working at a local moving company.

Your hammerhead shark images got quite a bit of attention on the forums.

I just wanted to share my experience with the Sanibel forum so they could see this amazing creature I caught.

Many people on the forum thought the images were fake.

I think everyone reacted out of fear, it's just the nature of human beings. The "transparency" people were referring to was a result of using the flash on the camera which sets the shutter speed automatically to 1/200th, and with the low light it actually created that motion blur, or "transparency" as some have called it.  If anyone still questions the photographs, I've got plenty of high resolution photos and video clips I'm sure will change their mind.

How did you become interested in shark fishing?

A couple of our friends showed us a few pictures of sharks they caught recently and it very much intrigued us. We started to research online by visiting various forums and reading articles about the sport of shorebound shark fishing.

6 foot Bull Shark Caught in April 2008

How many different types of sharks are you able to catch in the local waters?

There are 7 common species of shark that can be caught in southwest Florida. Lemon, Bull, Sandbar, Blacktip, Atlantic Sharpnose, Hammerhead, and Nurse. The most common are the blacktip, lemon, and bull. Some species are only around during certain times of the year like the Sandbar shark which is more of a winter fish.

What type of gear do you use - what test line - what type of bait - what is the shark fishing process?

Most of the time we are targeting large sharks so we use heavy gear. Penn Senators in the 6/0-12/0 range are ideal. I personally use a 12/0 which holds near 1000 yards of 100# monofilament. I used to use a 9/0 until last year when one shark we hooked took all 600 yards of line.  Our bait arsenal consists of anything we can catch locally. Jack crevalle, stingray, ladyfish, spanish mackerel, bluefish, etc. My favorite bait is half of an 8 pound jack.  The process is rather very simple, but it does take some work. Carrying all of our gear from the parking lots to the beaches is the hardest part, heh. Once we set up and rig everything up, we place the rod in the sand spike and place the bait in the back of the kayak. Then somebody paddles the bait out anywhere from 125-300 yards out and drops the bait into the deeper water. After the paddler comes back to the beach we sit in our beach chairs and wait for the clicker of the reel to make a loud scream!

Ever have any injuries occur as the result of shark fishing?

No injuries, just a few bruises, scratches/scrapes, and exhaustion.

6 Foot 9 Inch Bull Shark = April 2008

From the videos you post it seems like a competitive sport (shark fishing), are there lots of others out there doing the same thing and posting images/videos for bragging rights?

There are quite a few people that do it but for the most part if you setup on a beach you will be the only people targeting sharks.

Have you ever experienced any interesting interactions from onlookers as you fished for or caught a shark.

We are usually approached by numerous tourists that simply don't believe there are sharks near the beaches. Most of the time when we land a shark people are amazed and take pictures. I don't think we ever had any negative comments thrown at us when we're shark fishing.

Are there any specific beaches you target, locally, for sharks.  Why those beaches?

There are sharks on almost every beach in Florida. In southwest Florida, Sanibel is usually more productive than others simply because there is bait, deep water, and is a barrier island closer to nearshore reefs/wrecks.  We've been shark fishing for three years from many different beaches, on Sanibel, Bonita Beach, and Ft. Myers Beach.  We usually fish for sharks from the beaches about once a week during the springtime migration (anywhere from March to June). There are sharks year round but the opportunity for larger and greater numbers comes in these short months.  All the sharks we target are caught, tagged, and released.  Most of the time the hook is removed.

You say you catch them, tag them, remove the hook, and release them.  What exactly is this "tagging" process and why is it done.

Tagging is the process of placing a marker or "tag" that has a number, near the sharks dorsal fin. This process is done so scientists can learn more about these sharks, like migration patterns. The tagging program we are a part of is the NOAA Apex Predators program. Once we place a tag into the shark we fill out a card containing information about the catch.  We need to record the date of catch, length, location, and etc.

You said you fish for shark at night, what hours generally?

We usually like to setup an hour before sunset and fish until about 11pm.

Was that you in the video I saw catching a shark while standing in a kayak?  Seems challenging?

Yes that was me. Fishing kayaks are wider which creates greater stability. Standing up and fighting a shark is easy as long as you have some sort of balance.

How has your view of sharks changed since you began catching them?

Normally, the sharks we catch are pretty docile once we land them. We're able to remove the hook without a fight from the shark, which is always helpful.

Any quick advice for someone who'd like to get involved in the sport?

Always go in a group. Use fresh bait. If you don't have long pliers to retrieve the hook, just cut the leader as close to the hook as possible.

8 Foot 3 Inch Lemon Shark - March 2008

Are you afraid of sharks?  Were you ever afraid of sharks?  Do you ever think about sharks as a threat when you're swimming in the ocean?  Any concerns about being bit?

I don't swim in the ocean, but that's not because the sharks are there.

In your opinion, are there any dangerous sharks in the local waters.  Which species does the average swimmer need to be concerned about?

The 5-6' bull sharks have been known to nip at a leg once in a while. They are not after people, most of the shark attacks you hear about are because the person was swimming in a school of bait or in murky water which can limit the shark's visibility.

Is there any other information you would like to see included in this article?

The sport has grown in recent years but it is important to know that the coastal shark population has indeed been decreasing over the years. It is now more important than ever to be responsible when targeting sharks. If you are fishing for dinner, stick with fish, sharks are not worth destroying for a meal.

--writing by Eric Taubert

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