Great white shark encounter stuns fishermen on Florida charter boat

Ed Killer
Treasure Coast

"You're gonna need a bigger boat." — Sheriff Brody to Capt. Quint in the movie "Jaws" (1975)

This great white shark, estimated at 14 feet, was briefly hooked Dec. 19, 2016, by angler Craig Shaffer fishing with a snapper rig aboard Canaveral Princess party boat. The shark was released unharmed.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Sometimes, even when aboard a 54-foot sportfishing vessel, men can feel as if they need to be on a bigger boat. One such time is when a shark nearly half as long as the boat is long, and more than half its width, is swimming alongside.   

Peter Roman, of Pittsburgh, and brother-in-law Crispin Smith, of Jensen Beach, Fla., booked Capt. Glenn Cameron and his crew of Floridian fishing charters a week before Christmas with the hopes of catching a sailfish or two and maybe a mahi mahi for the dinner table. What they got instead was a whole lot more.

"We wound up catching and releasing five sailfish — two double-headers and a single — six mahi mahi, several bonito and a skipjack tuna, all in about five hours of fishing time," said Roman, who spends part of each winter in Martin County. "I've fished all around the world, and I'd say Capt. Cameron and his crew are one of the best crews I've ever fished with."

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Roman is in the midst of his quest to record a Billfish Royal Slam, a feat recognized by the International Game Fish Association when an angler catches nine species of billfish around the world. So far, Roman has recorded six off the nine species and still needs to catch a spearfish, swordfish and an Atlantic blue marlin to finish the achievement.

What Roman and Smith got was a close encounter with a great white shark they will never forget.

"It wasn't small," said Cameron, who hasn't seen a great white shark since he was cobia fishing off Sebastian Inlet decades ago.

Peter Roman of Pittsburgh, mate Matt Driscoll, Capt. Glenn Cameron, Crispin Smith of Jensen Beach, and mate J.J. Davidson, aboard Floridian charters at Sailfish Marina in Stuart, caught and released five sailfish Dec. 18, 2017 and saw a huge great white shark.

Cameron said they were fishing in about 140 feet of water northeast of St. Lucie Inlet where they had their sailfish action. While trolling, Cameron saw about a mile away a large dorsal fin protruding from the surface of the calm sea. He knew if he could see it from that distance it had to be big, and it had to belong to a big shark.

"I assumed it was a big hammerhead shark because the dorsal was so big," Cameron said. "I figured it had to be about as high as my chest."

He steered the boat in that direction and slowly trolled towards it. As his orange-hulled 54-foot long boat neared the big fin, Cameron expected to see it drop out of sight, as most sea creatures sunning on the surface do when they are spooked.

But not this shark.

"When I looked down from the bridge, I said 'Holy crap! It's a great white!'" Cameron said. "It had to be 18-20 feet long. When it's tail was about even with my stern, the pointed head was up even with the middle of the salon. And it's width was probably three-quarters of the width of my boat's cockpit. It was probably 2,000 pounds. It didn't even care that we were there. It just kind of looked up at us with that big black eye."

It didn't stick around very long.

"It was just meandering along, and the dorsal was about 40 inches out of the water," said Roman. "I was astonished. I've fished offshore of Australia and have never seen a great white shark before. As it descended in the water, it looked a mini-submarine."

Although this group's great white shark sighting took place two weeks ago, it isn't the only evidence of great whites being back in Florida waters. Two satellite-tagged great white sharks, Miss Costa and Savannah, have been swimming near Florida's coast for the past couple of weeks, too. OCEARCH, the great white shark research group that tagged the sharks, has the positions of the two sharks' most recent "pings" on its website. Miss Costa has been pinging off the coast of Tampa Bay this week. Savannah most recently pinged off Cape Canaveral. Even celebrity shark Katharine has been pinging actively near seamounts off the coast of Bermuda this week.

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Last January, Vero Beach scuba divers Corey Embree and Joe Schoettle and others were able to get underwater video and photos of a great white shark off Jupiter during a shark dive. Occasionally divers will see one as they are spearfishing, and usually the shark can measure between 10 and 15 feet long, which is bigger than most of the sharks that generally frequent South Florida waters.

Roman said he and Smith enjoyed the best day of sailfishing in 30 years of fishing. But the shark encounter will be a tale they tell and retell for years to come.

Follow Ed Killer on Twitter: @TCPalmEKiller