SARASOTA, Fla.- “Shark fishing ... it’s big game hunting in your back yard,” says Brian Martel.
That backyard was in the Gulf of Mexico off Sarasota for Martel, a fisherman and boat captain.
“In the early days it was wide open catch and kill any shark you wanted," he says. "There was a large population, then we don’t have that now. It's starting to come back.”
The shark population started rebounding once the laws changed, but until then Martel made a living off sharks.
“You could have four (or) five sharks in a single night or sit there all night and not get a bump,” says Martel.
He grew up around fishing. His father bought the Midnight Pass Fishing Camp in 1950 when Martel was 5 years old.
“We made a living on the property by renting boats and fishing. I was a guide at 13.”
But it was the thrill and danger of sharks that caught Martel’s attention. He used to catch nurse sharks by hand as a young man.
“I would grab the tail with my left hand. When they turned to bite you, you grab the head with the right hand,” describes Martel.
Then a 5-foot nurse shark bit him in the arm, but that’s not all. “He grabbed me in the right cheek through the bathing suit.”
One of Martel’s biggest sharks appeared in one of the biggest movies of all time, "Jaws." Remember the tiger shark the town’s fishermen thought was the one?
“It’s our shark, a Sarasota shark,” says Martel.
He helped catch the 12-foot, 7-inch shark in Midnight Pass --- he says at the time the movie's producers were in the Keys looking for a large shark and reached out to the Sarasota Shark Club’s president.
“He said, 'Don’t lose it, it might be a star,'” recalls Martel.
Tiger sharks are rarely seen off Sarasota these days, says Martel. Back then, there were plenty. He’d sometimes lose other sharks he’d caught to them.
Besides fishing sharks for sport, he was also a bit of a conservationist. He caught sharks for Mote Marine Laboratories to research and study during the 1960’s and 70’s.
“Mote Lab come over took samples did studies others I caught alive, like big tigers 11, 12 feet brought in alive for Mote.”
Today, only a few shark species are legal to catch. Otherwise it’s catch and release.
“We have to keep up the laws have now they’re good for the sharks. People don’t need to kill sharks anymore unless going to eat them,” says Martel.
“We need sharks in the water as part of the ecology. They do more good than harm.”