For one week in July, people tune into the Discovery Channel to learn more about the fierce creatures of the deep.
I wasn't quite ready for Shark Week to end, so I went on a shark fishing trip with three other locals aboard the Shock N' Y'all charter boat in Destin.
I'm not a professional fisherman by any means but I used to fish all the time at the neighborhood pond when I was younger. I've been deep-sea fishing a couple times and one time, when fishing from the Panama City pier, I caught an octopus. So shark fishing just seemed like a logical next step.
Both fascinating and terrifying, sharks are one of the the most popular fish.
"The blue marlin is considered the ultimate prize to a fisherman, but people could come to the docks and would step right over a thousand-pound marlin just to see a 3-pound shark, " said Vinni Garcia, a deckhand on the Shock N' Y'all.
As dolphins jumped in the wake, the boat motored out at 5:30 in the morning. We made our way to our destination a mile-and-a-half offshore, a place the deckhand referred to as "shark alley." He doesn't know what draws so many sharks to that area, but said he sees more sharks there than anywhere else.
Garcia began chumming the water. Chum is bait consisting of fish parts and blood that is used to attract sharks and other fish. In addition to the loose chum, Garcia used a "chum popsicle" — which is exactly what it sounds like: frozen chum.
"Even sharks like a nice cool treat during the summer," said Garcia.
Using large fish and stingrays as bait, we cast out three separate lines from the back of the boat and waited for a bite. To pass the time, we started fishing off the side of the boat and caught everything from tiny bait fish to triggerfish and snapper.
I didn't hear the theme song from "Jaws," but after about an hour we finally hooked a shark. With the help of Garcia, passenger Steven Lipscomb started reeling in the shark. I watched as the pole bent under the weight of the sea monster, afraid it might snap at any moment.
I traded positions with Lipscomb after a few minutes and I found myself on the end of a line connected to a 100-pound killing machine. Garcia helped hold the pole as I reeled in the line. It felt like I was pulling in an elephant, except this elephant had hundreds of teeth and was fighting my every move. It reminded me that I definitely needed to start lifting weights again.
It was a matter of minutes before my arms became sore and I handed the pole off to another passenger, Bronwynn Toomes. With the help of Garcia, she was able to finally reel the shark in. Once the shark surfaced, Garcia said it was a sandbar shark and estimated it to be about 6 or 7 feet long and almost 100 pounds.
Garcia pulled it up to the side of the boat and we were able to take pictures and touch it. The shark was relatively calm as I ran my hand down its back and over its dorsal fin. It felt like pure muscle covered in slippery sandpaper. Garcia released the shark and it was gone in the blink of an eye.
Garcia said they never keep the sharks and always release them after they're caught.
"People just want to see sharks up close and that's what we do," Garcia said. "But there's no reason to keep them and some of them, like tiger sharks and hammerheads, are protected and can't be kept."
We attempted to hook another shark, but I think our first shark warned his friends about us. After 90 minutes, we headed back to the dock.
I left the docks sweaty, reeking of fish and sore but with a greater respect for the ocean and its predators. Who needs a shark week when you have Destin?
To learn more about shark fishing or to book a fishing trip, visit the Shock N' Y'all's website at vixenfishing.com/shark or call 259-0485.