Note: Bobby Cleveland covered the Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo as a reporter for nearly 25 years. This is the fourth in a series of his favorite stories as the 66th annual event kicks off July 3-6.
Cheryl Lowman’s fish tale from the 1995 Rodeo could be called “The One that Got Even,” or, even more apropos, “The One She Wished had Gotten Away.”
Hers is a true fish story. Lowman has a small scar to prove it.
On the fourth day of the five-day event, Lowman and husband Robert Lowman, both of Gulfport, were invited fishing by friend Darrell Biggerstaff of Long Beach aboard his 24-foot Hurricane. It was Cheryl’s 32nd birthday.
“We went for anything that would bite,” Robert Lowman said. “Turns out, the sharks were biting.”
Early in the action, Cheryl set the hook on a fish in the area of Cat Island known as Smuggler’s Cove. It didn’t take her long to fight the fish and Robert Lowman gaffed it and hoisted the 12-pound black tip shark up and into the boat. The fish fell on the deck with a thud and then went crazy, jumping and sliding on the floor.
“I knew it would go even crazier once I extracted the gaff,” Robert Lowman said. “I put my foot on its head and I asked Cheryl to put her foot on its tail. I didn’t want its tail to flip around and hit me and I didn’t want it to hit her either.”
Black tips, even small ones, are like most sharks in that their skin is like sandpaper, and a swipe of a tail against a bare leg can cause great pain and leave a rash-like injury that can last a few weeks.
Turns out, it wasn’t the tail end the Lowmans needed to be concerned with. It was the head that caused problems.
“I pulled the hook out of its mouth and then I pulled the gaff out,” Robert said. “I guess the shark sensed a bit of freedom at that point because it went nuts. It started wiggling around and my foot slid off.”
Perhaps the worst position a person can be in in that situation is to be standing on the tail of an unhappy shark.
“All of a sudden, the shark shook free from under my foot,” Robert Lowman said. “It made a move on Cheryl you wouldn’t believe. It was like a snake. I mean it struck at her like a snake and bit her right on the leg.”
Said Cheryl: “It flopped up, came around and bit me on the shin.”
“Darn right it hurts ... now,” she said at the scales. “It didn’t hurt that much at first because of the adrenaline, but then it started hurting and now it hurts pretty darned bad.
“After it happened, and Robert bandaged it up, I kept right on fishing. The fish were really biting and I wanted to catch some more.”
Robert said he figured the wound must not have been as bad as it looked, and he said it really looked bad.
“Bled like all get out,” Robert said. “There was a lot of blood and it was all Cheryl’s, not the shark’s, even after I whacked it on the head. But it wasn’t that bad, because I bandaged her leg up and she wanted to continue fishing.”
Perhaps the bite provided her with the inspiration to get even with all black tips. She wound up catching 12.
Arriving at the Rodeo, Cheryl had a slight limp but managed a smile when she posed for pictures with the then dead black tip. She held it by the tail with its body running past the big bandage on her leg.
“It must have gotten me with every tooth in its mouth. It’s not that big of a shark and the bite wound is 6 inches long,” she said.
The bite also provided Cheryl with a new nickname.
“I called her Shark Bait the rest of the day,” her husband said.
Said Cheryl: “It’s my birthday, and I get bit and get called Shark Bait. There better be something nice wrapped up and waiting for me at home.”