- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 29, 2001

If there’s such a thing as a Toughest Man in the World contest, allow me to nominate a fellow who will make all others pale by comparison. He’s the uncle of the 10-year-old Florida boy who was attacked by a bull shark a month or so ago.

Jiminy Christmas, friends, that man saw what was happening, ran into the shallow ocean surf, grabbed more than 200 pounds of muscled dynamite and wrestled it onto dry beach sand, where the toothsome critter soon lay helpless. A daring fireman eventually pulled the boy’s severed arm from the fish’s mouth. Skilled surgeons reattached the boy’s arm, and last we heard he was doing fine.

Hooray for the uncle, the fire/ rescue people and the medical staff at the hospital.

As a fellow who earns his keep in the outdoors, in well over 30 years on the job there have been times when things got a little out of hand, so the incredibly brave act by the boy’s uncle is particularly appreciated.

Even though precise remarks made over 20 years ago can’t be remembered, I easily recall traveling with my friend Jim Blum to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for several days of late autumn surf fishing.

Jim and I were standing waist deep in the surf, dozens of other anglers to our left and right, when one of the men shouted something about nearly being knocked down by a hard object. He looked and suddenly saw a large shark depart, then twist in an oncoming breaker and return, probably attracted by all the fresh-cut fish bait we were using.

On its second incursion into shallow surf waters, the shark’s tail probably inadvertently slapped either Jim’s or another man’s leg, I can’t remember. I do remember all of us having a biblical experience. We practically walked on water getting away from the shark.

Minutes later, surf fishing guide Ken Lauer, aware that hungry sharks in the shallows can be caught rather easily, rigged a -inch-thick rope with gang hooks the size of a man’s open hand, pierced fresh bluefish chunks onto the hook points and sailed about 40 feet of the baited rope into the breakers. He shouted for all of us to hold onto the remaining coil of rope and wait.

Less than three minutes went by before our gang was pulled forward by the unseen shark, which now had swallowed the bluefish-covered hook barbs.

The lead man on the rope, Lauer, pulled back as hard as he could and shouted, “We got him. Run him up onto the sand.”

Five or six of us slid a 300-pound lemon shark onto dry land where it soon flopped about. Somehow, Lauer was able to rebait another hook, retie it, and toss it back into the surf.

“Lemon sharks often travel in pairs,” he yelled over the din of the surf. “Let’s see if we can get the other one.”

We did. It weighed more than 200 pounds.

“Let the fishing resume,” Lauer said, mindful that lemon sharks can present some danger to wading fishermen. Of course, there might be some people who will point out that lemon sharks are not considered dangerous.

Yeah, neither are bull sharks of the type that grabbed the Florida youngster.

Neither are alligators, but tell that to the families of children who over the years saw alligators attack their kids as they walked along the edges of farm ponds or backwater bayous. It’s happened in Florida and Louisiana. In fact, an unprovoked alligator attack on an adult occurred in Florida last Tuesday.

It’s one more reason why Jack Reed of Hartwood, Va., is on my “tough guy” nominating list after an incident a few years ago.

Reed never having seen, let alone been close to, an adult alligator in the wild was standing behind me in an aluminum boat in the lower end of Santee-Cooper’s Lake Moultrie in South Carolina when I spotted a large ‘gator resting on a sun-baked sand spit.

I wanted photos and Reed, awed and unsure about being in the alligator’s presence, never said a fearful word when I slowly motored toward the reptile to get a close-up photo. Without reluctance, Reed even handed me my camera bag containing spare lenses.

I clicked the shutter once, twice, but by the third time the scaly thing slid off the bank into the water and, inexplicably, came straight for us. I turned the boat as fast as I could, Reed far calmer than I was, got out of the area. The ‘gator went in the other direction.

“Whew, that was close,” I said and smiled at Jack, who stood there and looked at me, then simply stated, “Let’s not do that again, OK?”

I didn’t.

But once I was spending a day in a boat with a pro bass angler in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Swamp when a cottonmouthed moccasin fell from a waterlogged bush into our boat and it became our unpleasant duty to flip the arm-thick snake back into the swamp water, using small sculling paddles. It was a goose bump-raising experience because this poisonous critter could have done some real damage and we were far from a place that could provide medical attention.

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