Kayak Fishing’s Deadly Dangle

Many of us drop our feet in the water. We'll still do it despite the recent shark death.

Rob Wong Yuen dangles his feet in a puddle of blood while landing a shibi off the Big Island this summer.

Rob Wong Yuen dangles his feet in a puddle of blood while landing a shibi off the Big Island this summer. Photo: Paul Lebowitz

Kayak Fishing’s Deadly Dangle
Many of us drop our legs in the water. We’ll still do it despite the recent shark death.
By Paul Lebowitz

When he was fatally bit by a shark this week, Patrick A. Briney was doing something that comes naturally to many kayak anglers. He was dangling one or both feet in the water as he fished.

Briney was new to kayak fishing. He might have dropped his legs for more stability or to ease a sore back, or for a better angle as he worked his bait rod. Maybe he needed to cool off. We’ll never know. What’s certain is he was far from alone in the practice. Seasoned experts including the best the sport has to offer do it too. I routinely dangle my feet in saltwater. How about you?

In the wake of the devastating bite that reportedly severed Briney’s foot, many of us are reassessing the wisdom of dipping a limb into the water. The overwhelming majority of big game kayak anglers I surveyed aren’t going to change. They may minimize their exposure time, but they aren’t going to stop. They feel they can’t, not even in Hawaii’s trophy waters, where encounters with curious sharks as long as their kayaks are common.

“Some of the time my feet are in a pool of blood that’s seeping out from the fish I just landed. It’s just what we have to do to boost, land and store these pelagics in our ‘yaks,” Aquahunter Rob Wong Yuen wrote via Facebook.

Wong Yuen relies on ocean awareness. When he lands a fish, he’s on alert for a toothy follower. There’s no more startling example of what can happen than Isaac Brumaghim’s uber-viral Chompy the Shark video.

Brumaghim says he never puts his legs in the water. Who can blame him? “[We] cannot help what’s already happened. We can all learn to be more aware of the possibilities,” he added.

Hawaii’s kayak anglers aren’t the only ones who are far too familiar with sharks. NorCal Kayak Anglers boasts a four-man great white survivors club. Each has the dubious distinction of getting launched from their kayaks by a massive shark. Here’s the thing. Briney is the first kayak angler to suffer a serious shark bite in the sport’s modern history.

NCKA owner Allen Sansano posted an informal poll asking who dangles. A day later all but a handful of some 60 respondents admit they do it when retrieving crab pots, wrangling gear, fighting a fish, or what have you. Sansano too. It’s so automatic, he did it while surrounded by frenzied 7- to 8-foot salmon sharks feeding on pink salmon.

“Howard McKim has a video of me in which I’m dangling. And you can hear Howard say ‘You better get your feet in.’ I listened to him, I think,” he wrote.

Kayak fishing pioneer and TV personality Jim Sammons fesses up to his foot-dangling habit. In an infamous clip of The Kayak Fishing Show with Jim Sammons, a hungry shark nearly rips a kingfish from his hand.

“It has been ingrained for such a long time I don’t think I could stop. I do feel better dangling my feet now that I have a Shark Shield. I turn it on when I’m landing a fish in sharky water,” he added.

Back to the unfortunate Briney. Maui kayak fishing guide Capt. Jon Jon Tabon feels the new kayak angler missed signs of elevated shark risk that a seasoned angler would notice, even if it manifested as a tingly, hairs standing up on the back of your neck manner. You have to know your water. It’s worked perfectly well for Sammons, who started kayak fishing more than 20 years ago.

“99 percent of the time I’ll dangle my feet. The rest of the time, where it’s sharky, they’re in the boat,” he said.

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