Anthony went to the cooler beneath the stern seat of the Lily B and pulled out a thirty-pound block of chum, frozen in a mesh potato bag. The hot sun triggered the almost immediate release of an odor that was a mix of dead fish, sweaty feet, and slaughterhouse.
"Where did you get this...awful offal?" Anthony winced, holding the bag at arm's length and turning his head aside, as if that could shield him from the smell now enveloping the Lily B and the nearest twenty yards of atmosphere surrounding her.
"I made it myself," I said. "One-third mullet for oiliness, one-third leftover lobster trap bait, and one-third roadkill—a cow hit just outside The Settlement last fall. Whenever I get a client who just wants to catch a big fish and doesn't care about species, I take a bag out of the freezer and chum up a shark. It works like a
"Remind me to never accept a dinner invitation from you, old man. Not if it comes out of the same freezer you keep this in." Anthony grinned, always cheerful at any task. He tied the chum bag to a short length of line, dropped it in the water, and knotted the line to the stern cleat.
Before long, an oily slick, augmented with bits of rotting fish and rancid beef, was being carried in the current on a line parallel to the beach.
While Anthony was setting the chum bag, I prepared the big Penn International reel and rod, attaching fifteen feet of stainless steel cable leader to a ball-bearing swivel, attaching that to the 130-pound-test monofilament line from the reel, and crimping on a 12/0 circle hook. When it was all ready, I pushed the hook through the back of the bait—a whole five-pound bar jack. The bait was then dropped into the water beside the chum bag and the line slowly stripped from the reel as the current took the bait back into the
"It shouldn't be long now, Anthony," I said. "Give the bag a couple of shakes to keep the chum flowing, will you?"
Catching sharks is never difficult in the BVI. The hoteliers and resort owners are reluctant to speak of it but the sea here is home to plenty of sharks, large and small. Our waters are abundantly filled with reef fish and other marine life, particularly around Anegada and Virgin Gorda due to the close proximity of the Horseshoe
Reef and the Anegada Trench. With many fish come many sharks, the cleaners of the sea, feeding on the old, the injured, and whatever is the piscine equivalent of the halt and the lame, dispatching them with surgical precision. Wade a bonefish flat and you are accompanied by sharks. Snorkel or scuba dive and you will see the gray shapes cutting in and out of the periphery of your vision. Amble a few steps from your resort's beach cabana, with its plush towels and attentive waiters, for a cooling dip in the clear waters, and they will be there, keeping their distance, curious and yet wary, as you splash and play.
While their appearance may be sinister, my experience has been that their intentions are not. I have never known a shark to attack a human being in the BVI. There is just too much easy food, in the form of live and dead fish, rays, turtles, and lobsters, for them to bother tackling something as large and troublesome as a man. And a mistaken attack, the kind that occurs in murkier waters the world over, is not possible here with water visibility usually in excess of one hundred feet.
"I see two in the chum line," Anthony said, a hand shading his eyes against the morning glare. Sure enough, two high fins carved the surface a quarter mile in our wake. Soon more dorsals joined the first two, working forward in the current toward the source of the chum, picking up chunks of fish and cow flesh. At a hundred yards off the Lily B's transom, the bodies of the sharks came into view, orbiting the dead jack that was my bait. I could see that they were all small, their length less than a woman's height, and also that they appeared gray or blue in color. This meant that they were reef sharks or blacktips, species not the object of our hunt. The constable and the other witnesses who had seen the shark eating the torso had described a large brown shark, and that could mean only one species in these waters—a bull shark. While its colors vary widely in the bull shark's round-the-world equatorial habitat, in the Virgin Islands they are known as the Man in the Brown Suit.
What I saw circling the bait drifting in the top of the water column was not the quarry Anthony and I hunted but there was nothing to be done. Soon the blue and gray ghosts moved to the attack, a half dozen small sharks taking turns, charging in, slashing a piece from the bait, until the surface of the water frothed and churned. Ashore the crowd of onlookers had grown as the morning moved toward noon, and the attack on the bait drew first a murmur from them, and then a horrified exclamation, which made its way across the water to De Rasta and me.