Tiger On The Fly
A Midwest fly fisher scores an impressive shark.
By Alex Suescun

Photo by Pat Ford

Shark Week doesn’t usually happen until summer, but it came early for one lucky fly angler. Randy Richter, a realtor from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was spending a few days fishing in the Florida Keys when he successfully caught and released a tiger shark estimated at 71/2 feet long, weighing in the neighborhood of 275 to 300 pounds.

A seasoned fly rodder with some two decades of experience in freshwater and the brine, Richter has a thirst for adventure that has carried him to exotic, faraway places like the Amazon jungle, and closer fishing meccas like Islamorada, Florida, where he hooked the tiger shark on April 6.

According to the angler, he wanted to specifically target tiger sharks and teamed up with Capt. Keith Tucker, who knew exactly where to try. A striped marauder of considerable heft showed up just 45 minutes after the guide set his bay boat at their first stop. Chumming with a pair of bonito the Iowan caught the day before enticed the shark within casting range, and it didn’t take much coaxing to get it to take an orange-and-red streamer that Richter tied.

After the hookup, which took place in about 10 feet of water, shark and angler locked in a tough tug-of-war that lasted approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes and culminated with a healthy release. “There weren’t many long runs, but the tiger kept fighting and wouldn’t give up,” Richter said, adding that they were more than a mile away from where he hooked the shark when they finally let it go.

A TFO Bluewater rod and a Mako 9700 reel were the weapons chosen for the battle, which becomes more impressive when one considers the unlikely odds. While tiger sharks inhabit many tropical and subtropical waters, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, they are far more abundant around the central Pacific islands. In addition, tigers are nomadic loners by nature. They don’t often congregate like various other coastal sharks and won’t respond to a chum line en mass as do more fly-fishing friendly lemons, blacktips, spinners, bulls and sandbar sharks.

Richter, whose love of saltwater fly fishing began many moons ago chasing beach snook while vacationing in Sanibel, Florida, keeps a tally of the different species he has caught on fly. It currently stands at an impressive 212. Fascinated by the apex predators since his youth, the well-traveled angler has periodically targeted different sharks. He fondly recalls a brief but exciting tussle with a 700-pound mako off San Diego. “I knew I was overmatched as soon as I saw that monster, but I just had to take the shot,” he said. And he claims that, after sealing the deal on a hammerhead last year, the tiger released in April makes 10 shark species he has now notched on the fly.

When asked what comes next, Richter replied that he has a trip to South America planned for August. The destination this time is Bolivia, where he’ll tangle with golden dorado. On the saltwater front, Richter says he wants to try for a cobia, a popular migratory gamefish that has managed to elude him this far.

Alex Suescun

Alex grew up chasing bonefish, redfish, snook, tarpon, permit and other saltwater species in South Florida’s fabled waters and then broadened his pursuit of gamefish to the Caribbean, and Central and South America. His career in sportfishing began in 1991 as Assistant Editor of Saltwater Fly Fishing magazine, working with the likes of Lefty Kreh, Flip Pallot, Stu Apte, Chico Fernandez, Nick Curcione and Ed Jaworowski. He later hosted and produced his own TV fishing show, Tarpon Bay Tales, for 11 seasons. And after an 8-year stint as Executive Editor of Salt Water Sportsman, Alex joined the team at Fly Fishing International.