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By JEFF HAMPTON, The Virginian-Pilot

BUXTON, N.C. (AP) — Fisherman Luke Beard gouged a hook nearly big enough for a pirate onto a large Spanish mackerel.

A kayaker then paddled the bait about 300 yards offshore — much further than the average angler could cast.

The fishing line was thick. The rod was stout.

The reel was wide and hefty. Compared to ordinary fishing gear, it looked like a Mack truck next to a Fiat.

Everything about shark fishing is heavy, far and dangerous.

“Big fish, big bait,” Beard said. “It’s all about the fight. Catching the biggest predator out there.”

Beard, 30, has been fishing for sharks from the shore since his teens. He lives in Buxton and works at Frisco Rod and Gun, just minutes from the ocean. He owns an assortment of shark rods and smaller traditional rods, many of which bristled Monday from the rack at the front of his Toyota truck. He drives the four-wheel drive vehicle onto the beach a few feet from the surf.

Shark fishing has grown in popularity in recent years. Social media posts show anglers posing with their toothy catches. YouTube videos demonstrate techniques and gear. Fishing guides offer charters for catching sharks.

Beard said he’s seen an increase in interest by novice anglers at his job.

When people ask advice, he’s quick to tell them to stay way from the mouth.

Beard’s favorite spot to fish is near Cape Point in Buxton, where the Outer Banks juts into the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current meet. Waves from the south crash against waves from the north, creating a volatile surf.

Fish species from warmer and colder climates mix there, making it a unique spot loved by surf fisherman around the world.

Sharks love it, too, for the same reason.

“The point is the sharkiest place on the whole beach,” Beard said. “It’s like a feeding frenzy every day.”

The North Carolina coast gets a wide variety of shark species that feed close to shore including dusky, spinner, hammerhead, sandbar and blacktip. The state limits sizes and specifies the species that must be released.

Blacktips are the most challenging and can be kept if they are at least 54 inches long. Only one per angler, per day, is allowed.

“A blacktip is the most dangerous shark to mess with in the surf,” Beard said. “They’re so athletic and energetic. If you lose your grip, they can hit you.”

While unhooking a shark, it is important to keep them in the water so they can continue to breath before release, Beard said.

To catch a shark, Beard works his way up the food chain. He said he uses smaller bait, like a piece of a fish, to first catch Spanish mackerel or stingray. He then uses those as shark bait.

Beard catches all sizes of sharks from the shore, including some more than 10 feet long and weighing more than 200 pounds. Traditional rods will work for smaller sharks, but the big ones require the large gear.

When a shark grabs the hook, he fastens a fighting belt around his waist that steadies the rod and gives him more leverage. A rope attached to the belt is tied to the truck or held by a buddy.

“A big shark will pull you into the ocean,” Beard said.

Beard and his friends Alex Bonner, David Brayman and Kyle MacMillan all join in the fun. They are different ages, but share a passion. They love to spend long days and nights with lines in the water.

While the bait soaks, they sit under a portable canopy, sip drinks and tell stories. Later, they might cook a few brats on the grill while keeping an eye on their rods.

Bonner recounted the time three years ago when he paddled bait far off shore to where hungry spinner sharks were jumping from the water. He shifted his weight wrong reaching for bait and fell into the water with the bloody fish-head bait.

“Oh no, he’s going to get eaten,” Beard remembers he and others joked onshore. Then, a second later, a little more seriously, somebody asked, “Should we go out there and save him?”

Beard replied, “Nah, he’ll be all right.”

Bonner acknowledged he was a little panicked at first, then regained his composure and climbed back into the kayak.

Beard did not catch a shark Monday, but it didn’t matter. He’s caught dozens before and will again.

His job allows him enough time off to be on the beach often.

“It’s less about money and all about fishing,” said Beard. “Might as well be happy and enjoy what you do.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Friends, classmates gather to remember teen presumed drowned near Diversey Harbor, search continues for his body

CHICAGO (WLS) -- On Wednesday, there was a prayer service for the high school student who is presumed to have drowned near Diversey Harbor.

Dozens of classmates, family and friends showed up for the vigil at DePaul College Prep.

The teenager was a student there. He was 15 years old.

Authorities said he went into the lake near Diversey Harbor at about 5 p.m. with three other friends and never came out. Instead he was swept away from shore by the incredibly high waves.

The teenager was out swimming with "a group of young gentlemen," according to a Chicago Fire Department official. "He got swept off shore, and was not able to get back in to shore."

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A teenage boy was swimming in Lake Michigan with friends when he got swept off shore.

The search resumed Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. as a Chicago police boat and a helicopter got back onto the lake along with Chicago Fire Department rescue teams.

Social media posts shared among teenagers who live in the area urged them to come to Lake Michigan Monday and some of them jumped in the water.

"Everyone's brother, everyone's son. Everyone's friend," read a sign posted near the lake.

The remembrance was posted this afternoon on a tree near Lincoln Park's Signal of Peace Monument, where a teenage boy drowned yesterday after jumping into the water with a group of friends.

The search for his body continues. Dangerous water conditions hampered what is now a recovery effort.

Water safety advocates called this a preventable death.

"How can we have a known hazard in a known public park," said Halle Quesada with the Chicago Alliance for Water Safety. "A known hazard, and have no layer of protection for our children when they find themselves there?"

As Chicago's beaches have remained closed, the area connecting the Diversey Harbor to Lake Michigan has become a known hangout for teenagers on lazy summer afternoons- whether it's jumping into the water off the Belmont rocks or even jumping off the Diversey footpath bridge into the water.

On Tuesday, Park District Crews got to work installing a fence.

One worker acknowledged it was to prevent teenagers from continuing to jump in.

The lakefront's social distancing ambassadors do patrol the area, but despite most of them being trained lifeguards, their presence here is sporadic, rather than a permanent one.

Even under the best conditions, the lake is still a very dangerous.

More divers going in checking new spot to search for teen who went under. Lake is very choppy with high winds. No one should be swimming. Very dangerous conditions

— Chicago Fire Media (@CFDMedia) August 3, 2020

"They are just having these needs, these social needs that kids and teens have and the lakefront is one of the few places available to them to fill those needs," Quesada said. "With the beaches closed, the rocks are what's left."

"We created the conditions that is making it more dangerous for our kids. We absolutely have a responsibility to protect them," she said,

Water conditions remained dangerous Tusday with waves up to 8 feet high and strong rip currents.

Both the Chicago Fire and Police Marine Units urged people to stay out of the water, and emphasized that if it's dangerous for their divers, it is dangerous for everyone.

Lake Michigan very hazardous. Please stay out of the water. Dangerous undertow and high waves. We have lost one teenager today. Please stay out of the lake.

— Chicago Fire Media (@CFDMedia) August 4, 2020

A Lakeshore Flood advisory remains in effect through the afternoon and a Beach Hazard statement is in effect through Wednesday morning. .
Meanwhile, there have been 50 confirmed fatal drownings so far this year, according to The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

David Benjamin, the executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, says they have been writing the mayor for years for more safety measures every 400 feet along the lake path, but nothing has been done. He believes this was preventable.

"If you're gonna provide the access to the water, there should be rescue equipment, updated signage as well as lifeguard protection, especially when you're gonna close the beaches and push people to these dangerous spots. They're essentially getting herded to these dangerous spots."

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