Paul Kelly said the worst part of the day was losing the tarpon he was trying to reel in.
Fort Myers News-Press
The worst part of a Texas man’s trip to Florida wasn’t when he got bit by a shark on a fishing trip.
It’s when he lost the tarpon he was trying to reel in.
Speaking from the Lee Memorial Hospital on Saturday, Paul Kelly, 72, said it was still a good trip overall.
“We lost the fish of course,” Kelly said. “That was the worst part.”
Kelly said he was on a six-hour fishing trip with his good friend and a boat captain in Boca Grande Pass on Wednesday.
Near the end of the trip, both he and his friend had hooked sizable tarpon, he said.
Kelly said he was trying to work in a 150-pound tarpon when his shoe slipped and he was yanked into the water by the fish.
While he was underwater, Kelly said he felt something hit his leg. He didn’t realize at the time it was a shark nibbling on it.
The captain pulled him to the boat with a fishing rod, and his buddy hoisted him into the boat by his belt.
Once he was in the boat, the captain told him a shark had bitten him, and that it appeared to be an eight to 10-foot bull shark, Kelly said.
That’s when he noticed a gash around his left knee and calf, he said.
The men acted quickly, wrapping a belt around his left thigh to stop the bleeding as they raced to shore. Paramedics swarmed him, dressing his leg and securing a tourniquet. Kelly was airlifted to the trauma center.
Surgeons stitched him up, and he had surgery on a torn tendon in his knee the next day.
The Vietnam veteran said he barely felt pain through the whole incident or post surgery.
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“You do the best with what you get,” he said.
Doctors told him he should be able to leave the hospital in the next few days. He and his wife hope to return to Texas on Monday.
The U.S. led the world in shark attacks, again, in 2018, but the overall number of attacks dropped significantly.
The trauma surgeon who treated Kelly, Robert L’Connor, said he’s seen alligator bites, but never a shark bite.
“They aren’t that frequent to be honest with you,” L’Connor said. “It’s something everybody is concerned with when they get into the water, but it’s the first one I’ve seen in 10 years.”
It demonstrates the necessity of the trauma center, which serves trauma patients from the surrounding five counties and just celebrated its 25th year in business, L’Connor said.
Though Florida annually tops the leader board for attacks in the United States, bites plummeted last year compared with previous years, according to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), a University of Florida database that tracks shark attacks worldwide.
There were 16 confirmed attacks in Florida last year, compared to 31 in 2017, according to ISAF data.
In Lee and Collier counties, 16 attacks have been confirmed by ISAF, which keeps records dating back to 1882.
In 2005, a young Austrian tourist was bitten on the right ankle in Lee County. Then in 2007, a shark bit a man off a Naples beach.
In 2001, a Lee County Sheriff’s Office captain who was then a part-time fishing guide was bit by a blacktip shark.
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