Just like in Jaws, fisherman Charlie Hamaker needed a bigger boat. On one particular day in the 1950s, the ocean was calm and the winds light. Hamaker and his buddy Bruce were fishing near the Mayport Jetties in “Old Number 4,” a rented 20-foot cypress mullet boat. They were pyramid “sharking,” hoping to catch the mythical Oil Drum Joe, a rumored 20-foot hammerhead shark that had been seen around the jetties off and on for years.
Pyramid sharking is a system where they’d use their smaller rods to catch a small fish. Then use their bigger bamboo rods with the small fish as bait to catch a small shark. Then they would cut the small shark into large chunks, put it on a rope line and use it to catch a bigger shark.
“It was truly just like The Old Man and the Sea,” says Hamaker.
This particular day, they had a 5-foot shark hanging in the water. After throwing the bait overboard, they sat and waited and waited in silence. Hamaker sensed some movement, looked over and saw a fin rise up right next to the boat. It was a hammerhead shark almost as long as the boat. Was it Oil Drum Joe?
The hammerhead shark’s nose was pressed up against the shark bait, possibly trying to figure out how he was going to eat it. “We scurried around, pulled the shark bait in, chopped it into bite size pieces and quietly let out the new bait,” says Hamaker. Oil Drum Joe had been patiently circling the boat. He made “one more pass around the boat then slowly slipped below the surface. A minute later I felt him grab the 40 pounds of bait … I looked at Bruce and said, ‘Now what do we do?’” The hammerhead shark, however, had only taken half the bait and missed the hook. He continued to circle the boat and follow them up the river, “cautiously guarding his kill but refusing to eat another bite.” He disappeared a couple miles inland from the tip of the jetties near the Navy fuel dock.
Like Oil Drum Joe, Hamaker has become a legend round these parts. He was born in Jacksonville and raised in the Clifton area in the 1940s. Like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, he and his best friend spent most of their recreational time on the water, fishing and exploring our local waters, particularly Mill Cove and the St. John’s River.
In the 1950s, Hamaker was in the U.S. Marines and then later went to the University of Florida. He became a mechanical engineer and worked for the Port Authority in its Marine Engineering Division. All the while, he kept his passion for fishing.
Hamaker loves all kinds of fishing. “I do it all,” Hamaker says. “Deep water. Skinny water. Moving water. Still water. Freshwater. Salt water.” Salt water is his favorite. He considers himself more of an offshore fisherman.
Hamaker was one of the original founders of the Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament, which began in 1981. Now, at 82 years of age, Hamaker is still fishing when the weather is good, and he has a library’s worth of stories to tell about our local waterways. Stories about sunken war ships. Stories about Mud Island’s inhabitants. Stories about hurricanes. And of course, stories about sharks.
Ask any fisherman in these parts who can tell you the best fishing stories, and local treasure Charlie Hamaker is on the top of the list. You can read his entertaining and educational stories in his book series, Cane Pole Wisdom, which can be purchased at the Beaches Museum.
“I do it all. Deep water. Skinny water. Moving water. Still water. Freshwater. Salt water.”
— Charlie Hamaker