INDIAN HARBOUR BEACH, Fla. — With a well-aimed heave off the Gleason Park pier, veteran fisherman Steven Henson ended an aquatic wild-goose chase by netting Sushi the shark.
Henson captured the elusive 3 1/2-foot female — perhaps Florida's most highly publicized juvenile bull shark — shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday off the south side of the pier.
"It was an adrenaline rush. Basically, like driving a car real fast," the 23-year-old described.
Henson's net-wielding heroics capped an around-the-clock public shark-hunting spectacle that began Wednesday morning, drawing hundreds of sightseers, journalists and a television news helicopter.
Trappers and volunteers fruitlessly used nets, a rowboat, chum, noisy hand-thrown explosives, fishing poles and other tactics.
After Henson netted Sushi, she was placed in a white 5-foot cooler that's usually used to transport sick and injured manatee calves. Then she was driven in a pickup flatbed to an Eau Gallie Boulevard boat ramp, where she was released into the Indian River Lagoon.
Melbourne licensed trapper James Dean said Sushi acted lethargic when she was placed in the river, but she recovered.
"He swam out, and then he came back — like he was saying goodbye to us," Dean recalled, inadvertently mixing up the shark's sex.
Sushi was spotted by surprised park-goers three weeks ago, and Indian Harbour Beach City Hall personnel coined her cuisine-themed nickname as word spread. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials wanted the shark moved from the Gleason Park freshwater pond to the river.
"We are a shark-free park. Sushi is free," Indian Harbour Beach City Manager Mark Ryan said Thursday.
A key mystery: How did Sushi get in the 4- to 5-acre pond in the first place? Turns out she had a 3/0- or 4/0-size fishing hook embedded in her mouth — Dean wrestled the hook from her lip using pliers at the boat ramp.
"Somebody caught that shark. Somebody released it in here. And that's the hook they used to catch the shark," Henson deduced.
Fishing is typically banned at Gleason Park.
Henson joined the quest for Sushi shortly before sundown Wednesday, then fished throughout the night and Thursday morning.
"I've fished for sharks ever since I was 14 years old. I used to live in these apartments right here down near Lowe's, right down the road," he said. "And I knew this park, and I was like, 'A shark in here? Really?'"
"I had to come see it for myself. And I brought my poles just in case. I asked Leo (Cross) over there if I could help, and he said sure," he said.
Dean and Cross, who co-owns Florida Wildlife Trappers of Orlando, coordinated the operation — but neither had any previous shark-trapping experience.
When Henson netted the shark from the pier, Cross was snorkeling in the murky water with a hoop net in his hands.
Afterward, Henson shook hands with excited 5-year-old Indian Harbour Beach twins Logan and Ella Harrell. The children were wearing homemade "IHB Park Shark" construction-paper hats they had colored, and their mother, Danish, said they visited the pond every day this week looking for Sushi.
Rick Neale also reports for Florida Today.