When Captain Pete Floyd shows up mornings to board his charter boat in Lewes, Delaware, there's often a wag at the slip to swoon, "Oooooh, my hero!" The taunt gets yelled from other decks as Floyd heads out for open sea, and when the 32-foot Skipjack chugs home with her catch, it rings from pier to pier. A friendly fellow with the build of a wrestler, Cap'n Pete just grins and waves. Since July, when he wrestled in two of the biggest sharks ever seen in the rich waters of Delaware, he's been happy to take some ribbing from the denizens of the dock. The 3561/2-pound mako caught on July 10 and the 825-pound tiger hooked two days later -- both state record-breakers, with the tiger being the largest shark ever snared off Delaware -- "have done a whole lot for business," he says. And Floyd's business, unlike that of a score of skippers working out of Lewes, mostly concerns sharks. Despite a surge for American shark fishing in recent years, Jack Casey of the National Marine Fisheries Service says shark has yet to become as popular a game fish as swordfish or marlin. Still, Casey says "hundreds of thousands of fisherman-days are devoted to shark each year" -- which is all the better for sharks. "The more sport-fishermen go after sharks, the more they'll be concerned for sharks as a natural resource," says the government biologist. Floyd, 40, an ex-pipe fitter from Pennsylvania, whose indelible tan marks him for the mariner he is, can speak for a good number of those fisherman-days. "It's not that I'm the only charter captain in Lewes who'll take you out shark fishing," he says, "it's just that I seem to be the only one who pushes it." A sign on his boat touts "Monster Shark Fishing," and nailed to a piling, two outsized tailfins, the tiger's and the mako's, add a touch of credibility. One recent dawn, four ocean-anglers ranging from novice to intermediate set out on a shark hunt with Floyd as guide. The fishing expedition, naturally, included a couple of reporters, Michael Kramer of New York magazine and me, plus Peter Teeley and Christopher Buckley, who work for George Bush. Arranged the day before by ship-to-shore radio, the trip was Teeley's idea. "I want to get something big," he told anyone who'd listen. "Mako," he said manfully. "Tiger," he growled. Shortly after sunrise, with the fishing party on deck and skipper and mate in the flying bridge, Skipjack (which actually isn't a skipjack but a fiberglass sport-fishing boat) pulled out of her slip and made for the Atlantic Ocean. The cruise into Delaware Bay, past a beach and along a breakwater, went smoothly, but once beyond the Lewes lighthouse -- "We're in the ocean now," yelled the mate, a moonlighting pipe-fitter by the name of Gene -- it wasn't a ride for the fragile. As Skipjack barreled through swells at 17 knots, engines roaring and diesel vapors wafting over the transom, the shark hunters fled their fighting chairs for horizontal berths in the cabin. Even the imperturbable Buckley, who's lived much of his life on vessels of all sorts, had a woozy cast to his eye. But he and Teeley, two boat-smart members of the party (Teeley having left his native England aboard an American troop ship shortly after World War II), bolted out of the cabin when Skipjack hit a bank of fog. As the boat slammed through the mist at cruising speed, they craned their necks toward the bridge, but resisted the urge to be stern-seat skippers. At the blast of a fog horn, Floyd promptly pushed in the throttle, bringing the boat to a crawl. Gene tensely scanned the water. "Must be a freighter somewhere," he sa Floyd, climbing down from the bridge and pulling a bucket of chum out of the ice-filled bait chest. As Mike Kramer roused himself and rubbed his eyes, Floyd explained that the chum was a homemade mix of fresh-ground bunker fish, a surefire shark-getter, "because it's an oily fish that makes a nice slick." I rushed to starboard and hunched over the side to be sick. "That was gracefully done," Buckley declared as he ravaged a submarine sandwich. Floyd hung the chum bucket overboard, the contents seeping evenly through tiny holes -- "I used to ladle the stuff out but you can't get an even chum line that way" -- and Gene fitted the heavy tackle into three rod-holders near the stern. Then the two of them baited large steel hooks with generous hunks of fresh mackerel and bonita, attached them to the 80-pound-test lines and, with floats, set them in the water at about 20 feet, 40 feet and 60 feet, respectively, below the surface. "Now all we do," Floyd said, "is wait a couple of hours." In this swatch of sea, the morning was turning hot and windless -- the kind of day that can make minutes hours and minds mush, evoking the "horse latitudes" and doldrums, where the world stopped dead. So the skipper and his mate went immediately to work. That is, they started telling stories. Of all fish stories, the ones about sharks are best. Aside from the fact that some folks have gotten rich off such tales, there's something about these toothsome creatures that at once attracts and repels. So Cap'n Pete had a captive audience as he told of his latest huge haul -- to the accompaniment of lapping water. It seems that the day of July 12, 1981, had threatened to be a bust. Loaded for mako sharks, Floyd's customers had snagged but a small dusky as quitting time came. Such outings aren't helpful to a trade that thrives or dies by word-of-mouth. But a few minutes after 2:30, Floyd caught sight of a dorsal fin breaking the chummy surface. The fin, he saw right away, could only have belonged to an animal of breathtaking size. A moment later the fin submerged as the fish bit the bait and sped away, but hooked securely to one of Skipjack's lines. Pulses racing, Floyd and his customers struggled with the creature over the next half an hour, finally pulling it to the side of the boat, where a new battle began. It was, saw the awestruck anglers, a 13-foot tiger shark. More than this, it was one very angry 13-foot tiger shark. Working its jaws and twisting its body in a frenzy, the animal thrashed against the boat, apparently unfazed by three flying gaffes with which Floyd had pierced its hide. Once -- Floyd saw to his horror -- the shark slipped away and, tangling the lines, dived underneath the vessel. Suddenly Skipjack seemed about as sturdy as a dinghy. That was enough for Floyd. He got his .410-gauge shotgun, aimed it point-blank and shot the tiger shark three times in the brain. "It didn't kill him, of course," Floyd recounted, "but at least he stopped his thrashing." The skipper was about to launch into another story, this one about a mako which almost jumped aboard, when the whiz of a spinning reel stopped him short. As one of the rods bent like a bow, Buckley and Teeley started shouting, but the journalists hung back. "This one's yours, Chris," Kramer said generously. Floyd wrested the rod from its holder with a two-fisted grip, assumed a flat-footed stance and whipped it back, the better to imbed the hook in the fleeing fish. Gene rushed over with a leather harness and helped Buckley don it. Then, with Buckley poised in the fighting chair, Floyd gave him the the steel leader, and swam away with hook, line and sinker. Buckley left the chair looking flushed. "That was a good job, anyway," said Teeley, fairly beside himself with glee. Floyd added, "You got it to the boat, so that's still considered a capture." "My God," Buckley marveled. "That's hard on your arms." It was barely ten in the morning. Twenty minutes later, I reeled in a 14-pound bluefish. A half hour after that, there was a 50-pound dusky with Kramer's name on it. And half an hour later, Teeley scampered down from his perch in the flying bridge to pull in yet another dusky. Over the next four hours, the anglers caught another big bluefish, six dusky sharks and one of their cousins, the sandbar shark. At one point the boat was surrounded by sharks swimming excitedly through the chum and devouring chunks of free fish. It was, said the skipper, an unusually active day. Even Teeley, who met neither tigers nor makos, seemed pleased. What with his rakish mustache and the looks of a young Robert Shaw, Floyd could easily pass for a shark-killer bent on blotting out an evil scourge. It's not hard to imagine him telling a disapproving matron, as he actually did one day at the scales, that he usually baits his hooks with live kittens. But the impression would be wrong. Pete Floyd likes sharks. "My feeling is, if you're gonna bring it home and eat it, fine, but other than that, just let it go," Floyd said, after he'd tossed a beer can in the water so a small dusky could playfully nose it about. Of the ten sharks hooked, Floyd freed nine, and tagged several for a Fisheries Service program that has produced valuable shark-migration data over the last 15 years. The shark the anglers kept, a four-foot sandbar, was butchered on the dock, the steaks taken home. "I wouldn't disapprove of that," said University of Maryland zoologist Eugenie Clark, one of the world's foremost shark experts. And Jack Casey, who runs the shark-tagging program with 2,500 participants on the East and Gulf Coasts, said of Floyd, "We better try and keep him cookin'." Buckley, Teeley and Kramer, meanwhile, made a pact to return in October, when Floyd predicts makos aplenty.