It was one of those fishing trips that didn’t start out very well.
My son Mike and his family were coming up for a week’s vacation, and he had asked about a possible shark fishing trip. I was a bit less than enthusiastic, as I had given up shark fishing nine years ago – and hadn’t caught one since – but I agreed.
Mike’s wife Erin, who was driving up separately from Massachusetts, stopped by Johnson’s Sporting Goods in Brunswick, and picked up a four-gallon pail of frozen chum.
On the day of the trip, August 23, Mike and Erin took their two children, Jakey (2-½) and Samantha (1) to a local park to burn off a little energy before being deposited with my wife Jean for the day.
But Jakey, in his zeal to get to the swings, tripped and badly scraped his knee in the parking lot, which necessitated an immediate trip to the Urgent Care Center.
The doctor patched Jakey up, Jean came and collected the kids, and Mike, Erin, and I finally got off the dock in Boothbay Harbor at 11:30.
“The Hot Dog”
After a quick stop to catch a dozen mackerel, we headed south some six miles below Damariscove Island to a spot that used to be called Great Ledge, but is now more widely known as “The Hot Dog.”
The name is derived from the fact that it’s a sausage-shaped piece of hard bottom rising to 220 feet from the surrounding depths.
Sea conditions weren’t idea – a southerly swell with a chop on top – but when we reached “the Dog,” we found it reasonably fishable.
Chum in the Water
We set out two lines on matching Shimano two-speed, 50-pound-class stand-up outfits. Terminal gear consisted of a couple of old leaders I had made up back when, each consisting of ten feet of 150-pound mono, a short section of #10 stainless wire, and a now- rusty 8/0 halibut hook (which are thin and made of mild steel, so I had believed they would rust out quicker if left in a shark’s jaw).
I fastened a bridle to each hook, and then a lively mackerel to each bridle.
We set the first bait out 50 feet under a foam Redi-Rig float, and a second bait some 30 feet under another float and closer to the boat.
We drifted along quite nicely, the ball of frozen chum thawing in a mesh bag over the side and spreading an oily, fragrant slick behind us. But nothing happened. After an hour we pulled in the chum and lines, and headed back to make another drift over the ledge.
Again, very quiet; not even a nibble. At 2:15 we decided to give it until 3:00, and then head in.
At 2:40 pm, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a little motion around the closest float. I stared at it, and sure enough, a shark of some sort was lazily swimming around underneath the float and nosing it with its snout, with just the tip of its dorsal fin showing. Mike picked up the rod from its holder, but I cautioned him to wait. “That shark will disappear and go down and find the mackerel,” I predicted. “Then the float will go under.”
Sure enough, that’s just what happened. Mike set the hook hard and the rod arched over, but within a few seconds the hook pulled free.
I was pretty sure that was going to be our only shot for the trip, but since we still had a little time left to go, I pinned on another mackerel and re-set the line.
Unbelievably, just minutes later, the same shark (or so it looked) was back under the same float, nosing it. Again I told Mike to wait – that the shark would shortly go down and find the mackerel.
Bingo, same scenario! The float was yanked under, Mike set the hook, and this time the battle was on.
At first the shark went down 50 feet and sulked, but then surfaced and streaked off for 30 yards, the reel’s drag screeching in protest. It then rocketed 20 feet into the air, did a perfect double-axel, and came back down nose-first in a thunder of spray.
“It’s a big mako!” I hollered.
Mike held on. Erin and I got the gimbal belt around him and attached the harness, and a tug-of-war ensued. Mike would pump and gain some line, only to lose it all when the mako streaked off or dove deep. He started using his thumb to clamp the line on the rod’s foregrip to apply additional pressure, and expertly worked the shark closer and closer to the boat.
After 45 minutes, the mako seemed to tire, and rose to the surface. What a massive shark! I announced that it might go 400 to 500 pounds, and Mike redoubled his efforts to bring the critter to boat-side.
Finally the snap swivel hit the rod’s tip-top, and Mike backed up. Now it was show time.
“What a Job with
I quickly donned a leather glove, took a wrap on the mono leader, and led the fish alongside. The mako was tired, but not beaten. It thrashed its head violently several times, but I was able to slide the wire cutters down the stainless leader and clip it about a foot from the hook, which was planted neatly in its jaw hinge.
The big shark, now free, slowly finned its way back down into the inky depths.
“I don’t think it was four or five hundred,” I conceded to Mike and Erin, “but it was a solid three-fifty. No question about that! And a good eight feet long!”
Mike was bushed. “Well it felt like five hundred!” he exclaimed. “My arm feels like Jell-O!”
All I could reply was “What a job you did with that fish! What a job!”
For a day that hadn’t started out very well, it ended just fine. It was the largest shark ever caught on one of my boats in my 48-year charter career here in Maine, and was released to fight another day. Grins all around!
To view the video Erin took of the last two exciting minutes of the battle, you can visit www.SaltWaterMaine.com, click on the “Fish Photo Gallery” tab along the top border, and start the video. You can also view the video by clicking the photo above.