By Kevin Redding
As the nation sinks its teeth into another annual Shark Week on Discovery Channel, local fishermen from across the North Shore reflected on their experiences and close calls with the predators of the sea.
Capt. James Schneider, James Joseph Fishing in Huntington
I was giant bluefin tuna fishing on our smaller, 38-foot boat around 2004 and we were off Nantucket and we pulled up on a whale. Usually the tuna swim with the whales, they eat the same bait. And we saw what looked like giant tuna and we threw a bunch of bait into the water and put three lines in. All three rods went off at the same time and we hooked up what we thought were three tuna fish at the same time for a minute. Within 10 seconds of the hookup, the first fish jumped behind the boat … it was a 650-pound mako shark that got in between the other two lines. The other “tuna fish” were a 250-pound blue shark and another mako. We were using monofilament leaders for the tuna, and the mako came down on the line and snapped the leader (fishing line). Then the shark jumped above our eye level and cleared the water 12 to 15 feet, leaped completely out of the water trying to throw the hook out of its mouth. The other one we … caught it, after an hour and a half, it was a mako that was nearly 700 pounds, snagged in the dorsal, he’s swimming, felt a lot like a tuna fish. We put it in the boat and it was on the line for about an hour and half and then we gutted it and found about nine, full-sized bluefish intact in stomach, each weighing between 8 and 13 pounds.
Another time, I was out 17 miles south of Montauk with my son when he was 8 years old. I wanted to catch my son his first shark. We went out, my son caught a mako shark pretty early in the trip. Within 20 minutes of him hanging the shark from the stern of the boat, I noticed a giant shape coming toward the boat and it was a great white shark, about 17-18 feet long, probably close to 3,000 pounds — about the width of a Volkswagen. It was cruising with such agility coming right to the boat and we had a little time so I asked my son, “Do you want your shark or do you want to watch the great white eat the shark?” My son quickly decided he wanted his shark to show his grandparents so we whipped the shark into the boat just in time as the great white came up to the stern.
Capt. Brett Clifford, Osprey Fishing Fleet in Port Jefferson
My 11-year-old son, Kieran, was excited to go shark fishing for the first time so he, myself and one of the first mates from the Osprey trailed my 25-foot Aquasport to Montauk last Wednesday, July 19. We launched there after catching some fluke, went out about 20 miles to the sharking grounds and we drifted for about five hours with very little action. My son got a chance to see a sea turtle, which was kind of cool. A mahi-mahi was on the lure for a couple minutes but we eventually lost him. All hope seemed lost and we brought in one line and then when Kieran was reeling in the last line, the float popped up and we weren’t sure if it was a wave or a shark. I picked up the line and felt little bumps, put the rod back in the holder as Kieran safely put his hand on the line so he could feel the bumps. He felt them and he looked up at me and then the shark took it and the line went off. He was able to feel the power of the shark and how fast it takes a line like that. We hooked the shark, put the rod in Kieran’s lap and had him start fighting it. It took him about 15 to 20 minutes to bring in about a 5-foot mako. Although it was a keeper, we clipped it and let it go. We put one more bait in the water and it was then immediately picked up by a blue shark, which we released. I’ve caught makos, blue sharks and thresher sharks before [but] nothing can compare to watching your own son’s excitement and feel the thrill of a big game fish like that for the first time, so that totally trumps any other shark experiences I’ve had.
Capt. Steve Witthuhn, Top Hook Fishing Charters in Montauk and frequenter of Cold Spring Harbor
There’s a lot of bait and life out there in Montauk so it’s one of the more exceptional years for this. That’s the fishing capital of the world and you’re bound to catch something there. We had a trip Friday, July 21, where we took a father and his two boys out to an area 12 miles across Montauk Point and I saw signs of life viewing whales and dolphins in the area. There was also a sea turtle — it was like an aquarium over there. We decided to set up there and we got the baits ready, using circle hooks, and started chumming — what we call “drifting and dreaming.” You get things out there and you’re waiting for the bite and dreaming of when that shark comes into the slick and looks for the bait. Our first hit was a 150-pound blue shark and that got things rolling. The next was a 125-pound dusky.
As we’re getting another blue shark off the line, we see a big hammerhead shark swim by. Hammerheads are very finicky, sometimes they take a slab bait but normally I’ve found them to be aggressive, they want live bait. So as we hooked up a live bluefish, the bluefish got excited and started running for its life because the hammerhead was on its tail. He tore it apart. We started playing with him and put some more bluefish on the line when we saw another hammerhead come into the slick. Talk about shark-infested waters, we were in the right place at the right time. We hooked up one of the hammerheads, about a 6 or 7 footer, and we fought it for about a half hour. It ate the live bluefish and then another hammerhead appeared. Once the action starts, everybody wakes up. Once you hear that rod go “zzzzing” then everybody jumps up and wants to see what kind of shark it is. It was pretty wild.
All these sharks were caught and then released. For me as a captain, it’s more about the thrill of the catch rather than the kill of the catch. If we can respect nature then we can have a lot of fun and educate our customers. I told them, “I know Shark Week begins in a few days, but you’re experiencing something live and what it’s all about.” I’m all for respecting and preserving the resource.