Before I left the UK, one of life’s little pleasures was a shark fishing trip. A day on the English Channel, boots on the gunnels, hat over your eyes, lines drifting out on a turquoise sea. There is nothing quite like it.
Then out of nowhere you get a bite. The buzz of the reel as the line is stripped away until it stops. The adrenalin rush as the buzz starts again and you drop the reel drag to strike. Then the rod bending almost double, and the creep of line slipping away uncontrollably off the big reel. Dumping your arse into the fighting chair, if the boat has one, or putting a foot against the side to brace yourself. The strain biting between your shoulders and stretching you upper arms with the sun on your back. Now the heavy, back straining, bicep creaking pump action as you reel it in, and then the line stripping off the reel, followed by another five minutes of straining before the Shark pulls down into the depths again.
This can and does go on for half an hour and often far longer. The bigger the fish, the longer the fight. Did I mention I’ve done a lot of shark fishing? Only ever killed two, one deliberately, one by accident, the rest have been subject to tag and release.
Over the years, I’ve lost count of how many days I’ve spent out on the water without a single nibble. On the other hand I remember each and every scrap I’ve had with a shark on the other end of the line as though they were barely minutes ago; the experience is that intense.
On one occasion I vividly remember staring down into a foot wide mouth of ripsaw teeth while holding a hooked gaff up with all my strength. This to allow the skipper to reach in through the gills with gloved hands to release the hook. Then the skipper and his crewman grabbed the animal behind its pectoral fins and let me ungaff the struggling creature and step smartly out of the way on a slippery pitching deck. Grabbing the tagging tool, a six inch spike in the end of a six foot pole so I could stick a tracking tag into the sharks flesh just behind the triangular dorsal fin. Without sticking it in the skipper or his mate. This is a fishing social faux pas, and is not approved of.
This is a lot more difficult than it sounds. Mr Shark does not want to be here. Mr Shark wants to be off chasing other fish for a spot of tiffin. He does not want to be thrashing around onboard a boat with these pesky two-legs, and like any sizable wild creature will take lumps out of whatever is in the way. So it comes as no surprise to hear that a Scottish skipper got one of his boots chewed while p-p-p-picking on a Porbeagle.
What also comes as no surprise is the extent of ignorance regarding sharks and shark behaviour in the article and comments of this item in the Torygraph. A number of issues raise themselves. Firstly; why was a fisherman ‘worried’ about sharks eating seals? Even if a Porbeagle was the guilty party, which is unlikely, why bother? Porbeagles are Mackerel sharks, and they are called that for a reason; a large part of their diet is Mackerel, Squid, Garfish, Red Bass, Whiting and various similar fish, which are a fisherman’s cash crop. Likewise Seals. Of all the skippers I’ve known over the years, Seals are either a) a pest; or b) a tourist attraction and source of revenue. As for the Porbeagle, mammals like seals rarely figure in their diet, if at all. I’ve never actually come across a report of a Seal being chewed by a Porbeagle. Porbeagles aren’t man eaters either. As shark species go they are way down the list of human predators. Indeed, if anyone were to make that excuse to me I’d probably laugh them off the boat. The closely related Mako sharks have been recorded in attacks on humans, but barely one of these happen a year. Two a year if you count pissed off fish hauled onboard a boat and taking a chomp at a crewman. Which is exactly what happened in this particular instance. Nothing to see here, man got his boot chewed. Silly season story.
Yet the frothing nutcases and pseudo eco freaks in the comments section made oi larf. These people have never been within ten kilometres of a real wild ‘n frisky Lamna Nasus, and know bugger all about them, a fact they are determined to share with the world. Then there are the armchair fishermen, and okay, they may have watched pro sharkers do it on TV, but maybe they didn’t watch the out takes.
Real life isn’t like TV. Real life is trying to tag a shark on a slippery tilting deck with the tag bouncing off its skin and the skipper shouting at you to stop fucking around and stick the bloody thing in, you great nancy. The shark thwacking its tail and snapping at everything in sight, and I can tell you from personal experience, that tail is not to be messed with. Mister Shark is best over the side and back into the clear blue water asap.
Trying to tag at the boat side is a similar comedy act. Two guys hanging on the hooked gaff, another on a rope looped round the tail, and the fourth repeatedly trying to stick the tag in the right place, and all the time the tag bounces off the sharks tough skin like a rubber ball. If you’re lucky, the tag goes in on the second or fourth try. If you aren’t, you lose two tags before one actually sticks in and the skipper and mate can release the gaff, followed by the other guy on the tail rope. If you have any sense you’re already sitting down and out of their way with the tagging spike and your rod properly stowed. Then everyone on board shares that feeling of Yeehaw! having hooked and tagged a live one. Then its time for a beer and cigar before you reset the lines for another drift. One of your boat buddies hooks one and it’s either your turn to step out of the way or get on the gaff or tail rope.
BTW: The picture is my first ever shark over 100lbs. Only a tiddler as they say, but an indelible experience that is etched in my mind until the day I die. What a ride.