Unlucky Feline

I was way down in the spool with the eerie pull of what I knew was a large Tiger Shark, she was slow and steady. I could feel her consistently heavy stride as she continued to pull line off. I was growing concerned. I started this battle with a bait about 600 yards out and now she was an additional 500 yards into her initial run. She was pulling about 42 pounds of drag ---with no indication that she cared or even knew I was there.  No head shake, no change in speed,  just a steady powerful stride.

Being a one man camp, I knew I would need help. Confident I'd get her to turn eventually, I began to S.O.S. the neighboring camp with my spotlight. I could see their silhouettes walking around their camp but they were about a half a mile away and with the late afternoon sun still shining down on me, I could only hope they would see it.

My mind wandered through the past, all the dues I had paid to get here. I reminisced about a trip I had made with Paul Lipinski in 1990, 25 years earlier. It was the pre kayak era, baits were paddled out on a windsurf board; it was the very first time I went fishing exclusively targeting sharks. 

I finally got her to turn, I still had 100 yards or more on the spool. She came in heavy but I was getting a lot of line back on the spool. Her second run was exactly like the first, slow and steady with a consistent stride. It was a solid run, maybe 300 yards till I got another turn. My confidence at this point was high, I just had to endure to get her to the beach but I knew a healthy documented release was pivotal on getting some help.  I was still flashing my spotlight when I could see the neighbor's silhouettes walking around their camp.

You think about a lot of things when you're hooked up on a solid fish. You question your gear, the line, the leader, the hook… It can take you on a spiral of anxiety and emotion. My confidence was high. I was fishing a fresh reel that had a ton of new braid on it and I was fishing my favorite leader, an 20' mono and coated cable combination with a quality Circle Hook. My main concern at this point was getting some help. I have always been a conservation minded fisherman and I took a lot of criticism as I built my business based on conservation. My mind was already racing, how much a catch like this could mean in promoting it but I would need a healthy release.

Eventually, I got the neighbor's attention and they came down to check on me. Right off I could tell they were good people, genuinely concerned and wanting to help anyway they could. I gave them a briefing on what was about to happen, turns out, nobody in their camp had ever tail roped a shark. That wasn’t ideal but I was grateful for the help, "Ok then, Wesley, I'm going to pass the rod off to you and I'll go tail rope it myself. You just have to hold on and keep the line tight." Just as we were finalizing our plans, my good friend Matt Hyde drives into camp. Matt and I had fished together for years and I was sure happy to see him. The plan changed and Matt was officially the man with the tail rope.

Another hour of give and take was wearing me out. I was still holding significant drag and the burn in my quads had been increasing exponentially since the initial run. There were several more runs before I could get her over the bar, just to have her run back over it again when she came to the next bar. Patiently, I dismissed the desire to put more pressure on her. This was working, I just needed to endure the battle.

Everything went as planned, 2 hours and 20 minutes into the battle Matt got a rope on her tail and the neighbor boys helped pull her in to shallow water. We took photos, put a tag in her, took a fin clip DNA sample, and measurements for the Texas Shark Rodeo. The Rodeo is put on by Sharkathon and the scientific information is passed on to Harte Research Institute and the Guy Harvey Research Foundation. It all happened as quickly and efficiently as the many other smaller sharks Matt and I had put on the beach, the fluent knowledge and fluid motions saved precious time. Feeling good about the timeline, we took a moment for a couple extra photos and then the crew worked together to get her back out and over the sandbar for the release. When she was in waist deep water, we spun her around and pushed her forward into deeper water, she immediately gave a left swing of her tail, then a right…" that’s it boys let her go". A very simple healthy release. As we exchanged high fives and walked back to the beach, Matt mentioned with a giggle, "that was the first shark I ever tail roped." I said, "Man, I'm glad I didn’t know that."