I’ve been contemplating about sharing this story. I’ve started and erased it several times now trying to recall the events as accurately as possible without giving up these fish secrets to the world. Looking back most of it is a blur due to sleep deprivation and the rush of adrenaline. The safe handling and release of these animals in such a timely manner was a direct result of muscle memory and 1,000’s of combined hours on the sand between us handling big fish. There was no room for error or complacency and I have to give credit and nothing but respect and gratitude to Travis for his quick thinking, perseverance and courage during a time when we were really caught off guard and had to change our approach to this situation within seconds of realizing what was going on.
Two weeks ago I got a message from Travis that he wanted to come out to catch and tag some pacific sharks. There was no better time than now to get on the water, we’ve been seeing big 7 gills, some leopards, decent amounts of soup fin sharks, threshers were hitting the local orange county piers and the south bay was loaded with baby white sharks. We came up with a plan and decided to go full land based style. Landing sharks off the pier and tagging them wasn’t really an option. Southern California piers are built a little different than most piers across the nation and there weren’t any piers available south of the border. We have life guard towers, souvenir shops and restaurants that take up rail space on our piers and make it impossible to beach any large fish for a clean release. Our plan was to kayak baits out and target 7gills near reefs and then transition to using specialty rigs in a pre-determined location for thresher sharks. Landing a Thresher from shore has been high on my list for a while and Travis was more than excited to give it a shot. While soaking larger baits on stand up gear we also had surf rods that we could cast for leopards and soup fin sharks.
The first night was hell. Travis got delayed at LAX due to plane problems. He was just taking a jumper 40 mins away to meet up. I decided to head out ahead of him and check the spots we looked at on google earth. I Soaked some mackerel on my surf rod and around sunset was rewarded with a bat ray somewhere around 50” across. I quickly snapped a pic and let her go. Travis finally showed up and we had lines in the water by midnight. I was using a small piece of ray I had acquired earlier in the month and he was using some fin bait. Each about 1lb or so. Just enough bait that we could let it soak for a couple hours and hopefully entice the 7gills. About 40 mins go by and my rod gets picked up and the clicker starts screaming! I get it out of the holder and lay into this fish. It peels drag and makes a good 100 yard run. We get nervous because there are exposed rocks in the opposite direction its going and a known reef it’s headed for. It wouldn’t matter though because after a minute of watching line peel off the fish came off. We thought it turned and charged the beach so I reeled in as fast as I could until my leader and bait less hook was on the sand. The coated wire was shredded 5ft up from the hook with no other signs of teeth on the leader or hook. We assume it swallowed the bait and it just pulled out with the circle hook never getting a good set.
Our Kayak was small. It’s an 8ft Walmart special I had convinced a local to let me borrow. I took it for a trial run and at 6’7” and 250lbs I quickly learned it was not for me. I sank that yak and took several waves to the face trying to paddle a measly 50 yards. Travis faired a little better on it however and he was willing to yak our baits at least once. After I lost that first fish I wanted to get another bait out right away. Travis was a little sketched out by the idea of paddling a submarine through waters that clearly had big sharks so we decided to let his bait soak a little longer and see what happens. After 20-30 minutes of staring at his rod tip and wondering what just happened we decided it was time to check his fin bait and run new baits. Much to our surprise his bait came in untouched by crabs or fish.
We got 2 new baits rigged up and Travis decided it was time to brave the unknown. We stood on the sand staring out into the darkness for about 10 minutes before any of us said anything. I’m sure we were both thinking the same thing and just as I was about to take one for the team and say “I’ll do it” he chimed in with “well let’s do this” and grabbed the paddle. I was not upset about his decision the least bit because personally, I don’t like submarines.
Travis took both baits out at once. He dropped his first and veered left to drop mine. I tightened up his line a bit and set the clicker than went to my rod. I could tell his had a bow and it was working itself out so I’d take care of that in a second. He dropped my bait and I gave the reel a couple turns to make sure the leader went in straight then set the clicker and light drag. I stepped off to fix his line and heard a click. I looked up and the line was tight and thought I may have jumped the gun and he was still paddling. I looked out to make sure and could see him turning around and starting to head back when my reel starts screaming! I got on the rod and the fish was on. He made it in and I told him to fix his rod before doing anything, he did then came to my aid. The fish felt small. It was taking light drag and I could feel tail slaps but it wasn’t acting like a big fish. I even told him “it’s small”. Thinking it was a soup fin or 7 gill I handed off the rod to put my harness on so I could slowly winch it in, that way it wouldn’t be 100% green when it hit the beach and we could tag and release it. Just as I’m handing off the rod the fish wakes up and starts burning drag. I get the harness on and really lay the heat on this fish. We had her to shore in about 25 mins from hookup and Travis was on the leader. He yells out “it’s a white!!! Its OVER 8FT!!” He rushes up and grabs the bolt cutters, tail rope, puts my phone in his breast pocket with the camera ready to roll and heads back down. Once he had her in the wash I put the rod back in the holder and rushed down. By the time I got there he had the tail rope on and I jumped on it with him and we got her out of the rolling wash and into manageable water. Travis started recording and I went to work. I had to brace myself against incoming waves and when the water would start to recede Travis would yell out “smile bro!” knowing we were getting good shots. I came up behind her, straddled her and lifted her jaw open. The hook was set perfectly in the corner of the mouth. I gave it a twist and a hard bump from behind and it popped out. “Hooks out!” I yelled. I stepped back to get the tail rope and got hit by a wave and slipped. Instead of allowing myself to get washed up I hugged her tail and kept her from getting rolled up the beach as well. The wave receded and Travis was in position and said “look at me!” I looked at him and looked right into the camera, grabbed her tail and smiled. Travis warned me of the next wave and as soon as it came in I grabbed the rope and leaned back. She floated up on the top of the water and started to move backwards. I stepped back and she came with me. The wave receded and pushed us both into about 4ft of water where somehow the tail rope came off and she spun around 180 degrees to where I was able to push her into deeper water. I didn’t have to push her much because she kicked and all 10ft of her swam off like a champ.
When I got back on the sand Travis was ecstatic! We hugged it out, couldn’t stop smiling and somehow, Travis had the tail rope in his hands. Like I said, some of it is a blur.
I’m new to Imgur and you may have to click on the pics to actually view them, i can only get them to show as links or super big.
After we released the first white we decided to call it a night. We were both on awe at what had happened and decided anything else we got in the next couple hours just wouldn’t compare. Being soaking wet and cold might have had a little to do with our decision as well.
The next day I had some things to take care of Travis decided to do some recon and long rod fishing. A friend of his came down and joined him and would stay through the night. Travis checked out a spot we had in mind before making the trip and decided it was a go. It had a nice sandy beach with small patches of rocks and he managed a couple leopard sharks during the day and tagged them. While walking along the shore trying to locate the best rips to kayak through he came across a 7 gill shark swimming only a few meters from shore in the first gut. He threw cut mackerel at it several times but it didn’t even flinch and eventually swam out of sight. Once he was sure this was the spot he sent me a text and pin giving me the details. On my way to meet him I made a quick pit stop and brought a nice little surprise.
We met up after dark and I followed him and his buddy to the area. Once there we walked down to the spot and I was in agreeance that this was a good spot to fish. Plenty of sand hang out on instead of cobble stones and the break was close and slow. Travis wasn’t so sure about my surprise, a 12ft paddle board, but I had ran baits on a paddle board before and was willing to run them all. He decided to run two stand up rods and a casting rod and I decided to just run my 12/0 even though I had 2 casting rods and 3 stand up rods total. With 4 rods going I figured we’d get bit and have our hands full anyways. I unpacked some bait and we decided we’d soak chunks of ray from 80-120 yards out. This gave us some room to play before we hit a reef and drop off but since there was so much activity during the day we weren’t worried about the fish not coming out to feed.
First two baits ran were for Travis. I took both at once and waited for my chance to get through the waves. I watched two full rotations of swells and thought I was good. Hopped on the board on both knees and started paddling. I got about 40 yards out and all I saw was big dark swells. Putting everything I had into that paddle I picked up speed and just made the first wave before it broke but the second was capping. The wave broke right as I hit it and luckily I punched through to the other side but both baits were in the water. Quickly I pulled them up and placed them back on the board and headed out. Once I was where I thought I should be I tried to reach the weight for the first bait that was just clipped to the bungee on the back. It was sketchy to say the least, I didn’t have much balance and had to straddle the board to reach back to do it. Finally the first bait was in and I started paddling again, looking back I noticed I had drifted south already but I might have been too far. Again I fumbled around on the board and got the weight undone, took a few paddles and threw the bait. Although we were several miles from the first spot, the thought of a 10ft white following me had my head on a swivel the entire time.
3rd bait was different, I placed it and my grappler on the front under the bungees and headed out. I was still on the breaker zone when a massive wave came out of nowhere and started to cap. Paddling as hard as I could I tried to make it over the wave but it broke right in front of me. I slammed down on my stomach, placing the paddle across my chest and under my arm pits and grabbed the board. The wave went over me and I came up on the other side of it without losing too much ground. My bait was not on the board. Luckily my grappler was still hooked and I fished the bait out of the water and hooked it under the bungees and started paddling. Another swell came at me and my heart sank but it just rolled under me and I was on my way. It didn’t feel like much time had passed but I looked back and I knew I was too far so I tossed the bait where I was and accepted the consequences if I was over the reef.
Back on dry land Travis said I dropped them perfectly, even though I felt like I messed up his second drop and took mine too far. He agreed mine was further but not enough to cause problems. I put dry shorts on and exchanged my life vest for a hooded flannel and took a seat on the cooler to smoke a cigarette. Lines were set, we were all alive and the moon was beginning to break up the darkness of the night. Just as I got comfortable Travis’ rod goes off. I saw the whole thing from coming tight, the bounce of the rod tip and rod load but didn’t hear a clicker. Come to find out it was a short run and the weight set back in with no issues so we decided to let it sit. About my third cigarette in his other rod goes off. This was a smooth steady run and he connected with this fish. It acted small, we thought again it was a 7 gill and I got Travis in his harness. He has this fish on for a few minutes and is gaining line when again it “wakes up” and starts burning drag. Soon after he’s left with slack and is reeling as fast as he can to catch up to a fish that isn’t there. Upon inspection of the hook and leader we find a strip of meat that was not his ray…. Did his shark just get sharked?
Of course Travis was disappointed. We don’t know what really happened and now he only has one big bait out besides his surf rod, which had been quiet the entire time, until now. He had a fire cracker yellowtail head on there and he was hooked up to something big and heavy. Again, the hook pulled. This was turning out to be quite the night. I sit back down on the cooler and light a cigarette while we shoot the breeze. I’m listening to them talk while staring at my rod, noticing it pull and bounce with each breaking wave. Weeds. A subject comes up I’m more interested in and I engage in conversation for a few seconds then look back at my rod, which had no tension. I walk over and give the handle a couple turns and it’s still slack, I remove the rod and reel about a dozen time and it comes tight but feels like the claw is set in the sand again, then a thump…. “He’s there” I said. I put the reel in free spool with the clicker off and palmed the spool. A little line came off, then some more, then finally it started peeling off and I looked at Travis and we both smiled. “Hit him!” he said with excitement. I tightened down the star, threw it in gear, cranked till I was as tight as I could get and set that damn hook with everything I had. This fish is burning drag and I’m just thinking “no flippin way dude”. I hand off the rod and Travis first words are “holy sh*t”…. I reached over and loosened the start a little bit because I realized there may just be too much drag on that reel for the frame to handle. I got harnessed up and the fight was on!
I coulnd’t believe my eyes when I saw it, a massive shark jumping in the distance under the moonlight. Huge splashes and white water almost looked like a fire work going off. It jumped 2 or 3 times and then stayed down. I locked down my modded 12/0 senator because I knew if this was a white we had to get it released quickly and if it was a big Mako, we had a couple hours of work ahead of us. Finally I was able to call out “100 yards!” judging by the line on my spool. “I’m gaining, get ready!”, just then it takes off south down the beach and takes another 50 yards. Back and forth we played until Travis could touch my leader 30 yards down the beach. He grabbed the leader and pulled then let go… he runs up to me and says “It’s a big white dude, bigger than last night, I’m going to leader it, here’s the bolt cutters, tape, (inaudible noise) everything you need is right here.” “I got it man” I replied, really only hearing “it’s a big white”. The shark went up the beach and took off again. This time she was only 30-40 yards out but the leader was out of reach. Turning the star clockwise I was pressing this reel to the limits, but not that shark. She felt more pressure and came out of the water sideways, she looked like a Marlin dancing on the water. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. After she settled down she turned right to the beach and Travis got the leader in hand and laid into her. With a little help from the surf she came up on the beach in about 2ft of water and I was able to set my rod in the holder and head down. I put the tape and dehooked into the sand and helped him get her out of the pounding waves. After a quick tape Travis reached for the dehooker and it had been swallowed by the surf. He called for the bolt cutters and I got them. When I handed them of he had her mouth open and I peeked in and the circle hook had set just behind the corner of her mouth, it looked doable. “get the hook” I said, “don’t cut it”. Travis went in for the hook and her mouth snapped shut on the cutters and ripped them away from him. She opened again and Travis could see the hook had come out but the point lodged in her tongue, “im going to have to cut it!” he said. He cut the leader as close as he could and I started to drag her back. She was heavy, and the surf was not helping his time. My first attempt she kicked her tail and I lost my grip. I grabbed her whole tail again while standing but there was hardly any water on the beach now because of the building swell. Travis yelled out once again “smile bro!” and “get down!” I knelt down while his friend was recording and just as I did the next wave hit me. It was much larger than the previous one but the shark was now swimming in 2ft of water. Travis’ hands met mine and we both pulled her out. He let go and stepped up the beach as she swung around, mouth wide open right at me. Luckily I dodged her and pushed her away. As I pushed her she slid into the next break and it swallowed her up and she disappeared. It was crazy to see such a big fish vanish into the darkness like that.
Travis told me about the hook relocating and we both agreed it was best to cut it and that hook would fall out easily since the barb was outside the flesh. Having landed and successfully releasing a 10ft and 11’ 1” white shark (no tags were inserted in these fish due to time constraints) we decided we were good for the night and Travis said his trip was made no matter how many tags he got.
The next night was a casting night and I slept it out. The 4th night we hit yet another spot but our clickers stayed silent all night long. We even contemplated jumping to one of the previous spots but didn’t just because of the whites and we didn’t want to tangle with anymore on purpose.