Texas Fish & Game 2007 Article: Fishing, Saltwater
ALMANAC: SHARKATHON 2006
By Nick Meyer
Published June 2007
THE TEXAS BEACH SHARK FISHERMAN RARELY conjures an image of conservation in most people’s minds. Old photos from the 1960s of fishermen proudly standing next to a hanging 1000-pound shark, looking like the deputy marshals next to the corpses of the Dalton gang, is more akin to how people imagine the stereotypical shark fisherman. The film Jaws released in 1975 spurred an increase in the sport of shark fishing, but very much in the vein of Captain Quint, the hired gun played by Robert Shawas, as if the killing was doing us all a big favor.
These days, research supports the notion that the number of large fish in our oceans is dwindling, commercial harvesting taking most of the responsibly for the decline. Being aware of this dwindling resource has produced a new breed of shark fisherman, still full of testosterone, but now concerned with practicing catch and release as well as data collection.
Padre Island National Seashore (PINS) has a history of the largest caught and successfully released sharks in the U.S. Eric Ozolins of Corpus Christi, the owner of www.extremecoast.com, caught and successfully released a 9-foot, 6-inch Mako from PINS. This normally deep-water fish is believed to be only one of a handful ever caught from a beach, and the only one released alive and well. His tagging data has also produced some excellent information; his tagged sharks mostly turn up in southern Mexico. One of his tagged sharks was caught one mile north from the spot where he caught it exactly one year earlier. This type of data has proven invaluable to biologists tracking shark movement in the Gulf of Mexico.
If you think landing a 9-foot shark from the beach takes a lot of cojones, wait until it comes to the release side of this extreme sport. No kiss on the lips for this baby! Pictures are taken quickly, the shark measured and tagged. Getting the shark back into the water, the angler nurses and swims it until it has recovered enough to be successfully released. It is only then that the celebration and high-fives are shared, the release being as important as the catch. I suppose if ultralight is at one end of this game we love, the Texas shark fisherman is at the other.
The Sharkathon tournament was initiated by a small, gung-ho group of shark fishermen who fish PINS on a regular basis. Although the tournament itself is only in its third year, it has received a considerable amount of sponsorship reflecting the approval of catch and release by the industry.
Using rulers and digital cameras instead of the traditional weigh-in has eliminated the massive fish kills of past shark tournaments. Computer operators can quickly analyze the photographs and efficiently produce accurate results. This measuring method is one reason that the Sharkathon now attracts entrants from all over the state. The increased participation by fishermen has the organizers thinking of having to put a cap of 300 on the number of entries next year.
The choice of equipment is simple: big. The theory is that big baits equal big fish, and big rigs allow you to quickly get the fish in. This improves the chances of a successful release. Bedsides, it looks better on the front of the truck. If your reel is not a 6/0, you are still very much in the minor league; some use the massive 16/0 Penn reels. Line of 100-pound-test and bigger is required.
Terminal tackle is a work of art, starting with 20 feet of 400-pound stainless steel wire leader; at least two 16/0 to 20/0 hooks; a large chunk of stingray, jackfish, or bonita anchored with a 1-pound lead sinker.
In the old days, it was common to hear of shark fishermen swimming out baits, aided only by life jackets or floats. Veteran fishermen tell tales of men being touched by the tiger shark, never again to venture into the Gulf sober. Today, a kayak is the preferred method of deployment, but it still has plenty of risk involved. Blood- soaked bait, hooks, and sinker in the confines of a kayak is extreme. Night deployment up to 300 yards offshore is common.
The Sharkathon event also had divisions for the best tarpon, redfish, and trout, as well as for children under the age of 15.
Ralph Wade, a Texas surf-fishing legend and 83 years young, showed that the old bulls still have what it takes. Ralph is a trout man, and I dare say has forgotten more about catching specks at PINS than most will ever know. He has been fishing for this beach since the early 1960s. That knowledge base and his enthusiasm gave him the first and second place with 25- and 22-inch trout. He said he could have taken third place as well, but did not want to appear greedy. Talking to him later, he said it was not the money, it was the winning: “It has been a slow year, and winning this event has given me my enthusiasm back.” He also commented that if it had not been for his friend, Scott, a young local lawyer and shark fisherman, he would not have entered.
Shark fishing can be very dangerous, and during the event, a couple of fishermen had to go to the emergency room to have hooks removed. The sport, although practiced for many years, is relatively hard to find information. Several good internet sources include: