Editor's note: Capt. Chris Gatley can be found with his fishing clients chasing striped bass in front of the Statue of Liberty, or heading offshore to the Atlantic Ocean canyons off the NJ/NY coast for tuna. His articles on cutting-edge fishing techniques can be found in The Fisherman Magazine, and he's a regular presenter at key sports shows during the winter months (when he's not pursuing whatever he can find in East Coast rivers).
The hurricane missed the east coast but something big blew in at the hands of Capt. Taylor Sears.
Winds pushed 50 on the mainland as Hurricane Bill passed Cape Cod, and that was far enough away to not affect fishing. Sears took advantage several days later, landing a huge mako shark while tuna fishing.
Sears, of Mass Bay Guides in Scituate, Mass., successfully caught a 624-pound mako shark, which would have been a record for male makos had it not been harpooned.
Sears and mate Capt. Tom King met their paying fare at 5 a.m. Thursday and steamed toward Provincetown, Mass., in hopes of rounding the Cape to their tuna grounds. Fifteen miles into their 18-mile journey, the port oil pump went down. Sears' only remedy was to add oil every few hours.
The crew then decided to set up on Stellwagen Bank, a popular tuna ground. Sears deployed several rods, including one outfitted with a Kite and tipped with a menhaden moss bunker baitfish, referred to in New England as a pogy. Kite fishing is gaining popularity here as the kite enables an angler to dangle live bait at the water's surface, tantalizing gamefish lurking below.
This kite rod took its first tuna strike, and the father of the charter was first on the fish. After a 45-minute battle, an estimated 65-inch bluefin tuna weighing roughly 170 pounds popped to the surface with a big mako shark chomping on it.
"I yelled like a little girl," Sears said, "Yelling mako! Mako!"
Sears hand lined the tuna across the surface trying to pull it away from the shark. Sears said the shark charged right after it but he quickly gaffed the tuna and got it aboard.
The shark circled the boat and Capt. King prepared a shark rig, using a chunk from the tuna as bait. They threw it as far away from the boat as they could because mako sharks are notorious for jumping during a fight. They did not want the shark in the cockpit of their boat, alive and kicking.
Within minutes, the big male mako shark took the bait, and the fight was on.
Sears was on the rod as the paying charter was too tired from battling the tuna. The plan was to have Sears battle the fish, quickly place the rod in the rod holder and harpoon it. King's job was keeping order in the cockpit.
"The shark battle was uneventful till it was harpooned," Sears said.
King, the leading shark expert for New England Sharks.com, instructed Sears to throw the harpoon between the dorsal fin and the tail so that the shark could be handled safely and towed backward till it died.
"All hell broke loose," Sears said after harpooning the shark. "The shark freaked out and at times was looking eyeball to eyeball with me. I was just waiting for the shark to jump in the boat."
During the aerial displays, the fishing line broke because of a faulty swivel. The crew was forced to follow the shark by watching for the poly ball attached to the harpoon. It was 30 minutes before the captains could grab the harpoon line and get three tail ropes on the fish, ultimately tying it to the boat.
At times, Sears said the ball, about twice the size of a basketball, was drug under the surface 3 to 4 feet and still moving at a high rate of speed.
"This was the real battle" Sears said as the shark fought the harpoon, the line and ball while jumping out of the water.
As news of the catch spread, the crew received a call from Taylor's father, who was out fishing that day but needed a tow back to port. So, King and Sears headed a few miles south to Peakod Hill to assist. They limped back to the dock at 7.5 knots with Sears pumping oil into the port engine, another vessel in tow but with a fish of a lifetime that drew a big crowd to the docks.