The Ultimate Shark Experience

by Daniel Paull - Presented from Issue 92

What is the ultimate shark fishing experience? Is it the action packed moment when you witness a large mako leaping clear of the water, accompanied with a series of sharp twists and turns, or is it just the peaceful relaxation you get while bobbing around on the sea, waiting for that first dorsal fin to break the surface of a well spread burley trail? For me, the very thought of encountering something large, and toothy, is enough to keep me heading out onto the ocean with an esky full of burley.

Most of the time, you will usually attract two particular species to your vicinity. These two species include the mako and their slightly docile cousin, the blue shark. But what would happen if you managed to attract something different, something even more dangerous than the other two? What would happen if you ever encountered a large and very curious Charcharodon charcharias or great white shark?

This event took place during a typical March weekend. It was a quiet Saturday morning in Burnie and the weather was far from ideal. I was fishing with Bryan Van Wyk, a fellow shark enthusiast and fishing forum contributor. When we left the South Burnie boat ramp, we didn’t really know what to think. With a stiff breeze blowing in from the east, we both knew that it would be a slow and uncomfortable trip out into deeper water.

The weather was going to improve later on in the day, so with this in mind, we carefully made our way out into the temperate waters of Bass Strait. When Bryan and I reached a suitable depth for shark fishing, we quickly deployed a cage full of burley. Along with a few other boats, we were basically out on our own, bobbing around on the sea with little to look at. What could we expect to catch? The water was considerably dirty and there was virtually nothing showing up on the depth sounder.

After Bryan decided to drop a paternoster rig to the bottom in order to catch a few flathead, I spotted something large approaching for the southern corner of our burley trail. At first, I thought it was a large fur seal, but as it drew closer to the stern of the boat, I started to think otherwise. As Bryan reached for his camera, a large bronze dorsal fin broke the oily surface of our trail. The crescent shaped fin approached us slowly, almost as if it was just drifting along with the current. I quickly discovered the identity of the species as it curiously swam around the outboard. It was a large female white shark, the biggest of which I have ever seen. I was stunned for a brief moment. After all, we weren’t fishing in a particularly large vessel by any stretch of the imagination!

Bryan and I quickly jumped to attention. We didn’t know how long the fish would hang around for. After a little deliberation, we soon decided to capture as much footage of the animal as we possibly could. I was the first to lean over the gunwale with my waterproof camera. As Bryan tempted the gigantic fish closer to the boat with an old, oily and very smelly barracouta, I managed to record the first few minutes of the encounter. As time passed, we noticed that the shark wasn’t going to leave us, especially with a well maintained burley trail still emitting from the boat. She became accustomed with the hull and often poked her large, broad head out of the water to see what was going on above.

Bryan and I could easily identify this shark if we ever did see her again. After taking numerous photographs, we soon began to examine the fish to some extent. We estimated the fish to have weighed around the six hundred kilogram mark. It wasn’t hard to get a rough estimation on her weight when she began rolling on her side beside the boat after all! Along with a weight, I reckon she would have been at least ten or eleven feet long, from the point of her nose, to the tip of her tail. Although she wasn’t an overly long specimen, she definitely made it up for it in girth! On another note, she also supported a very distinguishing wound on her dorsal fin. It would appear that a small chunk of her dorsal was removed after a tussle with a large male during mating. The whole experience basically revolved around really getting a first hand look at a white shark, we were prepared to do anything in order to get the best out of our encounter.

As the day progressed well into the afternoon, I decided to see if we could get some good footage of her feeding. Now, as sceptical as this may seem, I have mentioned that we were prepared to do almost anything to get the very best out of our experience! I grabbed an old salmon frame and carefully pulled a length of rope through the eye socket of the fish. Yes, I was going to feed her, and hang on to my tasty little salmon too. After I lowered the salmon beside the boat, she soon swam up for a look. It didn’t take long for her to sense the oily salmon in the water. She grabbed it cautiously and I carefully pulled her toward the gunwale. As I pulled her closer, she popped her head up out of the water and showed us those glorious serrated teeth that we all hear about. The very thing that created Jaws wasn’t at all frightening, it was spectacular.

After Bryan had filmed me feeding the fish for a while, he decided to jump in on the action. Unfortunately for him, I had left all the small squid heads for his disposal, and the shark didn’t seem to go that much on them! Jamie Harris, a good mate and shark fishing guru, was also out on the day and we had kept in contact for the duration of the encounter. After feeding the shark the vast majority of our bait, I called Jamie on the radio and gave him our coordinates. It wasn’t long before we spotted a boat flying towards us on the horizon. As expected, Jamie arrived with a few chunky salmon for the shark. We spent another hour feeding, photographing and filming the shark until Jamie decided to call it a day. After Jamie left, we spent another three or four hours with the fish until finally, she disappeared into the depths. In total, Bryan and I spent seven hours with the one shark.

This wasn’t my first encounter with a great white shark, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Burleying would have to be my most favourite form of fishing. Is it a size thing, or is it just the excitement you get while targeting something dangerous? I couldn’t tell you, but as far as I’m concerned, shark fishing is the ultimate way to experience the ocean with a rod and reel. Perhaps hooking up to a three hundred kilogram mako is something I would like to do one day, but for the time being, I will continue to head out onto the water knowing that somewhere, there is another Charcharodon charcharias just waiting to swim up our burley trail.

Daniel Paull

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