A Tale of Two Sharks

A Tale of Two Sharks
Ready for nightfall with baits deployed, preparing to enjoy an extraordinary batch of fish tacos.

Occasionally, I enjoy reminiscing about the past, looking back through nostalgic eyes on days which seemed simpler. In one way, the summer of 2008 felt much like the summer of 2022, because gas prices spiked above four dollars a gallon for the first time. High prices at the pump deter people from driving except for required reasons, so in July of '08, few people made long trips down the beach to go fishing, at least compared with the crowds of anglers who normally line up on the strip of sand fronting the surf.

About that time, my good friend Kip Kaaialii and I had ascended to the peak of our reckless period. I still lived like a beach bum, and Kip wanted to join the fun, so he took a much needed hiatus from his job to focus on sharking for a couple months. Another good friend had passed on an old Suburban to me, and I spent two days welding a custom fishing platform to it. Considering it was my first project of this kind, before the days of all-aluminum racks, I felt pretty stoked, proud of the results. Once I finished, Kip confirmed he was eager to join me on the Suburban's maiden voyage to the beach.

We bit the bullet at the pump, cussed the state of affairs and pointed our newly-enhanced vehicle south, heading to the Promised Land of the Padre Island National Seashore around mid-morning. Like we did on all similar trips, we embarked fully ready for a truly authentic, potentially epic adventure. On this outing, our playground felt like a protected, seemingly forgotten world. Driving the remote beach south of Malaquite proved much more treacherous then; soft sand and shell banks made the going slow and tough. Complicating the journey, the trailer we towed behind the truck to carry Kip’s Achilles inflatable was falling apart by the time we hit the beach and didn't survive all the way to our stopping point.

When the axle and hubs crumbled, we had to repack our gear, throwing the inflatable on top of the Suburban and leaving the rusty trailer behind. We did soldier on, refusing to let some ruined equipment deter us from our quest, knowing we could recover the trailer on the way home. We arrived at our chosen spot around lunchtime and set up camp. Immediately, we got to work casting out small baits, targeting rays and/or jacks to use for bait to attract sharks, mostly catching whiting and hardheads, though we did manage to land one fresh ray.

We kept all of what we caught, filleting the whiting for fish tacos and grinding their carcasses with the hardheads, to use for chum. As the sun sank into the horizon, Kip deployed the biggest baits. After dropping the baits, he spread the contents of a five-gallon bucket of fresh chum out beyond the breakers. This experimental chumming method, incorporating the ground fish mixed with menhaden oil, created a visually appealing slick, which seemed destined to attract the attention of some of the right creatures.

Back then, we'd been seeing and encountering new things on just about every trip to the beach. While darkness descended, we fried our whiting and enjoyed tacos which tasted far too good for beach food. Then, around ten o'clock, something cut one of my lines, baited with a jack. With the spotlight, we could see the reflective tape on the float and decided to do nothing for the moment. Mere minutes later, a slow-rolling shark hit the line baited with the ray and we had a fish on.

Though this happened not so many years ago, the shark fishing we did in those days now feels primitive, when compared with the technologically advanced methods we use today. These events took place near the end of the Penn Senator era for me; on this particular evening, we used Super 6/0 Senator conversions. The following year, I started using Avets and two-speed reels. Several years earlier, I'd pioneered the idea of spooling these kinds of reels exclusively with braided lines. We were brave in those days, thinking we could land anything on the old reels, if we stacked them with 100 lb. Power Pro.

Strapped in, I could tell I'd hooked a solid fish, feeling fairly sure it was a tiger. I'd let it run out a couple hundred yards, then meticulously gain line back. This went on for over an hour. Eventually, though it seemed I wasn't regaining much line as the shark made short runs of about twenty yards, then gave some back, I did manage to make some progress.About two hours into the fight, when we succeeded in pulling the shark onto the third bar, we noticed something odd. We'd been tracking the float with the spotlight for some time when we suddenly saw BOTH our floats in reflected light.

At first I assumed we were dragging in the weight and leader of the break-off line, but about fifteen minutes later, when we dragged the mess up to the second bar, we could see the two lines and leaders tangled in some strange way. The floats appeared to be working against each other. We then knew why the fight had been so long and awkward; we'd hooked two sharks! As the battle drew to its end, I put as much pressure as I could on my pair of opponents, to inch them closer and closer to land.

Kip sat in his chair on the beach, burning through cigarettes like a nervous wreck. I was a little more collected, but still quite anxious. Once I got the mess of line and leaders close to the first bar, I felt a sudden, sharp jolt. Then I had slack line, which indicated I'd lost one or both of the fish to a cut line or pulled hook. Hoping I hadn't done all the work for nothing, I reeled frantically and finally felt welcome tension, thankful to find myself still involved in a fight.

We lit up the line again and could see just one float, on the line still holding the shark I was fighting.The other line had become entangled on the leader and weight of this one, eventually snapping, causing the sudden jolt I had felt. We found the other float in the light and watched it moving quickly away from shore. Bummed about these events, we trained our focus back on beaching the original shark we'd hooked.

After a three hour fight, with about half that time spent tugging against two large sharks at once, on a now archaic 6/0 Senator reel, I ended up landing a 10’6” tiger. We succeeded in tagging, photographing and releasing a memorable fish which still claims a special place in my heart because of what we endured while the wildly unique battle played out. That big tiger became one of the main highlights of 2008, the year of the lonely beaches. At present, almost a decade and a half later, tiger time is upon us again. With some solid fish already caught this season, the end of summer is shaping up to be nothing short of spectacular. Those interested in embarking on the potential trip of a lifetime should call me ASAP, as my charter schedule is filling up fast.