The Holy Grail

The Holy Grail

Shark angler’s holy grail…tagged and released mako from the beach.

At least fifteen different species of sharks visit the shallow waters off Texas beaches during any given year. The shortfin mako ranks high on the list of rarities. Nature and evolution combined to invent a supremely effective design when they built the mako, one of the ocean's apex predators.

The huge keel at the base of a mako's tail is bound with pure muscle, capable of providing the fish a tremendous amount of raw power and speed, which fuels lightning-fast bursts and the ability to launch free from the water, far into the sky. Makos are like sleek sports car, built for performance—the McLarens of the shark world.

Because most makos prowl far offshore, people get excited when they hear one has been caught from the beach. Land-based sharkers have long considered the mako as a kind of holy grail. At the start of 2022, only six land-based makos had ever been caught in Texas, but the number seems destined to grow.

Generally, I can't devote much time to pursuing makos, but recently, I was happy to help a good friend with his pursuit of the seemingly mythical speedster shark.Fellow Team Rockstar fishing buddy Ron Richmond has had an illustrious career of his own. For the past few years, he's been hauling bruiser tigers to the beach, including a twelve and half foot freak specimen he landed in Matagorda last fall. The one thing missing in his respectful surf resume was catching a mako from the beach.

Some time ago, he had announced that 2021 would be his final year before retiring from the sport. But when 2022 arrived, he changed his mind, citing a still unquenched thirst; he wanted one more shot at the elusive mako. So he chose to fish one more season, mostly because of the mako need.

I've known Ron for several years. A genuine asset to the fishing community, he believes strongly in work ethic. At 63 years of age, Ron routinely busts his butt in the kayak, deploying shark baits, while some in the newer generation rely on drones and other less-respected techniques. Since retiring from a career as an engineer, Ron has had time to develop his passion on the beach and explore the adventures these toothy critters present.

The obsession began a lifetime ago when he was fishing the creeks, rivers, and lakes of Illinois and Minnesota, during his childhood. His is a story much like mine; I grew up on a lake in upstate New York, fishing freshwater, captivated by all the fish I caught. Many anglers develop their obsession for fishing in freshwater, and when they convert to salt, it's like throwing gasoline on a bonfire.

The prevailing conditions this past January provided fuel for hope. Warm weather and water temps created a feeling we were still fishing a fall pattern. Conditions in the surf were stellar, the action fast. Ron kept planning his trips solely around the quest to catch a mako. I provided some insights on what to look for, hoping an ultra-rare mako window would present itself.

For makos to venture close the beach in Texas, several variables must line up perfectly. The big three out of these are water temperature, water clarity, and bait presence. In mid-January, we had an extremely short window where these factors aligned in textbook fashion. I had some down time and was able to meet Ron for a day to target makos. Conditions were touch and go—on that particular morning, the water was semi-dirty. But by early afternoon, emerald green water started pushing in around the 3rd sandbar. We wondered, would this be the day?

We ran out a small array of baits and were in waiting mode. Ron and I were parked roughly 150 yards apart, so we could assist each other if the need presented itself. Within a couple hours, the bait on one of my 80W reels got picked up; the fish ran hard offshore, but for just a few seconds. The shark then wheeled around and bolted inshore with an insane amount of speed. I reeled in perhaps 100 yards of line, thinking I'd been cut off, but I soon realized the shark had dropped the fresh drum I was using for bait.

I knew the whole scenario smelled like a mako, but I didn't say anything to Ron. I just went on about my business and re-ran the bait. Roughly an hour later, I saw Ron climb on top of his truck, hooked up, so I started to walk his way. About halfway there, I heard his 80W getting dumped; the clicker sounded like a roaring Harley showing off. I jumped on the platform with Ron and instantly knew he was hooked up to a BIG mako. Ron couldn't gain an inch of line for several minutes, when all of a sudden the fight stopped and the line fell limp. The bait had pulled out of the mako's mouth. The mysterious beast won the day, and we left licking our wounds.

Soon after that, cold fronts repeatedly blasted across the Texas coast, basically for the whole month of February. Water temps dropped and stayed below normal for over a month. Then, in late March, things started to get back on track. Focused and determined, Ron kept an eye on the weather and conditions. We agreed another possible mako window appeared to be looming, perhaps for just a day or two. That's all Ron needed to get back down and seek his revenge.

On March 26th, the man who needed a mako headed back to the beach to continue his mission. I wrangled my family to go out for a day and fish with Ron. Conditions looked prime and the mako variables fell in line. I finally meet up with my friend early in the afternoon, as he was getting his third bait out. I immediately put a couple baits out, and almost instantly Alexis hooked up on a solid fish... but the hook pulled, and I experienced deja vu. While I prepped a new bait, I looked down the beach and saw Ron on his platform, waving at me; he had hooked a really good shark!

Ron kept saying, “Good fish. Good fish,” while I walked up. The shark took line at will, heading farther down the beach. We both thought he'd hooked a tiger. I would have bet money and tackle on it, based on the way the fish fought. A giant tiger would be a hell of a consolation prize in March, even for a man with mako on the brain. The shark refused to slow down, continuing to head north with the current. Ron suggested I hop in his truck and drive him down the beach, so he could recover some line.

So that's what I did. I drove, Ron cranked away, and after a few minutes, we were well down the beach, beginning to win the fight. Fortunately, the shark then made a diagonal run towards the beach, giving us a chance to intercept it. We continued the chase for a couple more minutes, until our adversary crossed the second sandbar. Once I pulled even with the shark, I parked the truck and jumped back on top with Ron.

Through the lenses of my polarized shades, I could just see a dark silhouette under the water's surface.Still in the zone, focused heavily on the fight and gaining as much line as possible, Ron battled on. The shark finally crossed into the first gut, and I hopped down to tail-rope it, as it approached the first sandbar. With leader in hand, I began to pull, and like a horror movie scene, the shark came to the surface, powerfully whipping its tail back and forth.

This provided the confirmation we needed. Once you see a mako's tail, you never forget it. Both upper and lower lobes are virtually the same size and designed for mega-propulsion. After a few final, frantic bursts, the mako calmed down enough for me to lasso its massive tail, and one Texas surf sharker's dream came true.

Working quickly, we removed the hook and measured the fish. The healthy mako rang in at exactly ten foot in length, marking the fifth different shark species measuring more than nine feet Ron's caught in his career! I attached a special ADL tag to the shark for the Harte Research Institute. With all obligations and photos completed, Ron pulled the shark out into water deep enough to prime it for release.

Once free, the creature swam almost instantly over the bars fronting the beach, headed back to the deep offshore waters of the Gulf, where it belongs, this time carrying a badge to honor the name of science. Such a cool end to a journey this provided for a man who deserved what he got. In triumph, Ron accomplished his personal goal and landed the fish of a lifetime.As a bonus, I was able to attach another satellite tag to a Texas beach-caught mako. This, just the seventh mako dragged onto a Texas beach, became the fifth one to touch my hand. I've caught two myself, and I'm proud of my friend Ron, who joined the tiny fraternity of Texas anglers who've found the holy grail while working the beach.