The biggest fish I’ve caught so far was a 10-foot hammerhead shark. This was from the beach just south of Port St. Lucie, Florida, and we estimated the fish in the 600-pound range. It was, without question, the most grueling fish fight I ever experienced.
But as hammerheads go, it wasn’t really all that big. My pain was peanuts compared to what angler Pete Quartuccio recently felt aboard the boat of Capt. Chip Michalove (Outcast Charters) when he went toe-to-toe with a 14-foot hammerhead. It was estimated to weigh 400 pounds more than the current South Carolina state record and possibly more than the current world record.
Would-Be Record Hammerhead
This battle took place on July 13, offshore of Hilton Head, SC, Michalove’s home port. According to the story on For The Win, the shark ripped 400 yards of line off the reel in the first minute of the fight. Quartuccio, a seasoned shark angler, traded the rod back and forth for the next hour with a friend of his while Michalove controlled the boat. Despite the tag team effort, Michalove says the two anglers were so worn out from the tussle that neither one even had the strength to take a quick photo with the fish. From the story:
“They were so exhausted they could barely stand,” Michalove said. “Pete crashed on the cooler and laid there in exhaustion, and his friend was so tired that I barely convinced him to just hold the camera while I reached over and grabbed the shark’s head for one quick photo. I tried to get them to lean over for a picture, but they wouldn’t budge. So, I threw a quick tag in the shark, popped the hook, and sent her off.”
The current South Carolina state-record hammerhead was caught in 1989 and weighed 588 pounds. According to Michalove, at no point did anyone onboard consider killing it to claim the title despite knowing this hammerhead would have beaten that record by a wide margin. With so much emphasis on the plight of sharks the world over these days, tagging and releasing seems like the obvious choice for this fish. But by Michalove’s own admission, not that long ago he would have felt differently.
“Fifteen years ago, I would’ve thrown a rope around her head and dragged her back to demolish the records,” Michalove told For The Win. “But these sharks have given me a good life and they’re too important to our fishery.”
Attitudes about killing sharks have changed drastically over the last few years. Just recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration banned the killing of mako sharks in the Atlantic. This has been met with mixed feeling from anglers, as makos are as prized on the table as swordfish and tuna. Hammerheads—along with many other common Southern species like bull and tiger sharks—have never been considered prized table fare but were routinely hung up on marina scales for little more than photo ops and bragging rights.
Current World Record Hammerhead
Quartuccio and Michalove’s fish, however, could have beaten the current world record hammerhead that was caught in 2006 by angler Bucky Dennis in Florida’s Boca Grande Pass. Dennis’s fish pinned the needle at a back-road truck weigh station to 1,280 pounds. It’s a fish I’ll never forget because I was there to see it landed and weighed.
I just happened to be tarpon fishing in Boca Grande when the call came through that Dennis had the shark boat side after a fight that lasted 6 hours. The hammerhead had towed his bay boat nearly 12 miles offshore. I was just a young buck in the fishing media industry, but I jumped at the chance to photograph the fish. The shark was so massive that every time Dennis and his crew tried the heave the beast onto the deck, the boat’s transom would dip dangerously below the water. They ended up spending four hours slowly dragging it in. By the time they got the fish on a trailer and arrived at that weigh station, it was after midnight.
At the time, I was awestruck by the size of the fish, but over the years I started questioning the glory. Was it worth that fish dying to claim a record? None of it was consumed and the shark was loaded with pups. Furthermore, that hammerhead had spent so many years in Boca Grande Pass that it had become somewhat of a local attraction—anglers and boaters hoped to catch a glimpse of the beast.
Michalove has set an example that I hope more captains follow. His decision is more commendable and, in my mind, should boost his charter business more than if he’d claimed the record, though he says he’s gotten several messages from people giving him flack about letting it go.
None of those messages would have come from current world record holder Bucky Dennis. According to this story in the Herald Tribune, he ultimately regretted his decision to kill that 1,280-pound shark. In the end Dennis scored little more than some free fishing line for his effort. The fish was not a winning lottery ticket.
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