Controversy circles around shark catch


As a local fly fishing guide and fishing show host who has specialized in taking clients to catch and release mako sharks, Conway Bowman has mixed views on the recent potential world-record mako caught off Huntington Beach.

Jason Johnston of Mesquite, Texas, fishing on “Mako” Matt Potter’s charter boat, Breakaway, a 37-foot Topaz out of Huntington Beach, landed a 1,323-pound shortfin mako shark Monday. If approved by the International Game Fish Association, the official record-keeper for saltwater and freshwater catches, the catch will topple the current mark of 1,221 pounds caught off Chatham, Mass.

“If it was caught in the right manner, and the fisherman did all the right things, then yes, it should be considered for a record,” said Bowman, who hosts two fishing shows – “Fly Fishing the World” and “Outfitters by Ford Trucks” on the Sportsman Channel. “But the other question is should we be taking these big sharks as much as we are right now?”

Bowman said it’s not difficult at all to chum mako sharks to the boat this time of year. He said the females – and most makos over 500 pounds are female – are full of pups right now and weigh the heaviest of the year. Southern California serves as a nursery for young makos. The older females go to the same areas off Southern California each year to give birth. Makos can give birth to eight to 10 and as many as 18 pups once every 18 months or so.

The catch already has been attacked by shark protection groups who see all sharks as being overfished. Great white sharks, for instance, are protected in California waters and most waters in the world. Bowman said he’s not a rabid environmentalist or protectionist, but he believes in protecting a unique resource like the mako population off Southern California.

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“In two days last year we caught and released 27 mako sharks,” Bowman said. “Our biggest was estimated at 300 pounds. But we could have kept any one of them. I had two anglers on the boat, and the state limit is two a day, per angler. So we could have kept six a day if we wanted to. But I’ve never been a believer in killing apex predators, especially when they’re full of pups.”

Bowman also is not a fan of bow-hunting for makos. Potter has guided bow-hunting clients to makos before, but he said today that Johnston caught the monster mako on rod and reel. Potter said Johnston used a reel spooled with 130-pound Spectra backing, topped with 130-pound monofilament and a wire leader to deal with the toothy mako’s mouth. He said Johnston used a Mustad 14/0 Marlin hook.

Potter said he sees both sides of the argument. His wife, Kristin, caught a 38-pound mako that was an IGFA line-class, world record on 4-pound test until it was broken. He said he catches and released fish in 900-pound range.

“We don’t keep a lot of the fish we catch,” said Potter, who has been guiding for seven years. “These fish are managed extremely well, and if there were any problems with us keeping fish like this, I’m sure the (Fish and Wildlife) would create a regulation to protect and manage them.”

Bowman said the bow-and-arrow technique doesn’t require much skill.

“These guys who take these bow-hunting mako trips usually are good shots,” Bowman said. “But it really doesn’t take much of a shot to hit a mako. I could put a Yeti cooler out there and hit it, and it would be the same thing. These are big, apex predators who aren’t afraid of anything. They come right into the chum line and are a foot off the transom.”

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Bowman believes the California Department of Fish and Wildlife needs to do a better job of regulating mako fishing.

“I’m not saying that (CDFW) needs to take the rights of fishermen away, but (DFW) needs to do something to protect this fishery better,” Bowman said. “They need to tighten the regulations without taking rights away. We have a really unique fishery off Southern California, but if we keep chipping away at it by taking away the breeding fish, it’s sure to hurt the fishery, the ecosystem. Last year I saw three makos over 1,000 pounds, and I’ve seen these big makos tearing up seals and sea lions. They keep that population in check. They play an integral part in our ecosystem.”

Bowman would like to see the DFW go to a tag system, much like it has for big-game hunting for deer, elk, sheep and antelope.

Potter said the entire catch was captured by cameras filming for a TV show, “Jim Shockey’s The Professionals” for the Outdoor Channel.

“We even had a camera on the leader, and it got the mako eating the bait,” Potter said. “We have it taking the bait and jumping out of the water. It jumped five times.”

Williams, of New Fishall Bait Co., said the mako is being kept on ice at his shop in Gardena, but it will be shipped to a taxidermist in Florida.

“From what I understand, all they (Potter’s group) have to do is pay for the shipping,” Williams said. “The taxidermist then has the right to make a mold of the record fish and make more if he wants. That’s part of the deal.”

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Potter, who owns Mako Matt Marine in Huntington Beach, said he wants to make sure all the interested parties who seek samples of the fish get some before the fish is shipped to Florida. He said a number of colleges and agencies have asked for samples.

Williams said his shop’s name and his chum product – Game Fish Attractor – have gotten great play out of the catch. The fish was weighed at his shop, and his chum bucket was used to lure the shark.

“I’m a big believer in catch and release and put that on my chum buckets,” Williams said. “I know Matt and the angler have been taking some heat for keeping this fish, but when you catch a record fish like this, you’d be stupid to let it go, right? There isn’t one single fisherman out there who would let a world-record fish like this go.”

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>