Early Sunday morning, August 19th, three fishing buddies loaded their gear into a 25-foot Wellcraft and motored away from the public ramp of Marina del Rey in search of one of the most feared and captivating animals on the planet.
Skipper Chad Compton fishes shark almost exclusively and while his boat is somewhat diminutive for the size of the fish he pursues and sea conditions he ventures into, his tenacity and fearlessness in the hunting of this large-scale ocean game are not.
As they set out past the Marina breakwater en route to fishing grounds off the coast of Catalina Island, they had no idea that later in the day they would be dragging a nearly 1,000-pound mako shark behind the little boat — a fish just shy of the state record.
While hooking the 12-foot mako was not unlike injecting pure adrenaline into a vein, and was an experience Compton says he will hold with him the rest of his life, it wasn’t too foreign a feeling, as he had hooked and lost a fish he believes was even bigger two weeks prior, while out fishing with his wife.
“I wish everyone I know could hook up with that fish for just 30 seconds — it would give them a whole new outlook,” said Compton. “Put it this way: I was in the harness pulling that thing. It was pulling so hard I had full drag out, because it was spooling me and I was holding myself up against the boat to keep from going over and the rod was completely bent. I thought, ‘I think I’ve just bit off more than I can chew.’ It was massive.”
For some fisherman a shot at wrangling a 1,000-pound fish is a once-in-a-lifetime event, but Compton returned to the scene of the crime two weeks later and amazingly hooked up again with another king-sized shark. But this time he would be ready.
With the disappointment of having lost that fish still fresh in his mind and armed with the company of his team members, who have been with him through the years and during various high profile shark tournaments, Compton wouldn’t be denied.
The enormous shark approached and they knew she was a rare breed.
She bit onto some tuna and the fight was on. Compton sparred with her from the deck of his small boat for a little over an hour and finally, with the highest degree of caution, brought her close and gaffed her. It’s here that things can go wrong, especially on a boat this size. At nearly 1,000 pounds, this enraged, unpredictable predator is incredibly dangerous and mishandling the situation could be deadly.
“This is the biggest fish I’ve ever caught and what goes through your mind is, there’s so much that can go wrong when you get these fish to gaff — they can dart one way or the other, the gaff might not sink into them, they could get tangled up, there’s so much. They could jump in the boat. If you have a fish that big, the last place you want that fish is right next to the boat.”
The skipper successfully stuck a 12-inch flying gaff into the shark’s back, got a towrope around him and began to assess how to handle and negotiate such a tremendous fish from this point.
While the shark was no longer fighting, problems still existed. Water was flooding over the stern of the boat with the weight of the shark and Compton was extremely mindful of the danger that he was a part of.
“When I gaffed that fish and it came to the rope, it got hung up on my outrigger pad,” he said. “When I got it off the pad and onto the cleat you could here fiberglass cracking.”
He said of the ordeal, “We tried to get her on board and we were taking water over the back. With almost 1,000 pounds in one area — the boat was leaning way over.”
While Compton is aware of the perception that he was in too small a boat for the task at hand, he believed that if everything were handled properly the risk would be manageable.
“Most people would think I’m an idiot for fishing for a shark that size on my boat,” he says. “Let’s face it; when you’re out in open seas, 30 or 40 miles out, being in a 25-foot boat is a different ballgame. It’s not a 40-foot Hatteras. You better know the sea conditions and not get yourself in too deep over your head. Lives are depending on it.”
Compton and crew secured the fish to the transom and made sure the bilge was keeping up. They then made for land at five knots with a fish they hoped would be a state record. When they finally weighed her, she was 964 pounds, 92 pounds shy of the record set last year by a woman from Ventura.
While there was mild disappointment about missing the record, Compton said he will always remember the day and feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to battle such an amazing animal.
While he killed this mako, he mostly releases what he catches out of respect for the conservation of the species. In this instance he made sure that no piece of the fish was wasted.
Shark season is still in full swing and there is a tournament coming up in which he and his dedicated crew hope to once again be wrangling an 11-, 12- or 13-foot fish. He feels confident that he can manage a world record caliber shark despite the size of the boat.