HILTON HEAD ISLAND — They had already caught a few big redfish and Troy Bowman was worn down. Then zing! The big line baited with fish carcass raced out.
“It took off like a bus,” said Capt. Chip Michalove of Outcast Fishing. Any doubt what they had hooked vanished when the massive fish leapt out of the ocean — a great white shark.
“It jumped completely out like a killer whale at Sea World. Straight up,” Michalove said.
“Oh, man, it was unbelievable,” said Bowman of Bulls Gap, Tenn., who was Michalove’s charter customer Wednesday. “It was like you’d seen an elephant out there. So big.”
Bowman, a math teacher more accustomed to a 10-pound bass being a big fish, was about to get the fight of his fishing life.
The 2,500-pound great white battled for more than four hours before getting brought to the boat at 7 p.m. in dark so pitch black that if you had closed your eyes it wouldn’t have made any difference, Michalove said. The men used iPhones for light.
Some deep sea tale, huh? Nope. They were within cellphone range of the Hilton Head beach, in only 30 feet of water.
The great white is the mysterious, rarely seen, apex predator of the ocean. Considered the “lion of the ocean,” it’s the largest known predatory fish — mischaracterized and vilified as a man-eater by the 1970s book and movie “Jaws.”
Great whites have been a local fascination since the winter of 2012, when a satellite-signal tagged Mary Lee pinged just beyond the surf at the Isle of Palms, and The Post and Courier report on her set off a social media firestorm.
On Thursday, the 3,456-pound Mary Lee pinged a satellite signal in the deep ocean north of Bermuda.
Michalove regularly sets lines for large sharks like great whites and tigers, tagging them for research by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, working with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
Michalove has more than 20 years’ experience in catching and handling large sharks, said DNR wildlife biologist Bryan Frazier. Anglers should not target great whites because the population is considered low, the shark could be injured and the big fish is dangerously powerful. Keeping them is illegal, Frazier said.
The shark caught and released Wednesday is the largest Michalove has pulled in and might be the largest caught on rod and reel. It’s been outfitted with an acoustic tag, setting off signals that can be picked up on sensors placed in various spots along the ocean.
But first, they had to get it in. The men took turns fighting, playing in line until the shark turned and took it back out again. The first time it passed under the boat, Bowman had his Go-Pro out, but involuntarily backed off when he saw how big it was up close. He missed the shot.
“Definitely, I did not want to go overboard,” he said.
After three hours, both anglers were spent and Michalove called in another charter captain to help. With two men on the rod and one on the wheel, they made progress bringing it alongside the boat to tag.
“She was still pretty squirrelly. She still meant business, even at that time,” Michalove said. He grabbed it by the nose, pushed the head up to check for the hook, clipped a gill for a DNA sample and set the tag at the base of the dorsal fin, he said.
The shark’s girth was about three-fourths the width of Michalove’s 26-foot sports fishing boat. Up close it looked even more like the back of an elephant or a large rhino, Bowman said.
“To hook something like that, crazy,” he said. “It was just so big around. I couldn’t believe I was standing there and there it was.”
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