Catch of a Lifetime: Jeff Thomason's Bowfishing World Record Mako Shark
January 29, 2015
Being a predator hunter, I have a passion for heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping adventures. From calling a coyote within bow range to my latest passion for bowfishing, I must be deep in the action — and bowfishing for mako sharks certainly provides that!
Sharks have always intrigued me. I don't know if it is the fierceness they possess or just their mysterious nature. Mako sharks are one of the few sharks you can hunt and are the fastest-swimming sharks in the ocean. They can swim at a top speed of 60 miles per hour when they are migrating or hunting for food.
They generally swim at a speed of about 35 miles an hour on a regular basis. You just look at them and see they are built for speed. They are also very aggressive.
So, about five years ago when I got my first opportunity to go to California and bowfish for makos, I jumped at the chance. California is one of the few states that allows bowfishing for makos. A longtime friend and hunting companion told me about a fishing Captain named "Mako" Matt Potter of Breakaway Sportfishing Charters who was trying to perfect a technique to bowfish for these speedy sharks.
My first thought was that they were out of their minds and it would never work. But I soon learned Capt. Matt knows more about sharks than anyone else I know. Within two days, I was in Huntington Beach, Calif., preparing to go after sharks with a bow!
I had plans to film for my television show, Predator Pursuit on the Sportsman Channel, but we weren't sure what to expect. You have to remember that five years ago, this was all new to everyone. We didn't know what equipment to really use — or what would even hold up to the sharks.
The first day I got very seasick and only added to the chum slick. By day two, this Texan quickly learned the benefits of Dramamine! After many hours of Capt. Matt's stories on all the great sharks he had caught, my hopes were very high. At this point, they had only managed a handful of sharks with a bow. We were still in the testing phase, so to say. But I shouldn't have worried, as later that afternoon, the giant flock of seagulls that was hanging in our chum slick lifted off in a rush and I knew something was happening. I could see the excitement in Matt's face as he screamed, "Mako!"
Sure enough, I was about to experience my first mako encounter. After all that excitement, were able to take a respectable, 300-pound fish.
After that first shark, I was hooked! I've kept in close contact with Capt. Matt ever since and made several return visits to chase makos, taking two sharks in the 500-pound range with my bow. However, both Capt. Matt and I were willing to go bigger — much bigger. After discussing strategy, we agreed our best bet for landing a truly giant mako would be luring it close for a good, clean shot with maximum arrow penetration.
Fast-forward to this past summer. I had a trip scheduled with Capt. Matt for a full moon in August. Matt said the biggest makos take advantage of the full moon to hunt sea lions in open water. We started the trip by heading about 40 miles off the coast and laying a two-mile chum slick designed to attract sharks. Then we drifted as Matt constantly judged the wind and current and we all watched the seagulls in the chum.
Capt. Matt operates a 37-foot Topaz Express Sportfisher, which is big enough to take the weather and the shark's movement. We've been in really close to the shoreline to hunt for sharks and very far out. Just like a whitetail hunter checks wind and weather for the best stand, Matt is constantly checking water temperature, currents and tide.
We were only drifting 20 minutes when we saw the seagulls lift off the water, just like they have every other time I've hunted makos. But because it was happening so quickly, I didn't trust the signal. Then Matt screamed, "It's a huge Mako!"
I looked at him, thinking it was a joke, but his face said otherwise. Then it seemed like everything was happening in slow motion. This huge fish started circling the boat and we immediately knew this was a potential world record. We needed him close to the boat to get the best penetration with the arrow. I was using a Hoyt Katera XL bow dialed in at 70 pounds with an AMS bowfishing arrow. The grapple tip had about 8 feet of steel leader connected to a heavy-duty saltwater rod used to fight the fish after the shot.
We finally got the shark close enough to the boat where I could lean over the back railing, which is about waist high, and shoot. The boat was rocking, I was at an awkward angle and my first shot went completely under the shark. I was ready to throw up, because the shark was such a monster and I completely missed!
Suddenly, a sea lion appeared and I thought it was over, because the shark now had "real" food to chase instead of our chum. I went up to the front of the boat to put my bow down. But then Capt. Matt yelled again, "He's back!" And sure enough, the monster had returned. It all happened so quickly, and the shark came right around to the back of the boat. This time, I got a good shot off and the fight was on.
It is unbelievable to see an 800-pound fish jumping out of the water. We eventually got him close enough to get a gaff into him. After a long struggle, everyone on the boat was soaking wet and tired, but we finally got the shark back to the boat. Despite our exhaustion, we knew we had a world-record catch on our hands, so the celebration was on!
With the shark being towed behind the boat, the trip back to shore took considerably longer than the three hours it took to get out there. And even once we got back to the dock, the only way to transport this monster to a certified scale was via a boat trailer. And of course, the scale was not far from Hollywood. So, there we were driving through a mass of people with an 11-foot shark covered in tarps on a trailer behind us — not something I ever want to do again.
Once we arrived at the scale, the shark officially weighed in at 809.5 pounds, shattering the previous world bowfishing record of 544 pounds. Incidentally, the previous record was taken just two months earlier, also with the assistance of Capt. Matt. After submitting the proper paperwork, the catch was officially verified as the new world record by the Bowfishing Association of America.
The best thing is that this shark produced 400 pounds of fresh meat. Capt. Matt has a good partnership with several homeless shelters in the area, so we were able to clean the shark, get the meat in coolers and off to the shelters. They were extremely happy to receive it.
Maybe one day, if I ever get a house with enough room to display an 11-foot shark, I'll get a replica made. For now, I have the shark's jaws, some awesome memories and a great TV show to share with the world.
Part 1 of the episode of "Predator Pursuit" featuring Thomason's record shark hunt will air on The Sportsman Channel Feb. 7 at 1 p.m. EST, while Part 2 airs Feb. 14 at 1 p.m. EST.