Mako makes for ultimate fish tale 6 1/2 -hour battle lands 9-foot-6, 567-pounder

OUTDOORS

June 06, 1993|By PETER BAKER

Barry Meredith of Baltimore left Indian River Inlet last Wednesday morning on his first real offshore fishing trip. Some 10 hours later, he returned to the docks with a story that will last him a lifetime.

"Barry was not scheduled to be with us that day," said Capt. Bruce McGuigan, who operates Captain Mac's Bait and Tackle just outside Ocean City and runs a 24-foot sportfishing boat named Staghound.

"But we had a cancellation and we asked him if he wanted to come along. Fortunately for him, he said, 'Yes.' "

Before Wednesday, said Meredith, a sales representative for the Folsom Corp., a New Jersey-based tackle company, his only offshore fishing experience had been trolling for tuna on a whim during a recent Marion (Mass.)-to-Bermuda sailboat race.

On Wednesday, Meredith, McGuigan and Terry Layton, a well-known Ocean City marlin fisherman, headed out to the northern end of the Fingers with the idea of perhaps catching a shark.

"We had our lines in the water no more than 10 or 15 minutes before it hit," said Meredith, 31. "It took the smallest of the lines we had out and at first we didn't know what it was because it took the line very gently.

"But as soon as he took off, [McGuigan and Layton] said it was a mako. A big mako -- and their jaws just hit the deck. I said, 'Oh, my God, how did I end up with this.' "

What Meredith had on the end of a 30-pound rig was a 567-pound mako that later was measured at 9 feet, 6 inches with a girth of 6 feet.

And for a guy who grew up in Arnold and learned to fish in the Magothy River, there were some hard lessons to be learned before the shark was boated and brought to shore.

"At first, I figured that, well, I'll get tired after a while and then give the rod to someone else," Meredith said. "What I didn't understand was that once you hook a fish, it's yours until it either gets off or you have to cut the line.

"I was on the rod for 6 1/2 hours, and it was the most strenuous thing I ever have done. But the fish, the fish was truly magnificent."

McGuigan said the shark jumped eight or nine times, clearing the water by eight or 10 feet on some jumps.

"They say that most sharks are kind of blase," Meredith said. "But these makos are amazing. When they jump they look like Shamu at Sea [World]."

Aboard Staghound there was no rod harness, so Meredith sat in the fighting chair for more than six hours and had to hold the rod throughout, with just the rod butt seated in a gimbaled belt.

"Layton had to feed and drink me in the chair," Meredith said.

Even though seas were nearly calm and the wind was light southerly, McGuigan said the 6 1/2 -hour fight was not without its more dangerous moments on Staghound, a 24-foot Privateer with twin Yamaha outboards.

"We had a couple of times when we were sitting with a foot and a half of water in the boat, and we just had to let the fish run and power up to drain the water out," McGuigan said.

After several hours fighting the mako, McGuigan called Ocean City Capt. Mark Sampson on the radio for advice. Sampson, whose prowess aboard the charter boat FishFinder is well known, eventually came alongside Staghound and jumped aboard.

But even after the shark had been gaffed and had a rope around its tail, there were still a few anxious moments.

"At one point, the boat was at a standstill, even though it was in forward gear with the motor running," Meredith said. "The shark was just moving the boat side to side . . . . I remember thinking, 'Oh, my God, this fish is going to pull the transom off.'

"It was like a tug of war, and at 1,800 rpms the shark was winning," McGuigan said. "We had to go up to 2,400 rpms just to get to a standoff."

With the help of a hoist aboard the FishFinder, the mako eventually was loaded aboard Staghound and brought to the state-operated Northshore facility at Indian River Inlet.

"We went out for the trophy rockfish season on Chesapeake Bay and we caught a 36-incher," Meredith said. "At the time, I thought that was a big fish. These guys use fish that big for bait."

Ten weeks ago, Meredith's first daughter, Mary Elizabeth, was born.

"But between you and me," Meredith said, "Now I don't know which was the more exciting of the two."

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