When sharks make run, look out for brisk action


August 30, 1994|By PETER BAKER

LITTLE RIVER, S.C. -- Seconds earlier, a fish had taken the bait, and now it was taking line at a furious rate, stripping 40-pound mono fast enough to burn a blister onto a thumb absent-mindedly placed on the spooled line for half a second to slow the fish's run.

"Throw it over," Capt. Larry Long said, after fastening a snapshackle from an 80-pound rig to the first reel. "Go on, do it! Do it now, before he runs the spool out, and we lose him for sure."

The 40-pound rig -- rod, reel and a couple of hundred yards of line -- was sent overboard into the Atlantic Ocean, and the fight was carried on with the 80-pound rig.

It was mid-morning off Holden Beach, N.C., and Long had a party of six persons on a half-day charter. We were fishing for shark -- blacktip and sandbars primarily, but in the backs of all our minds was the possibility of a tiger.

Twenty-five miles down the beach, at Cherry Grove, S.C., the world-record tiger shark had been caught several years ago, close to a ton of mayhem taken from the end of a public fishing pier.

"We got a big one on, biggest one in quite a while," said Long, who at 56 has been sharking the waters around Little River for 38 years. "Tiger? No, they feed mostly at night. I expect it's just a big blacktip; 120 pounds, maybe."

The first strike of the day had come quickly. One could almost picture the big blacktip moving close to the bottom in 35 feet of water 400 yards off a public beach just starting to fill with swimmers, its tail propelling it easily, its appetite primed for whatever got in its way.

In this case, it was three spanish mackerel fillets set on a triple-hook rig and drifted close to the bottom without weights. When the blacktip took the baits, it shook its head once and simply kept on swimming, stripping line as it went.

When the blacktip felt the drag of the second reel, it jumped once a couple of hundred yards up the beach and turned toward the boat, allowing line to be recovered until the first rod and reel were back on board.

"Now don't pump the rod, son," Long said as he and mate Richard Saunders worked to tie the 40-pound line into the 80-pound rig. "That's TV fishing, son, just let the fish take the line when he wants it and take it back when you can.

Pump that rod, and he'll just straighten out those hooks and be gone."

Which it shortly was, having broken a 130-pound wire leader while Long and Saunders were tying in the two rigs.

"Would have liked to have had that one," Long said, "but we're on 'em good. Richard, get another rig and get these baits back in the water. Let's go, Richard! Got to make hay when the sun shines."

All six aboard the Black Fish last week were first-time sharkers -- Cevon McLean of Annapolis, George Kling of Harrisburg and Gene York and his sons, Matt and Louis, from Hershey, Pa.

Long is a worker. Charter captain in summer, commercial crabber in winter. A weathered taskmaster who seems most comfortable with his head jutting out the portside cabin window and the supercharged turbo diesel pushing the Black Fish upward of 20 knots.

"Don't like to run up the beach this far on a half-day charter," Long said early in the day. "But I'll go anywhere to get the fish while they're on the bite."

Long's brother Billy, also out sharking that day, had started north of Little River and found shrimp boats working off the North Carolina beaches. Where there are shrimp boats dragging the bottom, Long said, there usually are sharks lining up for an all-you-can-eat buffet.

In the space of 90 minutes, once Long had fallen into a drift behind a pair of shrimp boats, eight sharks ranging from 50 to 100 pounds and 5-plus feet in length were boated and four others were hooked and got off. At one point, three were on at once, and there was pandemonium and laughter in the cockpit of the Black Fish.

But it certainly would have been nice to have had a closer look at the one that got away.

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