Huge thresher puts first-timer through wringer

On The Outdoors

June 27, 1999|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

At that moment, when the big shark finally was under control, Donnie Simon wanted more than anything to stand and walk aft to look over the transom of Yankee Babe as it rolled in the Atlantic's heavy swell off Ocean City.

But when he tried to stand, he nearly fell. So he sat down again in the fighting chair and waited for the torturously tight muscles in his arms, back and legs to uncoil.

"I had been in the chair for 2 1/2 hours," said Simon, who earlier this month made his first shark-fishing trip and hooked up with a 585-pound thresher.

"You wouldn't believe how long a time that can seem. My arms, legs and back were in knots," said Simon, a commercial painter from Annapolis. "But when I finally saw it, I was impressed by how big it really was."

Big enough, according to the International Game Fish Association, to be a potential U.S. record, and large enough to challenge the entire crew aboard Fred Ames' Yankee Babe on Friday, June 4.

The thresher measured 15 feet 11 inches in length and had a girth of 68 inches. Its tail was nearly 7 feet long.

"It was rough that day, and it took us 1 1/2 hours just to get the shark onto the swim platform," said Ames, president of the Henry M. Murray Insurance Agency in Annapolis. "But that was the easy part. Donnie did the real work."

Ames is a shark fisherman, a weekend warrior who likes to run his 35-foot Bertram offshore and introduce newcomers to the "torture chair."

"We always put the green guy in the chair, the guy who never has been out before," said Ames, chuckling as he recalled Simon's first experience with a big shark. "Two and a half hours is a long time, and your arms go limp, your legs ache and you get to the point where you just want out of the chair."

"That's what they do every time," said Simon, 35. "And after about the first 1 1/2 hours, I was sorry to be the new guy."

Simon said he considered giving up the chair and rod, "but they told me if I did, it was no longer my fish, so I stayed put" and fought a fish he hadn't yet seen.

At one point, perhaps when it first saw the boat, the thresher went deep, and Simon said he thought the shark would run out the spool.

"Makos will jump out of the water a number of times, but this shark stayed down until about the last five minutes," said Simon. "When it finally came up, Fred said, `It's a thresher. The biggest one I've ever seen.' "

Common threshers are uncommon off Ocean City, with fewer than a half dozen brought in each year, according to Ames.

Simon's potential record catch came at Massey's Ditch in 130 feet of water. The thresher took a whole false albacore bait that weighed about five pounds.

After weighing in the catch, Ames said, the crew had it cleaned and divvied up the meat.

Doug Blodgett, world records administrator for the IGFA, said late last week the heaviest U.S. catch on record for common thresher is 527 pounds. The shark was caught off California in October 1980.

The world all-tackle record is 767 pounds, set off New Zealand in 1983.

Maryland already has recognized the catch as the initial state record, and Ames said he intends to apply to the IGFA for the U.S. record.

"For my first time shark-fishing, I guess I did all right," said Simon. "I can't wait to get back out there."

Pub Date: 6/27/99

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