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Fisherman: Catching 1,300-pound mako shark 'scariest thing' ever

Fisherman: Catching 1,300-pound mako shark 'scariest thing' ever
Kent Williams, owner of New Fishall Bait Co., stands next to a 1,323.5-pound Mako shark at the company's headquarters in Gardena. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The fishermen who caught what may be a record-setting mako off the coast of Huntington Beach described an intense struggle to hook the 1,323-pound shark.

Boat Capt. Matt Potter, 34, who owns a store in Huntington Beach called Mako Matt's Marine, said he and his buddies usually go sport shark fishing 20 days a year.

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On Monday, they were on the third day of a three-day fishing trip when they spotted the fins, after scattering their "secret sauce" -- chopped mackerel and ground chum -- into the water.

The fins were a "dead giveaway," said Richard Sanchez, a videographer from Dallas. "There were so many screams...it was something really intense. YEE-HAW!"

Thus began some 2-1/2 hours of "struggling, slipping and sliding" as they tried to bring in the mammoth shark with giant hooks.

Jason Johnston, who lives in Mesquite, Texas, described it as "mayhem."

The men had to keep the back of the boat squared with the shark to keep it in sight.  Johnston wore a harness  hooked to the shark and the boat to keep from being pulled overboard.

"I still feel the soreness in every bone," Johnston said.  "It's the scariest thing I've ever done in my life."

Franky Milinazzo, another fisherman, had the job of tying the shark to the side of the boat with a steel cable.

Had he faltered, Potter said, "We could have lost it."

Potter said the mako is the largest shark that can be legally caught.

The shark's body was taken to New Fishall, a Gardena processing plant, where it was weighed on a certified scale and put in the freezer. Potter said it will be used for research.

Nick Wegner, a fisheries research biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said although he had heard of 1,400- to 1,500-pound mako sharks that were harpooned, the 1,300-plus-pound shark caught off the coast of Huntington Beach would set a new angling record.

"Encountering one this big is rare," he said.

Makos are common off the coast of Southern California, which is considered a "nursery ground" for the young sharks, he said. They tend to stay in open-ocean area – they don't come to the surf zone and "very rarely have any interactions with people," Wegner said, though fishermen commonly catch smaller makos between 2.5 and 6 feet long.

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Makos typically feed off small fish like mackerel and sardines, and move on to larger fish as they get older, he said.

They're also some of the fastest sharks in the ocean, Wegner said, which makes the catch all the more interesting. Unlike most fish, makos can warm up their core body temperatures, making their muscles move faster.

"They're a fascinating animal," he said.

Wegner said some of his colleagues had reached out to the fisherman that caught the shark, hoping to collect samples to learn more about the fish. The shark was likely a female based on its size, he said – male makos typically max out at 500 to 600 pounds.

Researchers are particularly interested in the shark's DNA and stomach contents, he said. Though the sharks typically feed off fish, a small seal pup was once found in a captured mako's stomach, indicating they might have other food sources.

"It's pretty rare to catch a fish this big," he said. "If we can see what's in the stomach, that gives us an idea of what they're eating."

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Twitter: @katemather

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