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The Great One That Got Away : Fishing: Orange County anglers hook a shark that gives them an evening to remember.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three men from Orange County played out a scene from “Jaws” last Wednesday night, battling one of the world’s most feared predators for hours in the dark off the coast near Newport Beach.

Greg Pilette, Jeff Purchase and Dan Loros had set out for a night of shark fishing but never expected to find one of the size and strength encountered more often in the movies than in real life.

“We were looking for a mako or thresher shark or something,” said Pilette, 34, of Huntington Beach.

The three were less than two miles outside Newport Harbor when they came across a man pointing excitedly toward two fins sticking high above the water. The man swore that the shark, probably a great white, was longer than his 17-foot boat.

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He wanted no part of it and wisely let the Orange County trio--in a heavier-duty 20-foot sportfisher--try to bait the shark. It swam within a few feet of the stern of the boat and took their large mackerel in a nonchalant gulp.

“We were shaking,” Pilette said. “We thought, ‘Man, this is it.’ ”

They estimated the shark’s weight at 2,000 pounds or more. The all-tackle world record: a 2,664-pound monster caught off South Australia in 1959.

Armed with a flying gaff and a .357 magnum, though wondering what to do with either should they get the fish to the boat, the three fought with 80-pound test monofilament, attached to an eight-foot wire leader.

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In seconds, the shark ran off 250 yards of line before resurfacing. Purchase handled the rod while Pilette and Loros manned the boat.

The fishermen remained in contact with John Doughty of J.D.'s Big Game Tackle on Balboa Island throughout the fight via radio.

“They were elated,” said Doughty, who added that the description of the shark matched that of a great white and not the large but harmless basking shark.

The trio closed in again and the shark ran again, this time surfacing 40 yards from the boat.

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“That was the last time we saw it before it got dark,” Pilette said.

They followed the shark from Balboa Pier to Newport Pier, finally losing it at about 11 p.m., a mile from the Newport Harbor jetty.

“He was switching direction a lot,” Pilette recalled. “He was confused enough so he knew something was happening. At one point, he was 20 yards directly under the boat. We throttled the boat to get out of his way and he (dived). It was a thrill. We couldn’t believe it.”

Orange County swimmers may take solace in the sighting of a great white shark--presumably the same one--farther out, six miles off the coast last Thursday.

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“I’ve heard of a few large shark sightings since then,” Doughty said. “One off the backside of Catalina and another near San Clemente Island.”

How rare is the sighting of a great white shark so close to shore?

“It’s rare compared to other sharks you would encounter here, but it’s not so rare that it comes as a big surprise,” said Dennis Bedford, a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game.

Bedford said that based on dealings with commercial fishermen, sightings of white sharks appear to be on the increase. Commercial fishermen predicted a rise in white sharks in coastal areas when protective measures were enacted in California, particularly since the Marine Mammal Act of 1972.

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“There are definitely more . . . seals, and there’s more sea lions than there have been in recent years, " said Doyle Hanan, the lead biologist for the DFG’s marine mammal project. “If you have that many animals, which are the prey of one particular predator, odds are that that predator’s population is going to increase.”


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