August used to mean a lot of time spent offshore. Who needed air conditioning when one had the whole Atlantic? I believed that during summer one wasted a day if one untied a boat and planned to be back to the dock in under 15 hours. And I did a lot of shark fishing.
In the mid 1990s, during a short spell of fine weather, I had the urge to go offshore but could locate no one who could join me on a weekday. I left the harbor in the dark and the sun rose to find First Light already on the ocean, running southeast. About twelve miles offshore I noticed a change in the water color. Its greenish tint changed suddenly to a clearer blue. The temperature jumped several degrees in half a mile. This was a pretty distinct edge. The terns I’d seen inshore were now replaced by several shearwaters. The floating weed was different here too; drifting rockweed and eelgrass from the bays was replaced by a yellowish weed called sargassum that originates far offshore. I had crossed into new water. This drifting oceanic border area was a reasonable place to look for sharks. I cut the engine and set up, putting a perforated bucket full of ground fish over the side and, hoping for a mako, I baited a hook with a whole mackerel, attached a float, and drifted it out about 150 feet, letting the float bob in the blue swells. Then for a few hours I worked pleasurably on edits to a manuscript, drifting and dreaming.
During late morning I heard a splash, saw a swirl, and watched the line come tight and the rod lunge downward. I got to my feet as the line began slipping under the tight drag and I struggled to snap my back-harness to the reel and follow the fish around the boat’s stern.
Virtually no one goes shark fishing alone. A shark fishing crew usually has 3 people: one for the rod, one to grab and hold the leader, and one to gaff or release the shark. I had a plan to be all three: If I worked a fish to the boat, I’d put the rod in a holder, grab the leader with one hand, and deal with the fish with the other hand.
This plan might work well with sharks like medium-sized summer Blue Sharks that always stay submerged, and roll slowly, if at all, at boatside. But it could be trickier if this was a mako. Makos can be fast, erratic, liable to high-jump unpredictably (hooked makos have jumped into boats), and prone to rapid spinning at boatside. A wildly thrashing shark could throw a loop of leader-wire around your hand—it’s happened to me—and might pull you over. Things can happen out in big water with big fish. I would have preferred company.
Now I had company—on the other end of the line hissing through the surface.
The shark came up and thrashed. And I saw that cobalt back and those reflective flanks; I saw the bullet snout and a stiff strong tail and glimpsed a black pit of an eye. Mako.