, Gloucester, MA

September 5, 2013

Outdoors: Blue shark sightings while deep-sea ground fishing

Dave Sartwell

---- — The first shark attack came at about 11:00 am.

Matt was standing at the starboard stern reeling in a very nice haddock. He had him just to the surface when a huge dark blue shape swirled beneath the surface and simply swam away with the hooked fish. The rod bent in two and the braided line went screaming off the reel.

You should have seen Matt’s face. His jaw dropped, his eyes bugged out and not a sound emanated from his throat. He just stared...for about three seconds.

“OH MY GOD!” he whispered loudly rather than shouted. “Did you see that?”

As everyone turned to follow the action, the rod went limp and all of the tension on the line disappeared. Matt quickly reeled in his fish only to find the back half of it had disappeared. All that was left was a huge semi-circle with jagged edges.

Capt. Mike Parisi, first mate Buddy Genereau and myself were hosting five young men from Syracuse, New York who had chartered the Anna Marie for a day-long ground fishing expedition. We had steamed out of Gloucester at 7 a.m. on a smooth sea under a gray sky. For some of them it was their first time on the ocean and their anticipation was high. The big 450 horsepower Volvo diesel shoved the 35 ft. Duffy through the dark blue water with comfortable ease.

The sky to the south had been threatening all the way out and as we set the anchor on Straw Hat, the rain started to come down in ernest. But that soon blew away and the sky, although not clearing, settled in on a hazy gray that was actually quite pleasant.

We set the boys up with 6/0 shrimp pink rigs made by Sea Wolfe out of Londonderry, N.H. We slipped on big gobs of clams to the hooks. Using 20 oz. sinkers and braided line attached to Penn 113 H reels, we had them drop to the bottom some 230 feet below. We showed them how to bounce the outfit along the ocean floor where we knew the fish were located. It was only a matter of minutes before Vito hauled the first haddock of the day up from the bottom.

Within a few hours the boys were working on filling the huge white cooler in the center of the boat with cod, haddock and cusk. Fish after fish came over the rail to a delighted crew. Matt, Matt, Steve, Justin and Vito kept us busy unhooking fish, baiting hooks, untangling lines and changing gear when the dog fish chewed them up. We repositioned the boat a couple of times when the catch began to slow down, and, when the first shark struck we were on the edge of Tillies.

The second shark attack came about fifteen minutes later. It was Matt again who was the victim. He was reeling a dog fish back to the boat and was just about to lift it from the water when a huge blue shape rose up out of the deep and came racing toward the struggling fish. This time Matt was quicker to respond.

“Shark! Shark!” he hollered.

Everyone turned and looked.

This time the shark lifted his nose out of the water and sucked in the back half of the dog fish. Instead of driving off, he simply swirled a bit and held his place. Although the rod bent, the blue dog did not swim away.

“Reel up!” Buddy said loudly to the others. They furiously started cranking their lines on up. As the 11 foot-long female gnawed on the helpless dog fish, I heard Steve hollering from the starboard side.

“There is another one over here,” he gushed excitedly. This one was about 9 ft. long and was bothering a cod that Steve had hooked on his way up. For the next fifteen minutes the two sharks worried the two hooked fish, putting on quite a show for the boys. Finally, Capt. Mike unhooked the harpoon and took off the sharp point. With the blunt end of the ten foot shaft he poked the sharks hard in the side. They got the message and drifted on away from us.

The blue shark , known locally as a blue dog, is quite common here on the North Shore. They have an incredible range that extends from Chile to Norway and follow a regular clockwise migration in the Atlantic using the prevailing currents. They like it best in water with temperatures ranging from 45-60 degrees. They can swim quickly, but are known as a fairly lethargic shark. They are often seen in schools that are segregated by sex and size.

The males will grow to 9 feet or so and weigh in at as much as 120 lb. The females, however, grow to as much as twelve feet long and weigh up to 400 lb. The females will have up to 135 pups per litter with a gestation period of about 10 months. The females have skin on their backs as much as 3 inches thicker than the males because of the biting that takes place during mating. They will not tolerate captivity. The longest known period was about seven months in a tank in New Jersey. Their only known predator as an adult is killer whales. According to Wikipedia there were 13 recorded human attacks by blue sharks in 2012 with 4 fatalities.

The next two hours were sort of anti-climatic as all the boys wanted to talk about was the sharks. We caught some rather nice cod and twice hauled up a double of large cusk. As Capt. Mike pulled the anchor and started back to port, Buddy and I filleted about sixty fish. A nice days haul of ground fish and shark adventures the boys will never forget. We could hear them making plans for next year as they walked up the gangplank while we washed down the boat.