Sean Gizatullin (far left) could not have asked for a more thrilling introduction to shark fishing: During his long-awaited first attempt at the sport on July 24, the 27-year-old Newbury Park man hooked this 1,098-pound Shortfin Mako off the Southern California coast in a tournament sponsored by the Pacific Corinthian Yacht Club of Channel Islands Harbor. Find out why the fish thought to be the largest ever caught in California did not win the tournament.
Gizatullin was fishing on a friend’s boat near Anacapa in the Channel Islands. “We were chumming, throwing a slick out there, when we attracted a bunch of blue sharks,” Gizatullin recalls. “Then this huge Mako swam under the boat.”
“I got a bonito filet on and cast to the Mako,” Gizatullin says. “He gobbled it and started ripping line out.”
As his friend maneuvered the little 26-foot “Wicked Squid” to keep up with the hard-driving shark, Gizatullin alternately fought to gain line and tried his best to keep from being dragged overboard.
“I was in full strike, with maximum pressure on the fish, and I couldn’t gain anything.” At one point 80 percent of the line was off the reel, Gizatullin says.
“The deck was slick with chum, and I was in a chair with no back, no safety strap. I had to hang on to the chair with both hands just to keep from being pulled into the water.” A Braid Powerplay stand-up fighting harness kept the rod secure.
The 11-foot shark charged the boat several times with teeth flashing, Gizatullin recalls. “It’s very humbling, to be 15 miles offshore hooked up to a shark half as big as your boat. You realize you’re not really in charge.”
Makos can swim 46 miles per hour and leap 30 feet in the air. The IGFA world record rod-and-reel Mako, caught by Luke Sweeney near Chatham, Massachusetts, in 2001, weighed 1,221 pounds–only 123 pounds heavier than Gizatullin’s catch.
Twenty minutes into the fight, he had the shark to the boat, but he and his friends weren’t ready to gaffe it. The big Mako still had much fight left.
Five more times Gizatullin worked the shark back to the boat, but each time the big Mako dove straight down, nearly snapping his Superseeker XXXH rod in two.
Finally, after fighting the shark for 90 minutes, Gizatullin and his boat mates gaffed the big fish and got a tail rope on it. The Wicked Squid headed back to shore for the weigh-in, towing the Mako backwards in the water.
“We weren’t really sure what we had,” Gizatullin says. “We were thinking 500, maybe 550 pounds. We thought we might have a winner, but we had no idea what we were in for.”
The shark stretches 11 feet, three inches.
Gizatullin’s Accurate 80W 2speed reel was spooled with Momoi IGFA 130-pound test line capped off with a 900-pound American Angler steel leader. A Mustad Sea Demon 12/0 hook completed the rig.
The shark’s massive weight snapped the steel tail rope and the cable became fouled in the prop, stalling the engine. “There we are in the middle of the ocean, and it’s my first time out there, and I’m not sure we’re going to get back,” Gizatullin recalls.
“So my buddy strips down to his boxers, and the funny thing is his boxers have little sharks on them. He leans over the side, trying to get the cable out of the prop.”
When the operation failed, Gizatullin volunteered to take a shot at the balky cable. “I’m always the first one to jump off a cliff,” he says, “so I went in.” While someone held him by the ankles, Gizatullin dangled over the side, submerged to his elbows in the sea, a mere yard from the shark’s gaping mouth. “The shark is three feet away, with its mouth open. It’s not thrashing around, but it’s not dead yet either. I can guarantee you I was in there unwrapping like crazy, going ballistic on it, because I couldn’t wait to get away from those teeth and get out of water that we’d been chumming all day. But I knew it had to be done to get us going again.”
It was then that Gizatullin and his buddies realized they weren’t getting back in time for the weigh-in. They decided to take the time to winch the shark onto the boat, but the weight of the monster broke the winch. By the time they made it back to Channel Islands Harbor, in Oxnard, Calif., they were 45 minutes late for the weigh-in. Another shark–an 850-pound Mako–had already claimed the $15,000 first prize. “When we motored in I heard a guy say to the winner, ‘Wow, you’re lucky they didn’t come in on time.'”
“Everybody had gone up to the restaurant, but they all came back when word started to get out that we had a 1,000-pound shark,” Gizatullin says. “Everybody started asking who caught it. I said, ‘I did!’ I’m not a big guy, and everybody was asking, ‘By yourself? You didn’t pass the rod?’ They couldn’t believe it was caught by one person.” Soon he’d earned a nickname: The Mako Slayer.
At 1,098 pounds, Gizatullin’s catch easily surpasses the previous state record Mako, a 1,059-pounder caught July 15, 2006 by Marylin Stephens near Oxnard. That shark was also the largest fish listed in the sport angling hook-and-line records maintained by the California Department of Fish & Game.
Gizatullin caught the shark bug in childhood, when his dad took him fishing in a 17-foot Boston Whaler. “It was too small, we nearly got lost in fog and almost ran out of gas,” Gizatullin says of his first offshore fishing trip. “After that, I was constantly bugging him to take me shark fishing.” Dad wisely declined, but he was there to greet Gizatullin at the dock on Saturday. “First thing he did was walk up to my buddy and say, ‘It’s been my son’s dream to catch a shark. Thanks for making it come true.'”