Bowfishing For Monster Mako and Blue Sharks off the California Coast

This 418-lb. Mako caught off the coast of California last month by Chris Brackett is believed to be the largest shark ever taken with a bow. Brackett boated the shark under the guidance of Corey Knowlton, a Texas outfitter who is pushing bowfishing to a whole new level.
Knowlton (second from left) may not have invented the sport of bowfishing for sharks, but he's almost certainly done more than anyone to fine-tune the tactics and equipment for using bows to tangle with the ocean's fiercest predator. After bowfishing for smaller sharks three years ago, Knowlton, founder of the Hunting Consortium and a host on Jim Shockey's "The Professionals," began adapting gear originally designed for bowhunting alligators in his quest to land a 1,000-pound Mako.
A big-game arrowhead like the Innerloc Gator Grappler is attached to an 800-pound test steel wire leader. After it penetrates the fish, the pinkie-size head opens and the arrow shaft detaches, leaving the grappling hook embedded securely beneath the shark's skin.
The shooter then sets aside the bow**** and picks up a standard shark rod and reel to fight the fish. "It's a little like traditional shark fishing," Knowlton says. "You're just using a different method to attach the rod and reel to the fish."
Shots are taken**** at extremely close range--Brackett made his shot at less than three yards.
Close shots are necessary because the arrow has to penetrate the water and the shark's thick skin, and the target area is relatively small: Shooters aim for the back just above the gills. Also, because the arrow is carrying heavy steel cable, accuracy diminishes at longer distances.
Knowlton and his crew use a secret chum recipe to draw sharks to the boat. They also toss cereal in the water to encourage gulls to hang out nearby. The birds operate as a kind of early warning system: When sharks pass below them the panicked birds lift off the water, giving the crew a heads-up that something is coming their way.
"Blue sharks always show up first, and they will stay around until you leave," Knowlton says. "We're more interested in the big Makos, because those are the best for eating. After we take what we want, we give the rest to people on the dock. We make sure it all gets utilized."
The action can be chaotic. "Makos come in like lightning," Knowlton says. "They are so aggressive. They bite the boat, attack the boat. They're much more aggressive than even Great Whites."
A deck hand drags bait behind the stern to get the shark into position for a shot. "You cannot shoot the shark while he is coming at the boat, because these things can jump 20 feet out of the water," Knowlton says. "Do that and one could surely get in the boat and hurt you. You wait until the shark is heading away from the boat to shoot."
Depending on he size of the shark, the fight can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours before the fish is brought to the boat.
Finally the crew readies the gaffe. "The shark and the angler are like two prizefighters who've been waiting all night for the bell to ring," Knowlton says. "When you've got a giant shark on the end of the line you know you're in for a fight. When you grab the leader and pull the shark to the boat, that's the bell ringing."
"I've hunted everything on the planet, and this is the biggest thrill I've ever had. All of a sudden you start asking yourself, 'Am I really up for this? Am I sure I want to take a bite of this sandwich?' Everybody who tries it has that realization."
It was definitely a change of pace for Brackett, a self-described "pioneer of extreme aerial bowfishing" who guides river trips for flying carp from his home base in Illinois. "You've shot a 400-pound apex ocean predator and now you're reeling it toward the boat. At any time it can freak out and jump in the boat and kill you," he says. "This is dangerous game."
Brackett took his 418-pound Mako on a trip with Knowlton off the coast of California in early August.
He fought the fish for nearly two hours after connecting on his second shot. The trip was featured on an episode of Jim Shockey's "The Professionals" that aired in September on the Outdoor Channel.
Standard hunting bows work fine--Brackett used his regular Diamond IceMan cranked up to a 70-pound draw weight--but Alpine Archery (alpinearchery.com) is developing the Mako, a compact bow designed specifically for shark bowfishing. Alpine staffers Dustin Bromley and Vince Kite tested a prototype on a recent trip with Knowlton . . .
. . .taking numerous**** blue and Mako sharks.
Knowlton now believes the equipment and technique have been perfected well enough to tackle a 1,000-pound Mako. "The only weak link," he says, "is the nut behind the wheel. People get intimidated: You're dealing with a giant predator and a food source and all that's separating you is about three feet of air."