• Published:November 13, 2013
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Capt. Steve Quinlan has arguably seen and caught more giant mako sharks than anybody on the planet. Yet even he was amazed by the virtual parade of monster sharks that came to his boat during the summer of 2013.

How good was it? Over a span of seven consecutive trips, Quinlan's Trophy Fishing Charters clients hooked seven giant mako sharks of 1,000 pounds or more. Five of these fish were landed after battles as long as four hours. After every weekend, a text message would pop up on my phone boasting of "another grander." I began to call it "grand on demand." On more than one occasion, Quinlan's clients would actually land a monster mako after losing one earlier in the day.

Quinlan released all of the giant sharks boat-side, and left one wearing a satellite tag to contribute to scientific research on these apex predators. Quinlan believes that three of these fish could have bested the standing all-tackle I.G.F.A. World Record of 1,221 pounds had he chosen to take them.

Quinlan, however, has committed himself to catch and release ever since he captained a group of anglers to a 1,175-pound monster that was brought ashore and weighed. The experience left a bad taste in his mouth and represented a turning point in Quinlan's career. He would now focus his efforts on getting anglers excited by the idea of releasing, rather than hanging, these monsters. And it worked, as Quinlan had a packed fishing schedule throughout the summer hosting anglers from around the world.


The summer started off with a bang on July 13 with the successful release of the largest mako Quinlan has ever seen. He and long-time deckhand Josh Hendricks estimated the size of this fish at 13 feet and more than 1,400 pounds. Dominic Kulicki of the Netherlands fought the fish entirely within I.G.F.A rules for four hours, but never gave a second thought to killing it. While video footage of the shark exists, extreme glare and rough seas made it hard to appreciate the true size of this monster.

Two weeks later, Mike Carter brought his wife and son out from Pleasant Grove, Utah, to try their luck at catching a giant. Early in the day, Carter had hooked a decent mako that Quinlan estimated at 300 pounds. Unfortunately, it threw the hook very quickly through no fault of the angler. They would be redeemed later that day when another grander-sized fish appeared in the chum slick. Carter successfully released the monster after a relatively brief 1.5-hour battle, but not before scoring excellent photos of the fish right at the boat.


On August 17, Mike DeNardi of San Jose hooked and lost an estimated 1,100-pounder that took so much 80-pound line from the Shimano 50W that he had to give chase with the boat. This is contradictory to Quinlan's usual routine, which is use the boat to help tire the fish and bring it to the surface. Nevertheless, the hook eventually pulled. Again, after resuming chumming the group was able to bring another grander to the boat, which DeNardi fought and landed after an extended battle.

The following week, Quinlan's longtime friend Kurt Bollman came out from Davie, Florida, to get in his licks. Around 4 p.m. -- very late in the day by big-shark standards -- an estimated 1,200-plus-pounder showed up in the slick. Because Bollman is an experienced big-shark fisherman, they went ahead and baited the fish, which he beat in only 1.5 hours for a clean release.


On September 7, Mark Raguso -- the son of noted charter guide and fishing writer John Raguso of Long Island, New York -- fought a monster for 2.5 hours to an absolute stalemate. As Raguso tried to muscle the monster from directly under the boat, the line broke. Fortunately the crew scored underwater video footage of the fish right before the hookup, verifying it as another grander.

The following week, Mike Carter returned with his brothers Jay and Kelly with an eye towards getting Jay his own monster shark. Once again, a mako in the 1,200-pound range came into the chum slick, and Jay successfully baited the fish.

"This was a unique fight," said Quinlan. "This fish went straight out then sounded and emptied half of the spool. Later on, she sounded again and didn't stop until we only had 25 yards of line left. Now I realize the only reason it didn't spool us is she got all the way to the bottom and didn't have anywhere else to go. Little by little we got half our spool back and I knew we were going to get that fish."

After 2.5 hours, they brought the fish right to the boat and sunk a satellite tag in her dorsal fin before cutting her loose. They recorded excellent video footage of the fish and the tagging, and shark researchers report that some seven weeks later, the tag is still in place and recording valuable data.


Fall brought an end to the charter trips, but the sharks weren't finished. Quinlan made a mid-October fun trip with old buddy, Steve Bowcott, and noted shark tagger Keith Poe to get one last chance at a monster mako. As it turned out the lone fish that came to the boat that day was only about 700 pounds, so instead of baiting it up they fed it and took video footage as the fish swam around the boat. The mako kept up with the boat so well that Poe was able to sink another satellite tag in the free-swimmer.

Quinlan credits his amazing run of giants to several factors. His drifting technique focuses on offshore canyons and ridges that create "feeding lanes" for the largest makos. Also, he uses chum that he makes himself from top-quality whole fish. Finally, his sight-fishing style keeps all lines out of the water until the fish he wants arrives. This keeps his crew from wasting time with smaller fish, and allows the chum slick to populate with sea lions, birds and small sharks. This ensures they see the fish first and select the proper rod and reel combo before hooking up.

There is clearly an abundance of world-record class makos off Southern California if you do everything right. Now, big shark specialists like Quinlan are really looking forward to seeing what next summer will bring.


If you want to follow the movements of four tagged makos off SoCal in real time, be sure to check out the FishTrack Shark Tracker presented by Salt Life.