Species #46 — Leopard Shark

Leopard Sharks are easily one of the neatest species I’ve caught. I’d love to catch a big one. Photo courtesy California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Species: Leopard Shark (Triakis semifasciata)
Location: San Pablo Bay, San Francisco, CA
Date: March 25, 2012

This is the fourth story in succession and ties in with the other species I caught on the same day, and you’re best reading them in order: First and Second and Third.

***

It was so long ago; the memory is fuzzy. The experience was certain, but some details are blurred at the bloodshot, tired edge of reality. Whether it happened this way exactly while the little boy watched, or a fantastical young mind crafted sensory elements to accompany a particularly gripping story is uncertain.

There was a little boy with his family. He might have been three or seven or 10, but he certainly wasn’t any older.

He watched a man in overalls fishing from the beach. Grandpa wore overalls. This guy was wearing overalls, but they were rubber. Or plastic. Like the memory of that day.

Anyway, the man was using an absolutely gigantic fishing pole. Dad didn’t know why. Neither did Mom. That frustrated the boy. He liked to know why.

So as the family passed, the boy asked.

The old fisherman told the boy it was to keep the line above the breakers, another name for waves, apparently.

“What are you fishing for?” the boy asked.

“Surfperch,” replied the man.

The boy wondered aloud if perch could go in the ocean. He’d caught perch before.

These were different perch, though.

Different perch and breakers. The boy was learning.

The man’s rod doubled, and he caught a silverly fish he called a surfperch right then.

The boy ran up to get a better look, his parents cautioning him to not get in the man’s way. The man didn’t mind. He proudly showed off his catch before putting it in a bucket.

The young family grew tired of watching, so they started on down the beach. But the boy kept looking back. He couldn’t focus on the sand dollars or shells or the wet gooey sand between his toes. He was fascinated by the man behind him fishing.

Before the family left for the day, the rod doubled again, but no silvery surfperch broke the surface. This fish was clearly bigger. It ran and dove, and after a few minutes, the boy had frozen, intently watching the action.

What emerged from the water was shocking. It looked like a shark, but it had spots and looked more like a jaguar or a leopard.

As the boy would find out, it was both.

Catching a Leopard Shark became a life goal that day, and though the story’s details blurred, the beautiful fish never did.

***

The boy, now a man, tried chasing Leopard Sharks during college, but failed the first time. On the second pass, he found more success. His party had already boated two other species of sharks, rays, and his friend Ben even boated a Striped Bass.

Though Leopard Sharks were always a reasonable possibility along the California Coast, the man just didn’t expect it to happen. So, when line began ripping off the baitcaster again, he assumed it was something else.

When the color flashed in the creamy aqua water, the magical moment on the beach all those years before came back to him. He’d finally done it. The little boy’s dream had become a reality all these years later.

The captain began talking about how these beautiful sharks tasted like salmon, so the man was excited to try them. Unfortunately, this fish measured 35 inches in length, and Leopard Sharks have a minimum length of 36 inches in California.

Still, after a few quick pictures and a release, the man still felt privileged to have captured such a gorgeous fish.

My first Leopard Shark was just an inch too short to keep, but it was still a great fight on relatively light tackle.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #47 — Striped Bass.

 

Species #43 — Brown Smoothhound

Nothing made me happier than catching my first-ever shark, this Brown Smooth-hound. Photo courtesy of Wikiwand.

Species: Brown Smoothhound (Mustelus henlei)
Location: San Pablo Bay, San Francisco, CA
Date: March 25, 2012

Shark Week isn’t for a few months. I desperately wish I could’ve timed this to release then, but I didn’t want my readers to wait around for months and lose interest. I’ve already had enough women lose interest in me.

I kid. Kind of.

Still, the moment when I caught my first shark was something special. I was fishing with Sole-Man Sportfishing out of San Francisco, and it was my second attempt for Striped Bass, Sturgeon, and Sharks in the Bay.

On the first trip, I’d went with two friends, Christopher Puckett and Ben Blanchard. One caught a respectable striper and a Bat Ray while the other caught a Starry Flounder. I got skunked.

It just so happened that for Round Two, Ben and I had returned. We were on a different charter and immediately liked the captain.

When I met him, he said something to the effect of, “You’re surprised I’m not white, huh?”

I was.

He was about the least stereotypical charter boat captain I’ve ever met. In 30 or more charter trips, he remains arguably my favorite.

Captain Don Franklin was raised in inner city Oakland and had a rough upbringing. He told us that many of his friends had gotten caught up in gangs, but he’d gotten caught up in fishing, and it changed his life.

Little did I know, he was about to change mine.

***

Captain Don had given Ben and I a special deal because he was training his son to be a deckhand. As the day progressed, his son caught on quickly. Despite being maybe 13 or 14 years old — the youngest deckhand I’ve ever seen — he was polite, professional, hardworking, and learned quickly.

The stripers remained elusive early, but the first fish I caught was a shark. It was small, but as I got it close to the boat, I was ecstatic. It was a shark!

My first Brown Smoothhound was also my first shark, and I was pretty happy about it.

Freaking out like a small child who’s just been granted his heart’s desire, the two-foot creature writing on my hook made my day.

The captain wasn’t too impressed with the Brown Smoothhound I’d just caught, but he appreciated my enthusiasm.

Ben caught one early, too, and after we’d posed for a few quick pictures, he tossed back the relatively harmless little sharks.

Ben posed with his (slightly larger) first shark.

We motored to the next spot and happened to pass the captain with whom we’d went striper fishing years before, and Captain Don told us it was the other guy’s last trip. Apparently, we weren’t the only clients who’d been disappointed by the experience.

***

Captain Don cracked jokes, informed us, and made the day all-around pleasant. We actually caught several more species that day, but the last hookup I had ended tragically.

My rod sat in the rod holder, minding its own business, when something massive picked up my bait. It ran hard as I lifted the rod, and I feared it might spool me. With the lightest possible pressure, I gently put my thumb on the spool, and the 20-pound mono snapped like thread.

I was informed I’d likely just lost a massive Sevengill Shark of several hundred pounds. This is still the largest fish I’ve ever hooked. My own personal Shark Week wasn’t bad, but that fish would’ve made my life — especially considering that those sharks are both edible and delicious.

I pouted a bit, but Captain Don quickly lifted my spirits as his honorary deckhand, a cat in a life vest, pranced around the cabin.

I wasn’t kidding. He really had a cat in a life jacket on board.

That’s not a joke. He really had a cat in a life vest on board, and though it made my allergies flare up all day, it was still the most unique fishing experience I’ve had on a boat.

Apparently, the cat jumped in once, and Captain Don had to net it to bring it back on board.

Apart from being one of my most unique days fishing, it remains one of my best, despite losing the fish of a lifetime.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here:Species #44 — Bat Ray.