Meeting a great white shark


Illustration by Rick Stringer

By Rick Stringer

I guess everybody knows about Mary Lee, the great white shark. She is a huge shark that migrates to the Charleston waters when the water starts to cool, typically during December. This year there are several of these satellite tagged great whites showing up around fairly shallow waters off the South Carolina and Georgia coasts.

There are specific fishing charters for great whites off Hilton Head, and they caught one the other day. And, of course, there was a 13 foot specimen that washed up on Morris Island in 2007.

I’ve known we get these sharks for quite a while. Once, in the early 1970s I had a smooth dogfish bitten and surmised it was a great white since nothing else with teeth would be around in 50 degree water in February. I also had a stingray bitten in cold water and that shark had a bite radius of over a foot. But I never saw the culprits so I was just guessing.

Friday, December 15, 1995, I decided to take the day off to go shark fishing, hoping to catch some smooth or spiny dogfish. These are relatively small sharks we encounter in the cold water of the winter around here.

It was a beautiful warm afternoon, although the water temperature was 55 degrees according to the paper. I went to a spot I call “Rick’s Reef” which is a live bottom around 5 miles off Folly. I didn’t catch any dogfish but did land several black sea bass, after fishing for a couple of hours.

I decided to pull the anchor and drift, laying down for a nap. I was awakened by the sound of a rod banging in the rod holder. I got up and checked the rods, but they seemed fine, so I sat back down. It was then that I noticed the balloon float on a rod was moving to the right and coming in the general direction of my boat.

Illustration by Lani Mustard Stringer

The line was slack, so I reeled it in like crazy and set the hook. A fairly large shark came out of the water, spraying water with it’s tail. Fifteen minutes later I had it to the boat, grabbing the leader.

It was, of course a great white shark! At the time it was legal to keep great whites, but I couldn’t kill such a beautiful animal, so I applied a tag.

Even then, the jaws and a spot on the local news were fairly tempting. And there was an opening for the South Carolina state record. It was 7 feet in length and probably 200 pounds or so…and it was looking at me with a primitive intelligence that was new to me. An immature male with a bite mark on it’s flank. Above, the color was a light bronze that reflected the setting sun.

I undid the rope and watched him slowly swim away. I’ve often thought about that shark ever since. Is he still alive or was he done in by commercial longlines or perhaps a bigger shark? I like to think he is still out there, living the good shark life, eating and making more sharks!

To read the next article in the series, click here.

Rick Stringer is our Ocean Correspondent and an attorney at Stringer and Stringer, Attorney’s at Law.


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