On the morning of July 21, 2001, the captain and crew of the Dazed and Confused, a 24' World Cat fishing boat, got to the dock in Oak Bluffs at 5:00 A.M. It was the second day of the annual Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament. The day before, they had seen nothing that would even qualify for the 300 lb. minimum weigh-in requirement. Several boats had weighed in fish, but a big fish could still take first place in the tournament.

As the sun came up, the Dazed and Confused was well beyond the breakwater at the mouth of the harbor. Other boats could be seen in every direction. The waves created by the wakes of bigger boats rocked the Dazed and Confused. Heavy buckets of frozen chum strained the ropes which held them in place at the stern of the boat. Everything that could be tied down was tied down. The crew had been this way before. One disadvantage of being on the smallest boat in the tournament was contending with the big boats. Their captains smiled and watched the small boat rock wildly as they passed by the World Cat, as though their small patch of ocean would not wait for them if they did not hurry.
When the sun breeched the watery horizon, the small boat reached calmer waters just beyond the big wakes. Captain Chris Peters had been thinking. Yesterday, they had followed all of the other boats around Wasque Point and headed south of Martha's Vineyard. Why not go east to Chatham..? No other boats would go that way. Earlier in the week, Captain Peters had seen schools of tuna off of Chatham. The water had been alive with bait fish jumping for their lives as big predators crashed the surface. Even if they didn't see any sharks, they still might hookup with a Giant Blue Fin Tuna and make back the money they had spent on the tournament.Captain Peters stopped the boat. He looked at his crew. Doug Abdelnour, one of his oldest friends, was a seasoned offshore veteran. Dougie had helped catch the bluefish and feed them through the wood chipper to make the best chum on the Island. Luke Sweeney, at 47 , was twenty years older than the other crew members. Chris Peters remembered his first Monster Shark Tournament. He had been a mate on the Dynamo Hum, a 24' Albermarle run by Luke and his brother Sean. It had blown a gale that year and the fact that they had brought a fish in to be weighed was the talk of the tournament. The final crew member, Dave Gaffey, was a novice. Although he and Chris had been friends for many years, Dave had never been that interested in fishing. Before the day was out, he would share an experience that few fisherman ever realize.

"I'll tell you what, guys. We have two choices," said Chris. "We can go south with everybody else, like we did yesterday. Or we can go east off of Chatham, like we talked about last night. It's twice the ride to go to Chatham, about 40 miles, but I saw fish there. What do you think?" The crew members nodded their agreement.

"You're the Captain," responded Dave. "How much longer will it take?" He had worked until 2:00 A.M. as a bartender in a local gin mill. The late night was taking its toll. He was also suffering from a severe sun burn from the day before. Who knew that you could get so burnt through that thick ocean haze?

"I'm ready for the ride," added Dougie. "We'll never win this if we go south again. We're due for a win." Dougie had been on the Dazed and Confused when the boat had taken a 3rd place finish at Oak Bluffs in 1998 and again when the boat had finished 3rd at Montauk in June of 2001.

Chris headed the boat into the rising sun. It was a smooth ride. It was a perferct day for a small boat on the ocean. After a while, they could see Nantucket Island to their right and the beaches of Chatham to their left. Staight ahead in the distance, several commercial draggers were hauling their nets. As they left Nantucket behind, Dougie spotted tuna feeding in front of the boat. They were tempted to stop and try their luck.

"Just a little while longer, and we'll be there," said Chris. "Just hold on a couple of more minutes."

Chris had worked hard preparing for this tournament. He had rigged the wire and cable leaders with great care. Each hook was hand sharpened. The drags on each reel set to 30 lbs. The chum was the best on the Island. His bait was fresh. Bluefish and bonito. No one else had fresh bonito. It had taken just a little more effort. He had done everything he could to help his crew succeed. He hoped it would pay off.

At 7:30, Chris stopped the boat. "We're here," he declared.

The others scurried about the boat, positioning rods and moving equipment here and there. Dougie untied the chum buckets. He used an electric drill to make holes in the first chum bucket and placed it in a plastic milk crate. The crate was rimmed with styrafoam and a short line was attached to each corner. Dougie threw the crate and bucket over the side and held on to the lines. When the crate had settled against the hull of the boat, he tied the lines to a cleat. Small bits of fish drifted away from the boat in the slow current. "Soon we will have a huge slick. We will see a big fish today," he thought.

Meanwhile, Chris was preparing a bonito for the first bait. He cut through the flesh on both sides of the backbone. He threw the guts into the water. After trimming the fins so that the bait would not spin in the current, he jabbed a huge hook through one eye of the fish and out the other. This was not the fun part. Sometimes the fish eye seemed to stare back at him. He grimaced at the thought. But it had been caught two days earlier, and it was quite dead. He made sure that the hook and the leader were securely attached to the line, and he tossed the fish over the side. "We're fishing," he announced.

The bait sank slowly down and away from the boat. Chris let out 30 feet of line and attached a float to the line with an elastic band. He watched the float carry the bait a few feet from the boat. He could easily see the bonito through the clear, green water. The bait was suspended beneath the float. Chris had cut it perfectly. It looked like it was swimming in the shadow of the boat.
A Big Fish Storyby Luke Sweeneyclick here for larger imageThe bait had not been in the water 10 minutes before a large blue shark swam into the chum slick. It was at least 300 lbs. and maybe more. It was the biggest fish the crew had seen so far. "This could get us back in the tournament," said Chris. Each of the crew was infected by the excitement in Chris' voice. They all moved towards the side of the boat where the shark had appeared.

"There it is," cried Dougie. It looked like a shadow in the deep water. They all watched it swim towards the bonito. In an instant, the bonito disappeared, and the float attached to the fishing line began to move rapidly away from the boat. The reel sang out as the fish peeled off line.
Before any of them could reach the rod, the noise had stopped. The float stopped moving away from the boat. The fish was gone. "Reel it in," ordered Chris. Dave was nearest to the rod and reel, so he began to reel it in slowly.

"Faster," said Chris. "It could still be there."

Dave reeled as fast as he could. "Nothing there," he reported.

"Reel it all the way in, so that I can check the bait." Chris moved from the helm to the side of the boat and grabbed the leader. He could see the bonito ten feet below the boat. It looked none the worse for having been in the shark's mouth.

"This bait looks O.K." he said. "I'm going to let it out again. There's a good chance that big Blue will come around again." He was right. Sometimes Blue Sharks would stay around a boat all day long. Sometimes as many as 20 or 30 small and medium sized Blues would stay in the slick and make it almost impossible to get a bait out to where there might be a big fish.

As the bonito again drifted down and away from the boat, Chris wondered why the big Blue had dropped the bait. He wondered where it had gone. He hoped that it would not be the last shark that they would see today.

"You guys better decide who's gonna' do what," Chris told his crew. "If that fish comes back around, we better be ready." Chris did not want to lose a fish because of confusion. There was always confusion when a big fish took the bait, but if everyone knew his job, the confusion could be kept to a minimum.

"Who's gonna' take the rod," asked Dougie.

"I'll flip you for it," Luke replied. "You call it." He took a quarter out of his pocket and flipped it in the air.

"Tails,"shouted Dougie.

Luke caught the coin with his right hand and slapped it onto the back of his left hand. They both looked as Luke uncovered the coin. "Heads it is," cried Luke. "I guess I will be on the rod." He was not sure whether he had won or lost. If they hooked into a Giant Bluefin, it might be too much for him, especially on the stand up gear that they were using. If they hooked into a big shark, he had a much better chance against the fish. Most sharks could not match a Bluefin's brute strength and blazing speed. Only the Mako Shark could compare with the Giant Bluefin. Ferocious, fast and cunning, a Mako was always a worthy adversary. The crew was aware of the many stories of Makos that had attacked boats or jumped from the water onto the deck, thrashing wildly and smashing equipment and bodies. They all knew that it was a dangerous thing that they were doing. That was the fun in it.

While Luke strapped on the Braid rod harness and belt, Chris prepared a second bait. It was a bluefish fillet. He hooked it and threw it over the side. Dougie and Dave cut fish and threw the chunks into the water. If there were fish in the neighborhood, the chum slick and the cut fish would bring them in towards their baits. They were all confident that Chris had made the right choice: east towards Chatham.

They did not have to wait long. Just a few minutes after Chris had dropped the second bait in the water, Dougie spotted a fish coming in through the slick towards the baits. As it neared the boat, he yelled to the others excitedly,"There it is...! There it is. Do you see it..? It's a huge Mako."

The others rushed to see where Dougie was pointing. "Oh my God, I see it," said Chris. He could hardly control his excitement. It was an enormous fish.

"It's going for the bluefish," yelled Dave. But the shark swam right by the bait. They all held their breath as the fish headed for the bonito. The shark did not hesitate. It swallowed the bonito and swam away, not yet sensing that it was hooked. For ten seconds the crew waited....Fifteen seconds...

"Set the hook," Chris yelled. At that moment, Luke pushed the drag lever to tighten the line and pulled back hard on the rod. The fish responded by peeling line off the reel in a mad dash away from the boat.

Chris had already started the boat. He angled it so that they could follow the shark. He didn't want the fish to take too much line. A fish like that could swim faster than the boat. While the fish took line, there was little the crew could do except try to keep up.

"Stay after him, Chris," said Dougie. "She's taken a lot of line." All of them relaxed a little. After the excitement of hooking the big fish, they all anticipated a long chase before the shark tired and came to the boat. Then things would get interesting again.

The shark did not know the script. The fish turned suddenly and charged the boat. "She's coming straight back at us," cried Luke. "Turn it around!"

Chris had already started to turn the boat around. "Hold on, " he shouted to his crew. As the boat came about, Chris pushed the throttles all the way forward. "Where is the fish? I can't see the line."

Although Luke was frantically cranking line back onto the reel, it was not enough to keep the line tight on the fish. A huge bow had formed in the line. Chris had to stop the boat so that he woould not accidently run over and cut the line. Luke continued to reel. The line was slack. "Oh, Jesus, please let us keep this fish," he thought. "Please let us keep this fish..."

"I think she's gone," said Dougie. He had seen many fish lost this way. If you could't keep the line tight, then the fish could spit the hook. "Reel it in, and we'll set up again."

Like a missile launched from a sub, the monstrous fish shot out of the water right beside the boat. The four crewmen watched in awe. The giant shark reached an apex 12 feet above the water. As it crashed back into the sea, the huge body of the fish created a wave that rocked the boat. Sea water soaked the crew. They could not believe what they had seen. Each one of them felt fear. They were over matched.

"We're still hooked up," shouted Dougie. He had seen the leader still in the shark's mouth. "She must be hooked good."

As the fish swam away from the boat again, the line came tight. The shark jumped three more times as it struggled to part the line. Each jump drew gasps from the crew. As the fish drew away from the boat, each crewman silently thanked the sea gods. What if that fish had come into the boat?

For the next hour, the fish dragged the boat over the calm sea. Luke struggled to keep the tip of the rod up as the fish put maximum pressure on the equipment and the angler. The other crewmen waited anxiously, hoping that the fish would soon come to the boat. But what if it did? What could they do if the huge shark turned in vengeance on the small boat? This was a battle to the death, and none of the crewmen were certain of the outcome.

Without warning the shark again charged towards the boat. "Reel...reel faster..!" Dougie shouted. Chris turned the boat so that the line stayed tight on the fish. As the fish neared the boat, Dougie grabbed the flying gaff. He had manned the gaff many times before, but this time was different. He checked the gaff one more time. There was no room for mistakes. The meat hook at the end of the gaff pole was three quarter inch stainless steel. The sharp point was snelled, assuring that the huge hook, if set properly, would hold tight in the shark's flesh. He checked the gaff rope. It was properly fastened to the stern cleat. He would have one chance.

As the fish came closer, it began to circle the boat. Chris turned the boat to match each movement of the shark. It was coming closer. Luke strained to pull the shark to the boat. He slid towards the gunwhale on the wet deck. Some chum had spilled onto the deck and it was slippery.

"Keep the rod up!" Chris screamed. As he felt himself being pulled from the boat, Luke crouched down towards the deck, reeling the best he could. Just at that moment, the fish reached the boat, lunging head first towards the startled crew. The huge mouth of the fish was opened wide, exposing the many rows of razor sharp teeth.

Dougie was ready. "Life and death," he thought. Without hesitation, he positioned himself over Luke's crouched body and slammed the gaff into the shark's back, just below the dorsal fin. He flung the shaft back, narrowly missing Dave, who was holding the rope that connected the meat hook to the boat and the boat to the shark. Dougie grabbed the rope, too, and both men hauled the shark towards the boat. The fish thrashed wildly, violently. It slammed itself against the boat, once, twice and then again. Sea water, mixed with the animals blood, soaked the crew again. The fish was not ready to die. It pulled away from the boat, dragging Dougie and Dave to the gunwhale. Soon, both men were crouching beside Luke, hoping not to be dragged over the side into the water with the deadly beast. Luke still clung to the fishing rod. "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,"he thought, "save us from this beast."

Dougie and Dave couldn't hold the rope any longer. On the count of three, both men let go. The shark, swimming slowly now, moved away from the boat, pulling the 20 foot long gaff rope tight against the cleat. The entire boat tilted towards the shark.

Ever so slowly, the shark began to circle the boat again. The crew could see the steel gaff in the sharks back. There was a small wound where the gaff had entered the shark. There was a much larger tear in the shark's flesh where the point of the gaff had come out again. The snelled end of the gaff was tearing the exit wound, making it larger with each passing moment. But the gaff was set deep. Dougie had done the job well.

Chris had handled the boat as only he could. "Are you still hooked up?" he asked Luke.

"We're still hooked up," came the response. "This fish is scary."

For the next half an hour, the fish strained against the gaff rope. Luke wondered how the rope had held up against such an incredible monster. "Monster Shark Tournament," he said to himself. How could they possibly have known how appropriate that name was. What could they do now?

"You know that fish is resting," said Chris. "It's getting a second wind."

As the words left Chris' mouth, the monster shark began to thrash wildly. Incredibly, the gaff came shooting back at the boat. The gaff rope acted like a bungy cord, propelling the steel gaff into the side of the boat.. "

"It threw the gaff," Dougie yelled. "It threw the friggin' gaff."

"Pull in the gaff line," Chris yelled. Luke had never let go of the rod, and he was ready when the line began to peel off the real.

"It's going down...deep. It's right under the boat."

"Forward, go forward," cried Dougie. "We're gonna' run over the line."

Chris pushed the throttles forward, moving the boat away from the fishing line. As the boat moved forward, more line left the reel. They were fighting a losing battle.

Dave had retrieved the gaff. "Look at this gaff," he said. He held it up for all to see. It had been bent straight. The gaff was not thrown. The fish had straightened it out.

"We have to get this fish," Chris said in a whisper. He knew that no one would believe their story if the fish got away. "This will not be just another fish story."

Luke began to pump the fish up from the bottom. He put maximum pressure on the line, bending at the knee and lowering the rod tip towards the water, pulling up with all his strength and then reeling in line as fast as he could until the rod tip reached the water again. He could get back three or four feet of line each time that he pumped the rod. He was not sure that he could bring the fish up to the surface. He was not sure that he had the strength to do the job. His lower back was on fire. For each six feet that he retrieved, the fish would take two back. It was a slow process. It was a painful process.

Chris kept the boat moving slowly forward. If he made a wrong move, the boat would run over the line and the fish would be gone. He worried that the fish would go under the boat and come up on the other side. "Keep your eye on the line, Dougie," he warned. He had fished with Dougie and Luke many times. They had caught big fish together, big mako sharks for that matter, but nothing like this.

"This is like the Twilight Zone," Dave said. "Is it always like this..?"

"It's never like this!" Dougie responded. "This is the most amazing fish I have ever seen." He muttered something under his breath. "Just be ready when the fish comes up again."

As the morning wore on, both the wind and tide started to change. The wind increased, coming out of the southwest, against the running tide. Small waves began to rock the boat. Luke used the motion of the boat to lift the fish. "She's coming up," he said excitedly. The movement of the water made it nearly impossible to see what was happening under the boat.

Dougie peered into the water. He could always see things that the others could not. "I see the leader. It's just below the surface. I can see the fish." Chris and Luke had learned long ago not to doubt him. Dougie had the eyes of an eagle.

Luke pumped harder and faster. The moment of truth was near. Dougie grabbed a small gaff. He moved in beside Luke. With the last of his strenth, Luke pulled up one more time. The fish was at the surface beside the boat. Dougie snagged the fish at the mouth with the hand gaff, but the fish was too strong, pulling the gaff from Dougie's hands. He reached out and grabbed it again, but the fiberglass shaft shattered.

The great fish continued to struggle, slapping the boat with its tail and its head. "Get the tail rope," barked Chris, but Dougie already had it in his hands. It was a heavey cable that was attached to a rope. Dougie tied the rope end to a cleat. He leaned the upper half of his body over the side of the boat and tried to loop the cable around the shark's tail. If he could loop the tail, the battle would be over. But the fishe's tail was enormous and just out of his reach. He made the loop in the cable larger and again thrust his upper body over the side and into the water. Dave grabbed him around the waist so that he would not fall in altogether. When he stood up, Dougie had the tail rope in his hands. "I got him...Pull, Dave pull..."

Dave grabbed the tail rope and together, he and Dougie lifted the shark's tail out of the water. Chris moved the boat forward and the sharks whole body came to the surface. Dougie let out rope until the shark was behind the boat. All four crewmen cheered.