The biggest fish ever caught on rod and line in the British Isles, a leviathan 1,056lb six gill shark, has rocked the world of angling this week.
Taken off the coast of County Clare in South West Ireland by a visiting Swiss angler, the unusual deep sea species will rewrite the history books, overtaking a 968lb blue fin tuna recorded in 2001. It confirms suspicions previously made in Angling Times by big-game experts such as Zyg Gregorek that fish of such proportions do exist in our waters.
Only a handful of six gill sharks are hooked in the UK and Ireland each year, like the latest specimen which picked up the mackerel bait of 70-year-old Joe Waldis during a skate fishing trip off the waters of County Clare. Joe, who lives near Zurich, told how the power and weight of the 12ft 9ins long specimen meant he had trouble just getting his rod in a butt pad to play what he thought was a big skate.
“Every time I gained a metre of line, the fish took it straight back again. It was the fight of my life. I’d been used to more standard fish, such as whitefish and ling, so when the shark fin broke the surface we were all speechless. The previous largest fish I’d caught was a 35lb tope, and anglers dream about catching a fish this big. Now my friends are calling me The Shark Man,” said Joe.
The catch was made using 80lb braid, an 80lb class rod and a size 10/0 hook, although it took Joe just 35 minutes to get the fish to the side of Luke Aston’s boat ‘Clare Dragoon’. It was the second six gill shark that Luke had helped to land in the last 12 months, an even bigger fish having being returned unweighed to the water in August 2008. The Carrigaholt-based charter skipper had anchored up four miles from the shore on an area of rocky bottom in just 60m of water.
“Ironically, Joe hooked the shark just 50 yards away from the previous six gill on a mark I use for conger and skate. I used to work in the commercial fishing industry and have seen some enormous fish in nets, including porbeagle sharks to 400lb, but this was one of the biggest shocks I’ve ever had. It is regrettable that such a magnificent fish had to be taken to shore to be weighed to verify a record, and in these situations it is the angler’s decision,” said Luke.
The shark was too big to be brought aboard and was towed firstly to the port of Carrigaholt and then to the weighbridge of a local quarry. Sample portions were given away in the local Sealyons shop, and to put its size into perspective, its liver alone scaled 143kg. But a fish of this size hasn’t surprised famous big game angler Zyg Gregorek. He predicted last year that he would catch a 1,000lb-plus fish from British waters but was amazed at the circumstances in which this six gill was taken.
“These rare sharks are normally caught at night in deep, dark water of at least 100m to 200m, but for every rule of fishing there is an exception! I’ve caught seven six gills over 1,000lb from Ascension Island and they aren’t noted for their fighting qualities, it’s more of a tug-of-war than anything else. I’ve said for years that a fish of this size was possible from the UK and Ireland, but as Ireland is not part of the UK, my challenge to catch one here is still alive. I’m hoping to head to the Isles of Scilly next month,” said Zyg.
Six gill factfile
A heavy-bodied and powerful fish ranging in colour from tan to almost black, females tend to grow bigger than males and can reach lengths of up to 550cm (over 18ft).
Six gills sport a slung-back dorsal fin, broad but short pectorals and six gills, which give it its name (most common sharks only have five).
The species typically inhabits depths of over 90m, but has been recorded as deep as 1,875m and is known to undertake vertical migrations towards the surface each night.
It is found across a large and diverse geographical range and, as a consequence, has an equally diverse range of prey. These include molluscs, crustaceans, lamprey, salmon, hake, hagfish and even seals and cetaceans.
How the sport reacted to the record-breaker
Keen shark angler David Turner, from Westport, County Mayo…
The biggest shark caught from UK waters is the 507lb British and World Record porbeagle captured near Orkney off Dunnet Head in 1993. This is a very unusual capture as six gills are very difficult to pick out and are rarely caught on rod and line from British waters. I’m looking to organise a party of anglers willing to head that little bit further offshore in pursuit of big sharks like these or porbeagles. There are currently a lot of small pollack over the rough ground, which is perfect hunting for porbeagles.
Richard Peirce, Chairman of the Shark Trust and the Shark Conservation Society…
This 3.9m shark was a mature specimen and likely to have been a female. It’s wonderful news to hear of the existence of large breeding animals, but from a conservation point of view it was a shame the shark was not released alive.
This species is on the IUCN Red List and the loss of a breeding-age animal is unfortunate. Bluntnose six gills can achieve lengths of well over 4m and have large litters of up to 100 pups. Due to their late maturity they are vulnerable to over-fishing, and a number of fisheries have already collapsed, most notably in the Maldives