Over the past 5 years my friend, Terry Jackson, and I have been planning a porbeagle shark trip off the coast of Donegal. A trip like this would require as much research as possible on where to go and what to use, tides and conditions to focus on and a whole myriad of other variables. As Terry has fished Donegal over the years he was telling me if the weather is not perfect we will not be going, as the swell can be massive and it only takes a few minutes of wind against tide to be in a world of trouble! 

With each year passing and  covid closing down the  country it was only now that the stars aligned and we got a window to go. With the car packed, I put in the GPS mark where we were going to launch the boat and following a 6 hour drive I was looking at the sea in the hope we will have a safe and fruitful trip. As Terry arrived, I could see the excitement on his face! With the hand shakes and hugs over it was time to get the boat and ourselves sorted, but not without a final weather forecast check! You can never be too sure in these water. All was good and it was time to go.

As we searched the GPS plotter for underwater rock peaks we spotted two that could be worth a go. As we got to the spot we dropped our baits down and within seconds Terry was in to something heavy!  We thought it was a seal holding the bait until it took off, peeling the line from a Penn International 50 that was on a tight drag! I started the boat and headed towards the fish. After 45 minutes of an incredible fight, the hook pulled! What a gutting feeling. As we got back to the mark we were approached by Peter McAuley, one of Ireland’s top shark angling skippers. He asked that if we hook up, to give him a call on the radio. He explained he had a team of scientists from Trinity College that were doing a satellite tagging programme and Angela Heath that was going to take pictures of any porbeagle. Keen to support any scientific research to support the recovery of this species, that has already seen populations start to thrive, we agreed. Little did we know what they would soon be tagging for us…

The research vessel approaches

As we put the baits down, we were still busy talking about the power of the fish. Suddenly, Terry jumped up  and grabbed his rod announcing he was in again! Just like the last fish, it shook the hook, what a sickener to repeat the same so soon, especially the time lost to playing this fish which meant we only had a few hours before we had to head in. We decided to change the size of our hooks to 14/0 circles. 

A few drifts later I got a dropped run. Exactly the same thing happened on the next drift and we were really getting frustrated by now, questioning whether the hooks were too big, or could the fish sense them? At this stage we had to just relax and try to figure out what might be going wrong.

With daylight running out we decided to give it one final drift. With the baits passing the edge of the rock Terry’s float went under ever so gently. Not even an inch of line came off the reel until Terry lifted into it, what a screamer! With the hook set, I radioed the research boat Marco to tell them we were hooked up. As the boat came alongside us Terry climbed aboard. With that, I drove away to a safer distance where the fish could not cut the line off on my keel.

As the fish came alongside the boat, I could see the tail rope heading down towards the fish and just like magic the fish was gone! Another one escaping and this time right at the end of the battle. With Terry back on the boat we headed in to lick our wounds. Though the next day offered a new morning with a fresh outlook and, perhaps importantly, different hook set-ups! We were soon back on the spot full of renewed optimism. Unfortunately, optimism alone doesn’t count for a great deal and can fade quickly, as just like the day before, we were getting dropped runs! We sat back wondering what was going wrong, determined to find a solution.

Captures are usually measured in the water before releade

So the fish were not shy of the bait, line or hooks. It had to be hooks position in the bait. Either that, or the circles hooks were unable to get around the corner of the mouth. Terry changed the position of the hook from the mouth to the middle of the back and i changed to a Shamrock Tackle porbeagle shark trace that has a different type of hook. As it was around two o’clock we decided to go over to the other mark that looked identical to the one we were drifting over. With the floats out I was still so frustrated I was telling Terry I could head in now and go home, my optimism had completed waned. 

As I once again looked back out toward the floats I took a second to realise I couldn’t see mine. To be honest, I didn’t even want to pick up the rod, expecting the inevitable of another disappointing dropped run but, I eventually leaned into the fish. With a few light head shakes I fully expected it was a small one of about 100lb. It started to move slowly away from the boat just head shaking, so i tightened up the drag and leaned into the fish again to let it know I was there. This extra pressure caused the head shaking to stop and it seemed to double in weight! It still didn’t run and I put a bit more drag pressure on her which finally seemed to upset the fish. She then gave her first run, what power!

With line disappearing off the Penn Fathom 50VSW, Terry started the boat and headed towards it as I kept the line tight. With every half hour passing she seemed to be getting heavier, refusing to yield. I can only assume in the initial staged of the fight she either didn’t realise she was hooked or considered it a minor irritation that a few head shakes would resolve. I then contemplated whether she could be line wrapped, which can give a greater fight from smaller fish as it restricts the ability to turn them.

After an hour and a half she finally seemed to be tiring, though so was I, but I kept up the energy as she came to the boat and I got my first look at her. She was huge! It looked like a great white shark in proportions, as this is a very close relative. It’s probable that most ‘sightings’ of great white’s in the U.K. and Ireland are simply big female porbeagles, or on some occasions another relative, the mako. I was still in shock as she casually swam around, though once she saw us she dove down with unbelievable power.

The research vessel watches on

I Knew now I was in for a back breaking fight and with that, Terry got the back harness on me but, every single time it was clipped on to the reel, she ran under the boat, so I made the choice to fight without it. With Terry working the boat I could feel my entire body starting to fail. I was now two hours into the fight and we could see her on the fish finder 20ft off the bottom. I told Terry that I was spent, I couldn’t find the energy to move her again.

Like any good angling friend, Terry started to motivate me, shouting ‘You can’t give up!  Keep the pressure on she has to come up’. As the fish was deep I relented and put the harness on and tightened the drag on the Fathom 50vsw. I then asked Terry to stand behind me just in case the line were to break. As I bent my 80lb class rod to its max, she very slowly started to move with the line playing a tune! I had so much pressure on the rod, the area where the reel sits started to bend.  

As she neared the surface, the Marko boat was on standby. Within a blink of an eye she was running along the surface before she turned and ran towards the boat! I was reeling as fast as I humans could worried about her throwing the hook on a slack line. As i looked up, she came clean out of the water, throwing her tail into the air! Everybody was in awe at this stage and as I looked at Terry all that he could muster was to say ‘she’s massive!’. He took another breath and added ’She’s a monster!’.

I took off the harness and said to Terry if he got an opportunity to grab the trace, don’t let go as I am spent. With the last bit of my energy, I leaned into the rod and, as the trace came up, Terry grabbed it with his gloves. With that, I put the rod into the rest and grabbed the leader. The shark was nearly pulling both of us overboard, what a monster she was!

The research boat came alongside and the skipper, Peter, and Professor, Nicholas Payne,  jumped onboard with the tail rope. To calm down the situation, Peter said ‘she is about 350lb’, but when the rope was around the tail he said ‘What a porbeagle! You’ve smashed the Irish record by miles!’

With the fish roped, they moved it around to the research boat. With a soft long mat hanging through the back door to protect the fish, we tried to manoeuvre her on board. We wouldn’t typically do this, but the research project required blood tests and other measurements that wouldn’t be possible in the water. If we are too learn more about his species to protect them, the occasional one will need boating and she had the right team around to ensure all mitigations for her safety were put in place, with the hose immediately placed in her mouth. She was so big and wide it took six of us to safely get her on board. The skipper could not believe that we could barely get her through the doors! He turned to me again and said ‘it is an Irish record, even a world record’ and then said he had never seen a shark so large. With the fish on board the science team sprung into action.

One of the number of porbeagles Sid ended the trip with - Given the focus on tagging the potential record breaker, no in-water photos are available and we are choosing not to publish a boated picture.

What a team! They all had a job to do and with bloods taken, satellite and IFI tag inserted, and the various measurements taken, I was lucky that I got myself into a picture with her before she was released. With the weight calculations done it came in over 571lb. On length alone, the fish comes in at around 425lb, but she was so ridiculously fat that girth measurements took her into a different bracket. 

With the world record being 507lb at 2.5m total length, my friend Bill, being a water ecologist and Dr McAuley, with a PhD in mathematics, both did the maths comparing the size of the world record to my 2.8m fish (a whole 30cm longer before considering the girth). They both said she is well into the upper 500lb bracket. It was said to me that I can’t say it is that weight because I didn’t bring it in and weigh it. I couldn’t imagine that anyone would want to do so these days. The thought of killing a beautiful and amazing animal like that would never have crossed my mind. Also, I am being told by professionals that she is up around that weight, remember she is a foot longer and as fat as she could be. It is a fish of a lifetime for me. On a lighter note she is now being satellite tracked and she is doing well swimming hundreds of miles since she was released! This result, to learn more about this fish, is perhaps even more rewarding than any record could be.

With another day over we were obviously on a high and by now back on dry land. With the first fish landed, I searched my tackle box to find another Shamrock Tackle porbeagle shark trace for Terry.

 

Our last day on the water was super! The next 3 takes resulted in all of the fish staying on the line. What a session! They did everything to get off, jumping out of the water, running under the boat and  tail wrapping, but now we’d settled on a hook positioning that worked and had the upper hand. I am looking forward to next year and  hopefully the weather will be like the few days we fished.

 

I would like to thank everyone involved on the capture of my fish especially Angela Heat that took most of the pictures and videos. 

 

Tight lines and dream big!

Terry with a 2.25m specimen
Angela Heath from the research vessell
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