Chip Michalove has hooked more than 30 great white sharks in the past four years, but none of them came close to the “freight train” beast he caught Tuesday afternoon.
Michalove, charter captain at Outcast Sport Fishing who is also known as Hilton Head’s Great White Shark Whisperer, hooked the estimated 17-foot, 3,500-pound shark just a few miles off the coast of Hilton Head.
Michalove and his crew had already caught, tagged and released a 10-foot great white shark that morning, but they weren’t ready to call it a day. Jon Dodd, co-founder of the Atlantic Shark Institute, had flown in over the weekend, and since Tuesday was his last day, they wanted to make the most of it.
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After a couple hours of waiting in the wind, Michalove felt something “enormous” tug on the line.
“Her dorsal fin came several feet out of the water,” Dodd said. “It was spectacular to see.”
Dodd has caught more than 1,000 sharks in his 30 years in the business. And had never seen a shark that big.
“Right when we saw her, I said ‘we got a freight train on that line,’ ” Michalove said. “She was so big she didn’t even know she was hooked for a while. She just kept swimming.”
But then she started to feel pressure from the line, Michalove said.
“This is a shark with really no predators in the Atlantic, so she’s not shook up by much. But you could tell she started to realize what was going on,” Michalove said.
That’s when the great white showed off her hulking, powerful anatomy as her tail and fin hit the water.
“She gave a few violent head shakes that were just about breaking her back,” Michalove said. “Then she spit the hook and we lost her. “
Though Michalove was sorry to have lost her, he was happy she was still out there.
“I’m telling you, there is a submarine with a tail off the coast of Hilton Head right now,” Michalove. “I hope I get her next time.”
The crew was so fired up they stayed around a bit, hoping she’d return.
A couple hours later, a second 10-foot great white shark hit the line, Dodd and Michalove said. They did what they could to reel the shark in, but were both so exhausted from the two earlier fights that they couldn’t get the shark close enough to the boat to tag it.
And that’s Michalove’s goal — to place a satellite tracking tag on the shark that gives scientists and shark enthusiasts the ability to follow the shark’s movements in real time as it swims thousands of miles through the Atlantic.
Michalove has been working with scientists at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in Chatham, Mass., to study the patterns of great white sharks.
On Tuesday, Michalove tagged the first 10-foot male shark he caught with an acoustic tag for Dr. Greg Skomal’s study with Massachusetts Marine Fisheries, so scientists can help track the fish through the ocean.
Great white science
Michalove works to ensure the process and methods he uses to catch great white sharks on rod-and-reel puts minimal stress on the animal.
He’s been studying great whites for decades now. He spent 12 straight, unsuccessful winters trying to catch a great white — before there was even proof they came near the Lowcountry coast.
Dodd, who has been catching and studying sharks for decades, said Michalove is one of few fishermen in the country who can catch great white sharks consistently.
“Pretty soon he’s going to have caught more great whites than anyone in history,” Dodd predicted.
Dodd said that the late Frank Mundus, the first fisherman to catch a great white on rod-and-reel in the Atlantic, held the record for the most great white sharks caught. Mundus helped inspire the novel “Jaws” and happens to be Michalove’s idol and one of Dodd’s old fishing partners.
“Chip is really the best at what he does,” Dodd said. “He’s cautious and kind to these animals, and he has some unique strategies and tactics that get these sharks to come to him. It’s very hard to do what he does.”
Dodd said hopes Michalove can catch the 17-foot shark again and tag it so scientists can track its movement.
“She might still be lurking off the Hilton Head coast right now,” Dodd said.
Like clockwork, great white sharks swarm to Lowcountry waters every winter from December to March. Michalove has previously estimated that there are around 1,000 great whites off the South Carolina coast in the winter time.
The Port Royal Sound, in particular, has been identified by scientists as a hotspot for sharks because of its high salinity and abundant food supply. Because great whites are only here in the winter time, there has never been a great white shark attack in South Carolina waters, according to SCDNR.