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At 926 pounds, this 'tag-teamed' mako aboard Jenny Lee Sportfishing on July 22, 2017 may very well go down in the books as the largest shark ever landed on rod and reel in the state of New Jersey.
By Karen Wall  |  July 23, 2017
Captains Dave Bender and Kevin Gerrity with the crew of Jenny Lee Sportfishing weighed in a 926-pound mako shark at Hoffman's Marina in Brielle on July 22, 2017. The current NJ state record mako (shortfin) is 856 pounds, a high mark that has stood since 1994.

It nearly spooled them twice. It snapped the top 6 inches off the rod.

“I thought for sure we were going to lose the fish,” said Capt. Dave Bender of the Jenny Lee, as he and Capt. Kevin Gerrity recounted the catch of the jaw-dropping 926-pound mako shark they put on the scale at Hoffman's Marina early Saturday morning.

“I saw the size and knew it was about 11 or 12 feet. I knew it was going to be close to a state record,” Gerrity said Sunday after he'd had some time to recover from the overnighter Friday, July 21, that forever will be burned into his memory.

The 926-pound shortfin mako is the largest shark caught by hook and line in New Jersey. It is 70 pounds heavier than the state record shortfin mako, an 856-pounder caught in 1994 by Christopher Palmer in the Wilmington Canyon. It's 46 pounds heavier than the state record tiger shark, an 880-pounder caught in 1988 by Billy DeJohn off Cape May.

And Gerrity knew as soon as the drags screamed and the 80-pound Ande started peeling off the Shimano 50 wide shortly after 11 p.m. that the mako - which measured 140 inches long and had a 36-inch girth - was big.

“I knew it as well over 500 (pounds) just based on the pressure,” Gerrity said. “It was like a submarine at the end of the line.”

“I didn't think we were going to be able to stop it, that's how fast it was screaming out,” he said.

Bender said the group — himself and Gerrity, and the six-man Miccio charter from Bordentown — had headed out to the Hudson Canyon Friday for an overnighter. The tuna fishing on Friday was slow, Bender said; they had a few small throwback yellowfin and one of about 35 pounds. As night fell, they switched over to a three-rod set of two shark rods and a swordfish setup.

“Every night offshore for the last 10 years he puts out a shark rod,” Bender said, “and every night I tell the customers, 'We ain't gonna catch no mako.' "

On this night, however, they crossed paths with a mako that was hungry.

“It had nothing in its stomach except our bait,” Gerrity said. “I wish it'd had a couple of tuna, then it would have been over a thousand pounds!”

The bait, half a skipjack and a giant squid rigged on a Mustad offset 11/0 hook and a Richie Mansfield rig, was running 60 feet down with a glowstick on it when the shark hit.

“We got the other two rods in as fast as possible,” Gerrity said, and from there, it was just a matter of teamwork, with the six men taking turns fighting the shark on the Shimano rod and Bender backing down on the shark to keep it within range.

“There were lobster pots all around us and whitewater coming over the transom,” Gerrity said. “It nearly spooled us twice. Dave did an incredible job.”

The first attempt to leader and put a shotgun slug in the mako led to a run that snapped 6 inches off the top of the Shimano rod, Bender said.

“The first shot missed and after the second shot (which hit the shark) the gun jammed,” Gerrity said.

Finally they got two more 12-gauge slugs in the shark to finish the job, he said. And then another hour or more to haul it into the boat, with tailropes and four gaffs, Bender and Gerrity said. They'd set one gaff, then with one holding, use the next to reach farther down the shark to gradually work it into the cockpit through the tuna door.

And once they did, there was no discussion of trying to fish any longer.

“There was no way we could stay and fish for tuna,” Bender said. “It took up the entire cockpit.”

So, with exactly 100 miles to go from the east side of the Hundred Square, they headed for Brielle.

“They (the charter) were all spent,” Bender said.

Gerrity has seen big sharks before. He and Bender had a 290-pound mako on the Jenny Lee last year. “That thing was a puppy,” he said. There was also the 448-pounder while fishing with Jody DiStasio on the XTC in 1986.

“We broke off a 700-pounder (on the Jenny Lee) about seven or eight years ago,” Gerrity said. And though he encountered an even-bigger shark earlier in the week, a tiger shark in the 800- to 900-pound range that he and DiStasio released, nothing quite prepared him for the size or excitement of catching this mako.

“That tiger really set the precedent on how big this (mako) was,” Gerrity said. “But it's still a little surreal.”

“It's always about getting the bite and then knowing what to do,” he said. “We were just lucky, lucky, lucky, that's all.”

“Kevin deserves 100 percent of the credit for catching this beast,” Bender said. “He has waited 35 years for this. Kevin's passion and persistence paid off for a fish of a lifetime.”

According to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Record Fish application, a fish is only eligible for state record consideration if it was caught by a sole angler. But that doesn't take the shine off the catch for Gerrity.

“It did pan out to be the largest,” he said. “I'm just grateful we caught it. It's like hitting the lottery.”

According to NOAA Fisheries, current levels of catch for makos in the North Atlantic are considered sustainable, and the “potential overfishing” shown in previous stock assessment have diminished. These most recent stock assessment results indicate that the mako stock is healthy, it is not overfished and the probability that overfishing is occurring is low.