Posted by: 1000fish | March 12, 2022

Shark Week


The Seychelles were calling me, and I couldn’t answer. While I had to be grateful that Marta and I were both still healthy and employed, I was slipping into an emotional dark place, (which Marta calls “grouchy,”) because I couldn’t travel outside the US. As early spring rolled around, I was at 1978 species, but I honestly didn’t have much of a plan for the next 22.

I did get some fishing in, including an Eel River steelhead trip with Mark Spellman

The idiots, steady fishing partners since 1993.

Great memories of Ed Trujillo.

In mid-March, the Moore family visited Northern California. We met in Santa Cruz, and while it was chillier than we wanted, they scraped out a few species.

The Moores hunt the tidepools. L-R, that’s Chris, The Mucus, and Carson.

We caught up with Vince, a teenage local species genius, who helped us with some of his secret spots, and somewhere in there, I stumbled into a striped kelpfish. 

Species 1979. That’s the year I moved from Michigan to California.

Vince is a superstar – you can see more of his stuff on something called “Instagram” under the name “@prickly_sculpin.” Whatever that means. But the kid is a genius.

I was still looking for the next big trip, and I got talking to Phil Richmond, the US Navy Officer who you all remember from two different Japan trips. Now based near Los Angeles, Phil was doing what he does everywhere – get a boat and find the fish. His latest project – a swordfish. Unfortunately, the high point of his quest thus far was a heartbreaking gear failure after he had hooked a huge sword. I have never heard someone so absolutely heartsick. We feel you, brother.

We got talking about sharks, specifically, sixgill sharks. Part of an ancient group represented by four living species, these deep-dwelling monsters can reach 15 feet and occasionally wander into areas where they can be caught. I had seen stray sixgills landed in San Francisco Bay, in the early 1990s when I used to go shark fishing almost every Friday, on a charter called The Fury. Friends of mine caught them, hell, even Spellman got one, but I never did.

This was an all-weekend project and would require sleeping on the boat. I generally avoid these situations, but the spots were too far offshore to base at a Hyatt, and I wanted this fish BAD. 

The idea was to meet at his place in Ventura late afternoon, go get his boat, stock up on provisions, and then drive down to LA to launch and head offshore. We got on the water just past sunset and motored out into the open Pacific. We talked strategy on the way, but basically, he had found some ledges that could hold the fish, and we were going to drop multi-pound cut baits and wait. 

The craft. It’s a solid boat and Phil has set it up very well.

A few hours later, we were anchored and fishing. The sea was thankfully calm, especially considering it was late March, so we could settle in to eating chicken wings and waiting for what would be a darn big bite. In the meantime, I dropped smaller rigs and landed the occasional sand dab. 

In the middle of the night, right about when it became clear only one of us would fit in his bunk, my rod went off with a hard, screaming run on the clicker. I thought I did everything right, but when I swung, there was nothing there. It seemed too fast for a sixgill – we guessed huge bat ray and continued fishing. 

Perhaps an hour later, as I was dozing off, Phil hooked a solid fish. Remember that he is an enormous person, so he can pull hard on these things, but the fish was still taking line and fighting with big, wide head shakes. 

He battled it patiently, and it took some hard runs even as it got toward the surface. We planned to release any big fish we caught, so we had rigged a tail rope and figured we would fake it from there. The fish finally surfaced after about 15 minutes. Although a teenager by sixgill standards, it was a big animal, all of seven feet and around 140 pounds. 

They’re just friends.

The fish was not happy.

Getting ready for the release. Very few people can pick up a shark this size without losing a limb.

As you may recall from 1000fish episode “Domo Arigato, Mr. Richmond,” Phil has caught the super rare broadnose sixgill shark, as well as the regular and sharpnose sevengills. Now that he has the regular sixgill, I would wager heavily that he is the only person on earth who has caught all four of these species.

Do NOT put this in your pants.

Phil’s boat has a nice bunk for one person, or two people who really like each other, so we were supposed to take turns napping. I am known to be a very light sleeper, so I was more worried about waking up than sleeping through anything. In a bizarre development that I would not have believed unless Phil showed me the video, which will never see the light of day so stop asking, I absolutely would not wake up for a whole series of attempts by Phil, up to and including an air horn. Marta, who is used to me jumping up when a deer farts in the back yard, was astonished. Sorry again, Phil.

When I finally regained consciousness, it was light and we decided to poke around for rockfish. We caught loads of them, but alas, nothing new for me. Annoyingly, I kept missing the greenspotted rockfish record by just a few ounces.

So close.

We also spent quite a bit of time gathering Mylar balloons that some idiot let fly during a party.

People, please don’t be idiots.

Evening rolled around, and we went back to our spot and rigged up the serious gear. About two pounds of chicken wings later, I had just laid down for a nap when Phil yelled “Fish on your rod!” My heavy trolling setup was bouncing hard, and I had no trouble waking up. 

From the moment I got the rod out of the holder, I could tell it was the right fish. It was heavy and fought with short runs and powerful head shakes, but it stayed pretty much straight down.

These aren’t the best action shots but you get the idea. That rod doesn’t bend very easily.

It took about 20 minutes before I saw a big dark shape and an unsettling white mouth come out of the blackness. No matter how much you think you are prepared for this, you will still utter a string of expletives when it happens to you.

I like to think I said “Oh my, that’s a large shark lunging out of the water at my arm.” But it didn’t come out that organized.

Phil was ready and had a tail rope on it before I could worry too much. It was a good fish, we’ll guess around 175, and even though it was only March, I knew exactly which picture was going on the front of our Christmas letter. 

Species 1980. I got my driver’s license in 1980.

Six. Count ’em. Most sharks have five, except of course for the sevengills, and some catsharks, such as the brownbanded bamboo catshark, which have four.

Because I am someone who writes a lot of articles trying to make a two-inch fish exciting, this was an especially satisfying trip, because I have an answer for those of you who are mean to me when I post a small fish. This means you, Brian Smith.

Our heroes on the way home, triumphant but unwashed.

We were downwind of the seals and they still smelled better than us.

Exactly two weeks later, Phil and I would be at it again for another shark species. In the interim, I caught up with Vince, who provided some excellent advice on the elusive bald sculpin. There really is a fish called that. Get your mind out of the gutter.

This led to a pleasant afternoon in the tidepools, and I got at least a dozen of my target fish. I should note that the Bald is one of the harder-fighting small sculpins.

Species 1981. I graduated high school in 1981. We just had our 40th effing reunion. Damn I’m old.

At least I finally got to sit with the cool kids. That’s David on the left, a high school classmate who still has an impressive scar on his eyebrow where I hit him with a hockey puck. I like to point out the scar; he likes to point out he stopped the puck.

On April 2, old 1000Fish friend Gerry Hansell visited San Francisco and we set up a day of early-season rockfish. Things went well until the boat left the harbor. It was rougher that expected and Gerry somehow misapplied his Scopolamine patch. Gerry is two of the five smartest people I know, but it’s a more confusing process than you would think, and he became profoundly seasick.

Gerry toughed it out and managed to add six species. That’s what it takes sometimes.

Although I rarely catch a new species locally, I did manage something so statistically improbable that it is worth mentioning here. My first 10 rockfish – which is currently a limit – were all different species. I have been doing these trips for 30 years and have never seen this happen. Generally, a particular species will stack up at a given spot, and at least half your limit will consist of that species. Weird day. Made me forget Gerry’s breakfast smoothie.

Steve and the aforementioned limit.

A few days later, Phil and I set up another weekend, this time to pursue thresher shark. Thresher had been another maddening species for me, as they are regularly caught off Monterey and San Francisco. I’ve been on two boats that hooked them, although the leaders didn’t hold up either time. (They jump when hooked so it was pretty obvious what they were.)

I got down to Ventura a day early so I could pursue another “bonus species.” Courtesy of the Moore family, even The Mucus, I had been told that the harbor there has a substantial population of California clingfish. Clingfish are cool.

Species 1983. The final episode of M*A*S*H aired in 1983, and it is still the single best thing ever shown on television, with the exception of the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals.

The next afternoon, Phil and I loaded up his boat and headed back down to Long Beach. We explored until we found one of the massive bait schools that threshers are known to follow, caught some bait, and then we cast out floating rigs. We had a couple of tentative takes, but nothing we would swear was a thresher, and we headed in for burgers just after dark.

The next morning, we set out at first light and again hunted bait schools. We found an enormous aggregation of sardines, so we anchored and again set out live baits.

Now THAT’S a spicy bait ball.

While we waited, I fished small rigs on the bottom, and things got good. I pulled up a sand dab. Yawn. I pulled up another sand dab. Yawn. But somewhere in there, I actually looked at the thing, and realized, to my great joy and Phil’s everlasting amusement, that it was a longfin sand dab and I had a new species. 

Species 1984. The Detroit Tigers won the World Series in 1984, and yes, I poured a bottle of champagne over my head.

Before I could even properly celebrate the dab, I pulled up another flatfish, a little bigger and with clear, big ocelli. It was a fantail sole, and I had species 1985. 

Species 1985. What a morning. I graduated UC Davis in 1985, and yes, I poured a bottle of champagne over my head.

A closer look at the fantail.

The floated thresher baits didn’t seem to be doing the trick, and the water was getting a lot bumpier than forecast. While I am not as prone to seasickness as, say, my brother-in-law Dan, I was still not feeling my best.

My favorite photo of Dan.

We decided to start heading in to the harbor and troll big plugs behind us. It was going to take a while, so I sat there quietly, trying not to be ill. We were perhaps halfway back to Long Beach when it happened. The fish I mean. I didn’t barf.

It is hard to do literary justice to the violence of a thresher hit on the troll. Snakehead may strike with more hatred, but a shark going fast one direction grabbing a lure that’s going fast in the other direction can empty a human bladder in less than a second. The noise alone is unforgettable – no one is ever used to the sound of a clicker screaming, but this takes it up a couple of octaves and I thought it was going to break the rod. (No one thinks their reel can make those noises, just like no one thinks their cat can make those noises, until you step on their tail.)

Any seasick thoughts melted away as I got into fighting mode. The initial run was very long, like a bat ray on steroids, but braided line takes the drama out of possibly being spooled. This fish stayed close to the surface but didn’t jump, and every time I thought he had slowed down, he would take off again. Phil is an excellent driver and has been in these situations many times (including landing a 275 pound marlin on his small boat in Japan,) so he kept me at a good angle and let the fish wear itself down. My rig was a solid 30 pound class rod, a gift from some co-workers years ago at Macromedia, and it was great to have something pull hard on it. 

Note on action shots – the rod never looks as bent as it felt, and the water never looks as rough as it was.

The fish kept slugging it out on the surface, keeping its distance from us and making short but powerful runs every time we got close. We could see it was very solidly hooked on both trebles, but it still took about 10 more minutes to maneuver into position for a gaff shot. 

If you are gaffing a fish, you want Phil on your side. He has a longer reach than normal humans, and he doesn’t miss. He got the fish first, then I got a second gaff, and we hauled it over the rail. I had my thresher. My hand is still sore from the high five Phil gave me. 

Species 1986. 1986 was a very bad year for Bill Buckner. God bless you, Bill.

They have a decent set of teeth. Mind you, this is a fairly small thresher.

We cast around in the harbor a bit, then went for pizza. Phil was thrilled for me, but he wanted a thresher badly as well, and we planned an early start the next day.

And yes, we kept the fish. They are amazing eating – they are great grilled and also make a wonderful fish cake. (Fish cakes courtesy of Marta.)

I was more prepared for the sea conditions the next morning, so of course, it was perfectly flat. We skipped the bait thing and trolled right away, starting a bit north of where we got my fish and working south.

We again spent time gathering Mylar balloons that some idiot let fly during a party.

People, don’t be idiots.

We had been at it about an hour when the port side rig exploded. Phil grabbed the rod, I grabbed the wheel, and I prayed that the fish would stay on and that I didn’t do anything stupid while I had the boat.

He looks remarkably calm for someone with two thirds of their line gone.

Phil landed it perhaps 20 minutes later, and we both had one on the board. That’s a good weekend.

Yes, his was bigger.

Content with the fish, we headed out. It’s a long drive home from LA through Ventura on a Sunday afternoon, but I was smiling the entire time. Realistically, I had been hoping for one of the two big sharks and maybe a couple of stray bonus fish. Instead, I had improbably added nine species. That left 14 to go and a trip to Mexico coming up. 



I love surfperch fishing, but I have come to hate the silver surfperch. It’s a scattered species that is only caught by accident while fishing for barred perch, and they look a lot like a walleye perch, so every one of those is a heartbreaking false alarm.

About a week after the thresher, I went down to Santa Cruz with Jibril, the fishing-crazed son of one of my best friends. The surf was perfect, allowing for light tackle, and we got at least a dozen barred and walleye perch, each of which was examined closely and released. I even had one light-colored walleye that I almost persuaded myself was a silver, but about an hour later, I got a hit that just felt different. Looking at the fish, there was no doubt – dusky dorsal tip, pigment on the anal fin. I was having a good spring. (And given how much time I was spending on the water, Marta was having a better one.)

Steve and Jibril with species 1987. The first Simpsons episode aired in 1987.

The pattern for these is easy – catch 8000 walleye perch first. On to the spotfin!




  1. We get the 6 gills here in Ireland, off the Shannon estuary, only problem is they run at over 1000lb…
    I can almost taste the 2000 species… can’t wait👍🍾🍾🍾

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