A Bowfisherman’s Story of Shooting Sharks with a Slingshot off the California Coast
It has always been my dream to take a shark with an arrow, and after twenty seven years my dream has finally become a reality. It all started when a gentleman named Corey Knowlton had a contest on Facebook. The winner would be the person that had the most people friend him, and an opportunity to go on a shark bowfishing trip in California was on the line. My group, “Bigtime Bowfishing,” is the largest bowfishing group on Facebook, so I knew I had a shot at the trip. For the next three days I asked, begged, and dang near pleaded with all the members of the group and all my friends to make Corey their friend. When it was all said and done I came in second place, but Corey was so impressed by me and my Facebook friends that he gave me a shark trip anyways. Only two short weeks later, I was on a plane headed to California.
After arriving in California I met up with my camera guy, Jimmy Curtis, and settled into my motel room. After a few hours of checking gear we met our boat captain and guide, Matt Potter, who is better known as “Mako Matt”. We went and got my fishing license, and of course food and snacks for the next day. Matt dropped us back off at the motel to get a few hours rest before he picked us back up at 4am. Sleep did not come easy and soon the phone was ringing with our wake up call. We grabbed our gear and were waiting for Matt when he pulled up. We weren’t far from the marina and within minutes we were loading the boat with all the gear and the 500 pounds of chum that we would need to lure in a big shark. Once the boat was loaded we started our two hour journey, which took us over forty miles offshore.
The boat ride seemed to take forever, and it took all I had to keep from sounding like a kid in the back seat of a car who keeps asking “Are we there yet?” Once we finally reached our spot, Matt stopped the boat. After a couple minutes of checking which way we were drifting, Matt and deckhand Forest Riggs started preparing for what they called a “power slick.” This strategy consists of placing a large amount of chum in the water while the boat runs at idle for about three miles. After the power slick is created the waiting begins. The boat is allowed to drift, and the whole time the chum line is getting longer and longer and increasing our odds of seeing a shark.
After about an hour of waiting, our first customer shows up. He’s a small blue shark, only about three feet long, and not the size or species we are after. We are after mako sharks, and we are hoping for one over 400 pounds. A couple more hours pass and our next shark shows up. It’s another blue shark, but it’s big. Matt estimates him to be eight feet long. It was the largest fish I had ever seen, and it took all the restraint I had, plus some encouragement from Matt, not to shoot. Matt told me that the shark would stay around unless a mako shark came in and scared him. The big blue shark circled the boat for about the next hour. He consistently left, and then returned. I watched him swim off again, and I was frantic when he returned because he was not alone. He was with another blue shark, and this one was HUGE!
Matt estimated this one to be ten feet long. Now my heart was racing and the excitement level went way up. Again Matt calmed me down and told me to be patient; we still had another hour before we had to leave. For the next hour the huge shark circled the boat. It felt as if he was mocking me. Like the shark we had seen earlier, he would leave and come back, circle the boat, and then leave again. Matt finally gave me the go ahead to shoot the massive blue shark because time was up and the makos were not cooperating.
Now I had a tough decision to make- Do I shoot the shark with my new October Mountain recurve bow, or do I shoot him with my falcon slingshot? I chose the slingshot. Come on, how cool would it be to tell my grandkids someday that I killed a ten foot shark with a slingshot! So, with the decision made, the preparations to make my dream a reality started to come together. Jimmy hoisted the camera and himself into the tower to record the event. This was going to be a completely different strategy than I had used on other bowfishing targets. First of all, I couldn’t just use a regular float like I was used to using. A float would be gone in seconds considering the speed these sharks have. Instead, the line attached to the arrow was also attached to a fishing pole. The fishing pole set-up allowed the shark to pull out extra line when he took off, but it also allowed me to pull him in easier. I placed the fishing pole into a fighting belt, which has a tube that holds the pole and helps get the leverage needed to pull in the shark.
I grabbed my slingshot and attached the line from my AMS Slotted Retriever to the line on the fishing pole I would use to fight the shark. As soon as we were ready the big blue shark showed up again, and it wasn’t long before he was broadside alongside the boat. I drew back the sling shot and released the pink Fin Finder arrow. It flew true and drove the Shure Shot fish point deep into the shark. I was expecting the shark to explode and take off, but this big fish acted like I didn’t even hurt him and just swam off, steadily pulling line from the retriever.
Afraid the big shark might realize he had been shot and make a big, fast run, I started pulling the line from my AMS Retriever reel. In my haste, I tangled the line. Before I could get it untangled the big shark pulled the slingshot from my hand. Losing my slingshot was a pretty tough blow, since I had used that very slingshot to shoot the first ever alligator and the first ever wild boar. I could not dwell on my lost slingshot for very long though because I had a huge blue shark on the line that needed to be tended to. For the next forty-five minutes I was engaged in a tug-of-war with the shark. I would reel in ten yards of line, then he would pull out fifteen yards, I would reel in fifteen yards, then he would pull out ten yards. Soon the shark started to show signs of tiring, which I was grateful for, since I too was tiring. At times I questioned my decision to use the fighting belt that didn’t allow me to attach the pole to it because my arms were cramping up with each passing minute.
I was gaining on the shark, and gaining line fast, when all of a sudden my slingshot breaks the surface! It’s still tangled in the line, but soon it was back in the boat, and considered officially retired for fear of ever losing it again. It wasn’t long after getting the slingshot back that the shark was once again alongside the boat, and Matt was standing by to gaff him. Once the gaff was in and the shark’s tail was tied to the back of the boat he was all mine.
With my shark secured to the boat we headed to the dock where we measured him to be ten feet, two inches long and weighed him at 367 pounds.
You may think our adventure ended there, but that’s no way to end this saga. Instead, I was asked to accompany Matt again the next day to help with some guys that had booked a shark bowfishing trip, but they had never bowfished before. Jimmy Ellison was to be the shooter. While he was new to bowfishing, he had traveled the world hunting. He had shot brown bears in Russia and been charged by buffalo in Africa- listening to his stories was an adventure in itself.
After Matt and Forest laid out the power slick, I took some time to familiarize Jimmy with the equipment and tried to prepare him as to what was going to happen if a shark came in. We spent the next couple hours trading hunting stories until we were interrupted by Matt yelling, “ Shark!!! Mako shark!!!” Immediately everybody was scrambling. Jimmy, my camera guy, climbed up the tower, Forest went to the helm and was ready to drive the boat when the shark was hit. Jimmy Ellison grabbed the bow, and I helped him get ready for the shot. I held the heavy cable that was attached to the arrow between my fingers and held the fishing pole it was attached to in my other hand. Matt started heavily chumming the water. Unlike my blue shark from the previous day, the mako shark came in fast and straight, making one pass behind the boat. Matt attached a fish to a line and threw it out. As soon as it hit the water the mako locked on and started following it as Matt pulled it toward the boat. When the shark was about six feet from the boat Jimmy shot. The arrow went high over the shark, and with a flip of its tail, we all stood there soaking wet. The shark was gone. We retrieved the arrow and Matt told us to get ready because he was sure the shark would be back.
After about five minutes, but from my own experiences bet felt like an eternity for Jimmy, a large dark spot appeared under the boat. The mako was back. Again Matt threw a fish attached to the line, and again the shark locked on, except this time the shark grabbed the fish before Matt had a chance to pull it in. Matt quickly tied on another piece of fish and tossed it over, and again the shark came after it. Matt quickly pulled the piece of fish toward the boat with the shark following close behind. When the shark was again at six feet Jimmy let the arrow fly, and this time he hit his mark. The arrow struck the shark in the top of the head. What happen next left us scrambling around the boat running for our lives. We were very lucky nobody was hurt, or even worse, killed.
When the arrow struck the shark in the top of the head the fish went crazy. I don’t know if he was knocked senseless or if his survival instincts just kicked in. The shark immediately opened his mouth and started thrashing about. He made a circle about twenty yards from the boat and then came at the back of the boat. Once he got to the back of the boat, he started chewing on the back and attempted to jump in the boat with us. The whole time all I could see was teeth. Matt was yelling, “Watch out! He is coming in!!!!,” and all I could do was stand there and watch. Like a bad car accident, everything was in slow motion. The shark turned and left toward the open water behind us. At about the same time, Forest got the boat in gear and was headed in the opposite direction.
We started reeling the shark in. He was on top of the water and now seemed very dead. We were all high fiving each other, whooping and hollering. Soon the shark was along side the boat. Matt grabbed the gaff and leaned over the side of the boat to gaff the shark, when all of a sudden the shark was very much alive, and again he attempted to get in the boat. Again Forrest speeds up the boat and in a stroke of luck outruns the shark. We again reel in the shark, and soon we have him alongside the boat again. This time Matt has me hold the leader and lean out of the boat while he gaffs the shark. Let me tell you, I know the true meaning of looking into the “jaws of death.” All I could think was, “If this shark decides to go crazy I am in a very bad spot!” Matt takes the gaff and very skillfully buries it in the back of the shark while Forrest speeds up the boat. In the blink of an eye it’s over, and the shark is ours. I am confident that had the shark been a foot longer or the back of the boat six inches lower the outcome would not have been so good for us. Jimmy compared it to hunting Cape buffalo, except in the water and with no gun in his hand for a back up shot.
Once at the dock the Mako measured six feet, ten inches long, and weighed 234 pounds. I will tell you this: In the future I will be back out to see Mako Matt, and I will have a mako shark with a bow. If you to want the experience of a lifetime and would like a shot at your own shark, look me up on Facebook Bad Ass Slingshots or our web page www.BASlingshots.com