"Jaws" Revisited

     My wife and I love the state of Hawai'i.  Forgive me for spelling it with the apostrophe, but that’s the way it’s done over there. Were it not for money, family, friends, jobs, medical care, cost of living, church, and other various details, we would probably be living there. But, alas, since we don’t have much money, but lots of friends and family, and we need good medical care, plus the Hawai’ian cost of living is astronomical, not to mention that Hawai’i is politically heavily Democratic, we have chosen (been forced?) to settle in our own little Garden of Eden in Houston, Texas. The only thing you can say that is true about both Houston and anywhere in Hawai’i is that they are on the same planet. However we have made several trips to Hawai’i , and are now card-carrying kama’ainas, which allows us to get into all sorts of places nearly free and gives us the right to complain how all the mainland tourists are ruining the true Hawai’ian momona aloha.
     We have wandered Waikiki, cruised Kaua’i, mellowed on Maui, snorkeled Lana’i and Molokini, and viewed volcanoes on the Big Island. We've dinner cruised on every sort of ship and went down in a submarine to view….well, not much. If you get a chance to take the Yellow Submarine, don’t. There's not much to see off shore and 150 feet down. We have practically been to every luau (beach festivity) in the islands and have eaten our share of i’a a poi. It would be easy to say about any activity in Hawai’i, “Been there, done that,” but the fact is, given an opportunity to “be there and do it again,” we would jump at the chance to repeat every Hawai’ian adventure we ever had. Hawai'i is truly a state of mind, and, once affected with the “aloha” spirit, every other place which is touted as “just as good as Hawai’i” somehow pales in comparison.
     On our fourth visit to Honolulu, we stayed at the Sheraton Princess Ka’ialani, next door to the International Marketplace and across the street from the Sheraton Moana Surfrider, the oldest (built in 1903) and most expensive hotel on Waikiki Beach. We had access to it due to the fact that we were in a Sheraton Hotel, but our extent of usage was walking through it as we headed to the beach. Our first couple of days there were spent doing the things one does when in Honolulu…visit the famous sites, hit the beach, shop, and stroll around. On the second evening as we were collapsing in our room after a full day of activities and tours, I happened to see an advertisement in a tourist paper that headlined, “Fish for Shark…The Great Adventure!" The ad went on to say that the boat made regular evening tours with the prime directive of catching big sharks. Upon further reading, I began to hear the soundtrack of “Jaws” playing in my head and could imagine myself as the grizzled Robert Shaw battling the monster of the deep in mortal combat. The fishing excursion, strangely enough, did not debark the dock until “because all the big ones cruise and feed at night.”
     Placing a quick phone call, I discovered that there was a trip planned that very evening, and there was space available. The gravelly voice on the phone said, “We catch more big shark than any other boat in the harbor! There is an 85% chance you will catch a shark!" Already, I was hooked. About I headed downstairs to the lobby and shortly hopped in a van from Sushimo Fishing Charters. The other seven patrons were already aboard. I had been a little nervous about this trip. I had imagined it to be a test of my manhood…you know, the man vs monster plot that Hollywood has used for a hundred years. But on board with me were four giggly young girls, none older than 21, and three of their latte-sipping, quiche-nibbling nabobs that pass for young men now days. The fourth young girl was a girl friend of one of the other girls. I decided that this was a serious joke or that this adventure was not going to be as challenging as I thought. These young examples of America’s future (shudder) were much more interested in their personal interactions that the task at hand. The young girls looked at the large buckets of dead fish we would be using as bait and exclaimed,” Ewwww!" It was clear I was not in a group of serious fishermen. Oh, well, less competition, I thought.
     Our boat for the night would be the “Explorer,” a well equipped 60 foot vessel that sported around 50 ready-to-go fishing rigs, including 10-12 rods and reels that looked heavy duty enough to reel in a battleship. Sure enough, the heavy babies would be our weapons of choice for the night. The captain gave us a safety pitch as we motored out of the harbor and assigned each of us a spot along the rails. The plan was the crew would bait our monster sized hooks, drop them over the side, and our job was to holler “Shark on!” if the line took off. When the alarm went out, all others were to reel in their lines to avoid tangling while the battle of survival was going on. Once the “all clear” came, the lines went back in the water. It was exciting!     We motored out of the harbor and the night was…enchanting. The full moon caused the water to sparkle, and the warm breeze created just enough wave action that there was a rhythmic slap against the bow of the boat as we slipped farther from the harbor lights. The lights of the Waikiki hotels glistened and reflected on the water. I had imagined that we would go offshore for 10-20 miles or so to bob for the big ones, and it confused me when we sailed out of the harbor, turned on our port beam and cruised until we were just off of Waikiki Beach. When we stopped we were close enough that we could see people walking along the beach in the light of the hotels. The captain explained that this was the best place to catch shark…we were in about 100 feet of water and relatively close to the shore because “sharks like to cruise the shoreline to feed." After hearing that amazing bit of news, I made myself a personal note…no more romantic swims!
     The crew started baiting the hooks and tossing them overboard. I was fisherperson number three. Mine went in the water, and about the time he got to number six, I felt a somewhat firm tug on my line and then suddenly my reel started spinning out the line like mad. "Shark on!” I yelled, and the crewman ran over and said, “Yeah, that’s a good one!” as my rod began to bend from the strain. "you want to try it yourself?” he asked, meaning that he would pull it in for me if I wished. My manhood issues popped up again, however, and I replied, “No, I want to bring him in." So he got a cable and anchored the reel and rod to the boat. I noticed he didn’t offer me a safety belt of any kind. Oh, well, tourists come and go, but fishing hardware is expensive. He did help me adjust the drag on the reel a bit so that I ceased to lose line, and afterward it became a tugging war between the shark and me. He stayed near the bottom and did not want to come up, but inch by inch, and reel crank by reel crank, he tired and slowly rose to the surface. When he got within about ten feet of the surface, the crew switched on spotlights, and there he was, a gray shark, about seven feet and around 170 pounds (captain’s estimate). Not the shark from “Jaws”, but big enough to make you decide to stay in the boat. Since this was all catch and release fishing, the idea was to pull him as far as possible out of the water for all to see, then cut him loose.
     I had my camera with me and, while lifting mightily along with the crew’s help, I held the camera in my right hand and sort of aimed sharkward and hoped for the best. At least I got photo proof of my catch. By this time a crewman was holding the line leader lifting the shark and another reached down with some wirecutters to cut the line (see photo). What happened next could have been disastrous. When the crewman cut the line, it snapped back like a whip, and the backlash caught the captain, who was leaning over the rail watching the process, about an inch under his left eye and opened a two inch gash clear to the cheek bone. He fell back and grabbed his face, and grabbed a relatively clean towel and in a few seconds stopped the flow of blood. He put on a bandage and continued with his job. Tough guy.
     With the shark gone and the excitement over, it was lines back in the water, but this night would prove to be a dud. About an hour later one of the young guys caught a four footer that caused a little excitement when it came off its hook inside the boat and the crewmen had to grab it without getting bit. Its teeth were snapping shut like a steel trap. Finally it was grabbed by the tail and thrown overboard. By this time the girls were tired of yucky dead fish bait and just plain tired, so they quit fishing and drank Cokes and ate hot dogs. The guys eventually followed suit, and I, like the Ancient Mariner, was left to go it alone. I had made my catch for the night, however, and since it was approaching , the captain asked me and I said yes, I’m ready to go home.
     We heaved to the anchor, fired the engines, and made the short journey back to the docks. All in all (at least if you’re a fisherman) it was a worthwhile evening. I had a new experience, a cool photo, and another Hawai’ian memory to add to the collection. I'd go shark fishing again.