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This fisherman has such a way with sharks, they come back to see him

Chip Michalove’s last customer of the season was a thrashing monster, a great white shark. Michalove gave him a little love and sent him on his way.

Michalove, a Hilton Head charter-boat fisherman, has a way with sharks. He catches them, tags them for science, and puts them back on patrol.

Do the sharks mind? Apparently not. They seem drawn to him.

He’s caught the same great white, same tiger and same lemon sharks twice. He caught the great white shark for the second time in the same spot eight months after their first encounter.

“It goes to show you that the sharks aren’t traumatized by the way we were handling them,” says Michalove, 41, of Outcast Sport Fishing. “If you traumatize the fish, it won’t return to the same spot it associates with the trauma.”

Michalove and crew bring the sharks to the side of the boat, never dragging them from the water, to get outfitted with electronic tags that track their travels for researchers with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in Chatham, Mass. He’s never had an injury to his crew from sharking and never injured or lost a shark.

This shark season – its the winter months when the critters tend to gather off the Carolinas – he’s landed three males and three females.

Michalove has been a charter captain for 20 years, usually takes customers out for game fish like tarpon, king mackerel and cobia. About a dozen years ago, he decided to try for a great white shark on his own time.

It wasn’t until three years he succeeded. Then three days later, he landed another. He’s caught about a dozen total over the last few years.

Four months ago, on New Year’s Eve, he landed a 16-footer estimated at 3,000 lbs. “Pulled the boat like a sled,” Michalove says.

Shark myth

Hollywood’s portrayal of big sharks as frenzied killers is all fiction, he says.

“They’re very intelligent. When they come into the chum slick, they’re methodical. They’re not coming in and just hammering stuff like other species like in the movies. They’re completely different than what TV portrays them as.”

Each shark species has its own personality when hooked.

“Some want to put up more of a battle than others,” he says. “Some just come in and say, ‘Let’s get this over and let me go.’”

Great whites like to go airborne. One 2,500-pound specimen shot completely out of the water about 40 yards behind the boat.

“I thought I was seeing things,” Michalove says.

Baits that draw big sharks includes barracuda, bonita, king mackerel and tuna. Shark stalking, Michalove said, is all about location and strong fishing line.

“Fifty percent of the adventure has been trying to find the locations, the type of water they prefer,” he says, “and 50 percent is finding the tackle that is needed to stop one of these dinosaurs.”

He’s technically incorrect in calling sharks dinosaurs. Sharks had been cruising the seas for tens of millions of years before the first reptile ever hatched. Some species are believed to have lived more than 400 million years ago.

Named one Hunter

To help those tracking the sharks that he tags, Michalove gives each one a name.

His last great white shark of the season was named Hunter, after a teenager he met through a program involving the charter fishermen at Hilton Head. They gather at a dock and take kids with special needs out for the day.

Hunter Austin rode with Michalove and it turned out they had a lot in common – both had been obsessed with sharks since childhood. But Austin was not only the master of shark lore, he could quote big chunks of dialogue from “Jaws.”

“It’s not very often you meet a kid who knows more about sharks than you do,” Michalove said. “He knows how many gill plates a black-tipped shark has.”

Now Hunter can track his own shark on the app from the shark conservancy.

“It brought tears to his parents’ eyes,” Michalove said. “From now on, every shark we tag will be named after a kid battling a terminal illness or less fortunate.”

Vicious predators

Sharks are the apex predators of the ocean, and their work is vital to the health of the planet. “People don’t understand that sharks are our lions and tigers of the seas,” says Michalove.

“They’re the ones thinning out the weak, the diseased and injured. They’re the ones keeping the ecosystem healthy. They’re the ones on the scene cleaning up the mess.”

But sharks need a public relations makeover. Ever since the blockbuster movie “Jaws,” they’ve been lumped into the category of deadly menace.

Fact is, though, sharks don’t care much for the taste of humans. Most shark bites are what experts call “catch and release” – a curious shark nips an ankle to see what it is and spits it out.

World-wide, about half a dozen humans are killed annually on average by sharks.

World-wide, about 100 million sharks are killed annually on average by humans.

Sharks aren’t the menace. Michalove hopes his hunting hobby – and the science it supports – will improve the odds for the sharks.

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007, @WashburnChObs

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