Hilton Head charter reels in 13.5-foot shark, gets a surprise
Chip Michalove needed a challenge this week.
The Hilton Head charter captain, owner and operator of Outcast Sport Fishing, is known for catching, tagging, and releasing monstrous great white sharks and he hasn’t caught a “monster” shark since February. (He caught an 10-foot tiger shark with a group of scientists in May, but doesn’t consider that big).
On Wednesday, Michalove finally got his fix when a 13.5-foot, 1,400-pound tiger shark started pulling on the fishing line of his 26-foot boat in the Port Royal Sound, more than two miles off the Hilton Head coast.
“She saved me, really, because we had about 15 minutes left in the (charter) trip before we had to go home and then she tugged,” he said.
Michalove said he was with a family from Ohio and they each took turns for the next hour “fighting the behemoth of a fish” and reeling her closer and closer to the boat. He credits Brandon, one of the guys on the boat, for doing most of the work.
"I told him it was a once-in-a-lifetime tiger shark," Michalove said. "Brandon watched his dad catch a 10-footer with me years ago and he was too small to get involved. So hitting the giant this time was perfect."
When the crew finally got the shark next to his boat, Michalove noticed an acoustic tag attached to its dorsal fin and was pretty sure he'd caught this shark before. Scientists use the tags to track sharks.
After releasing the gigantic apex predator, Michalove checked the serial number on the tag with South Carolina DNR biologist Bryan Frazier, and data showed that he was right — Michalove had caught the shark before.
Frazier placed the tracking devices on the mature female shark when she was first hooked and released into the Port Royal Sound in September 2015.
This isn't the first time Michalove has caught a same gargantuan shark more than once. He caught and released Chessie, a 1,200-pound tiger shark, two times in two years. Michalove is very particular about the methods he uses to catch, tag, and release sharks puts minimal stress on the animal.
"It tells me that what we're doing isn't effecting these sharks enough to leave the area. It isn't traumatizing them," he said.
The Port Royal Maritime Center helped provide funding for the tracking devices. Supporters Jim and Donna Quarforth of Lady's Island, got to name the shark "Jax" which is their two kids' names, combined together.
"She swam over 4,000 miles while tagged with her SPOT tag (for six months)," Frazier said. "From her acoustic data, I would guess that she (has traveled) well over 15,000 miles now, but that’s a guess!"
Jax has returned to the Port Royal Sound every summer for the last three years, which is typical for a tiger shark's migration pattern, Frazier said.
"She's one of the biggest tiger sharks I've ever caught," Michalove said.
Tigers are known as one of the most dangerous and aggressive shark species because of the amount of times they’ve attacked humans. At adult size, they average between 10 -14 feet long and 850-1400 pounds and are the biggest shark species in the Lowcountry in the summertime. However, tiger shark attacks in South Carolina are extremely rare.
Experts at the International Shark Attack File said most attacks in South Carolina involve much smaller sharks with weaker bites, typically blacktips and spinners.
In Beaufort County, there have been a total of 26 documented attacks on record and no reported fatalities or lost limbs.
Michalove said he typically finds tiger sharks several miles off coast, but he’s been worried that their population is dwindling.
“I used to catch two to six tiger sharks a day in the summer here,” Michalove said. “This is the worst year I’ve ever seen for tiger sharks in the Port Royal Sound. I’ve only caught two so far.”