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February 2, 2009 - 5:26pm

A Look Back At The World Record Tiger Shark: The Story Behind The Catch

posted by JIM NIGRO in outdoors.

The largest game fish are oceanic giants, often pushing the scales past the thousand pound mark. With little to fear, they swim about their cobalt-blue world in an endless search for food. The blue marlin, the swordfish, the giant blue fin tuna and the big sharks - the Mako and the Great White – are at the top of the food chain. For the most part, the only predator they need fear are sea-going fishermen, those willing to travel offshore in the hope of sampling their awesome power. The International Game Fishing Association’s record books are filled with outstanding catches of giant bill fish, huge tuna and mammoth sharks. Oftentimes, even more incredible is the story behind the catch. One such record belongs to Walter Maxwell and his story is quite unique when compared to the rest. Because it has withstood the test of time, in order to take a look at his accomplishment, we need to go back some 45 years.

 Walter Maxwell was a blue collar type, a fisherman without sponsors. Neither did he possess a sleek and speedy sea-going vessel in which to enjoy his pastime. He was, you might say, a weekend warrior, able to fish only when his schedule allowed. And needless to say, such a fisherman does not wet a line in pursuit of world records.

It was Sunday, June 14th, 1964, when Maxwell managed to raise a few eyebrows among saltwater anglers when he landed a world record tiger shark. What made the feat remarkable was, unlike other salt water big game fishing records, Maxwell made his historic catch from a pier. Strange as it may seem, he nearly did it twice in a 24 hour period. The day prior to his record catch, he latched onto an even bigger tiger shark, only to lose it at the edge of the pier.     

On Saturday, June 13th, the beach at Cherry Grove South Carolina was bustling with vacationers, probably none of which paid any mind to three anglers out on the pier. (Photo: Cherry Grove Pier)

At about 2 pm line began slowly peeling out of Maxwell’s large saltwater reel. He slipped on his shoulder harness and braced himself before rearing back on the rod, setting the hooks. The battle was underway.

The initial run was strong and steady as the fish took out several hundred yards of line, indicative of a very big fish. Maxwell knew then the fish on the end of his line was not your garden variety man-eater. During the next hour the shark made several more line-sizzling runs. A stone mason by trade, the muscular Maxwell was able to bring the big tiger shark alongside the pier. He was about to discover one hour is insufficient time to tire a shark of such proportions.

Their gaff consisted of a fiberglass vaulting pole with a stainless steel hook attached on the end. When one of Maxwell’s companions leaned over the railing and sunk the gaff hook into the tiger’s mouth, he was immediately slammed into the railing. Feeling the fish’s ferocity, he knew at once he wouldn’t be able to hold the monster that was thrashing violently in the waves ten feet below.

In the next instant Maxwell’s hooks came free and his buddy was left holding the gaff. The big fish then dropped into a trough between ocean swells and the gaff was yanked from his hands. The big shark swam seaward, the gaff protruding above the waves. How big was the shark? One of Maxwell’s companions said it looked like a heifer wallowing in the ocean swells. They estimated the fish to be eighteen feet in length and weigh in excess of two thousand pounds.

The following day Maxwell and his friends were at it again, this time with different results.  

NOTE: This is the first in a three part series on sharks. Wednesday we’ll wrap up Maxwell’s big catch before shifting gears somewhat, looking at sharks from an altogether different angle on Friday.  

 

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