“An indescribable feeling comes over you when you are face to face with natures most powerful predator.”
August 4th 2013
We were 7 miles off the coast of Sandy Hook, New Jersey. The air was ripe with the scent of the sea and only a few clouds hung over head. The ocean waters were still as shadows and the breeze blew gently over the seven of us aboard The Long Shot. Our rugged blonde haired Captain stood in front of the steering wheel with a look of frustration beating from his sun burned face. The rest of us stood out on the deck, each manning gigantic fishing rods set up on all sides of the boat. We had been waiting three long hours surrounded by a stream of fish chum with not even a single bite. My best friend James ran his hand through his bushy brown beard.
“I’m throwing in the towel Joey.”
I grinned at him with disappointment. FJ, the first mate chimed in.
“Just when you’re getting tired and you want to give up and your eyes are closing. That’s when it’s gonna happen.”
You see when we left from Bahr’s Landing at 7am we all had one goal in mind and that was to catch a 200 plus pound Thresher Shark. Being the Sicilian cook that I am; I’m always in pursuit of the freshest ingredients and I was looking forward to working with this succulent meat. But now all of us were shrouded in disappointment.
My girlfriend Danielle sat on the cooler in the corner with her head down. The effects of being on open water in the hot sun weighed down on her. James’s nephew Austin and his burly friend Mike stood over their rods just waiting for some action.
I sat down at the bow of the boat and hung my legs over the side.
“Go get him Joey. He’s gonna take one for the team.” James said.
I pulled out my second cigar of the day and placed it between my lips. If nothing else this was most definitely a peaceful way to spend a Sunday. The warm sun felt so good hitting my skin. I took a deep breath and then pulled out a box of matches. I held the match in my hand and was a millimeter away from sticking it when the line from the pole on my right began to whip violently.
“Fish on! Fish on!” FJ yelled.
I dropped the match and jumped back on deck, the cigar still in my mouth. FJ was already on the pole and began fighting with the fish.
“What did I tell you?”
Suddenly the second pole thrashed around.
“Who’s got that one?”
“I got it! I got it”
I grasped hold the rod and pulled it out of its resting place.
“Somebody get a belt on him!”
The Captain strung a white fighting harness around my waist. I felt like I was battling a freight train and a pulsing pressure surged through my back as I was pulled forward.
“You gotta fight him with your legs!”
So with my knees bent I began to reel him in, scrambling for every inch, making sure I kept my back straight. FJ’s fish was fighting relentlessly as well; these sharks were not about to have their quiet Sunday afternoon taken away from them. Then at the same time both of our poles rapidly swung to the left.
“Shit! I think he took both lines.”
The shark had in fact swallowed both baits so FJ and myself were battling the same fish.
“Joe we’re gonna have to do this as a team.”
Streams of sweat dripped down the back of my neck. My arms felt like I did 300 curls at the gym. Austin stood behind me watching my back in case I took a misstep.
“You want this one?”
He nodded yes. Then my body was pulled forward and almost collided with FJ. The shark had the best of the both of us and was not showing any sign of fatigue. Grunting and gathering every bit of strength I pulled back and then handed the rod over to Austin.
All of us were pumped up with adrenaline, even Danielle was watching with fire in her eyes. At FJ’s request I picked up his camera and began filming the rest of our ordeal. Right as I hit the record button on the camera the shark’s huge streamlined body catapulted out of the water more like a whale. None of us had ever seen anything like that before and within another second the shark was beneath the boat. Captain Chris grabbed the steering wheel and moved the boat forward until the thresher was back in the open water.
And the battle raged on. Austin and FJ were now in a smooth flow with each other, they both seemed to know when the shark was going to try and pull away. They dipped, pulled up and reeled in all in one motion until the shark was only 6 feet away from us.
“He’s ours boys!”
However the shark had different plans and like a torpedo shot back out away from the boat. He had won back control and pulled Austin and FJ all around the deck and into the other fishing lines. The rest of us scrambled to get them out of the way. The Captain maneuvered the boat so we wouldn’t lose the strong shark.
It was now a quarter past noon and the sun beat down with full force. Austin’s body was shaking; this was the fiercest fishing fight he had ever fought but he refused to let the thresher win even though every inch they gained the shark took back twice as much. Then I don’t know what happened, maybe the shark needed a moment to recoup but he stopped for just a second and that’s when they reeled him in.
The line spun out of control but for the first time since this 30-minute contest began we finally had control and it was only a matter of time before he was within striking point. I pointed the video camera towards the water and the shark’s tail whipped out like a sea serpent thrashing and splashing all around. The power behind that whipping tail could without a doubt sever a human limb so I stepped back. Captain Chris pulled out his harpoon. Just another foot more and he would have our prize.
“Come on boys keep him coming. We almost got him!”
The shark’s final show of force had more to do with intelligence than muscle; with his massive head almost completely out of the water he whipped around one last time and succeeded in tangling the two lines together. An honorable attempt indeed but it was too little too late and as the Captain lunged out with his spear our great battle came to an epic conclusion.
With complete awe and respect I looked at the body of this magnificent creature, which now lied still in the water beside the boat. This was 7 ½ feet and 220 pounds of evolutionary perfection. I felt more connected to the natural world than ever before.
The recipe that follows shows great respect for the shark meat allowing the natural flavor of the fish to take center stage.
Joey’s Mouthwatering Shark Tacos with Cranberry Cole Slaw
4 Fresh Thresher Shark Steaks (or Mako)
4 tblsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tblsp Ground Cumin
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Salt (if shark is fresh caught no salt needed)
16 Soft Corn Tortillas
½ cup shredded red cabbage
½ cup shredded green cabbage
¼ cup shredded carrots
½ bag of dried cranberries
2 tblsp honey
½ cup of sour cream
In a large wooden bowl combine the sour cream and honey. Mix together and then stir in one at a time, red cabbage, green cabbage and carrots. Add dried cranberries, a pinch of salt and ground black pepper. Mix well and then cover with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Rub each shark steak with olive oil on both sides and season lightly with cumin and black pepper. Place an aluminum tray on the stove (or grill) at medium heat. Lay the shark in the tray, cover with aluminum foil and cook for 5 minutes on each side. While the shark is cooking wrap your corn tortillas in aluminum foil and heat on the grill or in the oven until warm. Once the shark is cooked remove from the pan and let rest for 10 minutes. In the mean time, take your slaw out of the refrigerator and give it a final toss. Lay two tortillas on top of each other then place a spoon full of cole slaw on the tortillas. Cut the shark steaks in 1-inch chunks and place 5 pieces over the cole slaw. Fold the tortillas to form the taco and serve with fresh lime wedges on the side.