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Woods Hole Brown Shark Adventure and Surprise

Steve O'Malley

member since 2014

This past Sunday morning started like any other. The plan was to be up and on the boat before dawn, send and receive a few texts with my MFCC network, and then head out looking for the early bite.

The fishing in Buzzards Bay has been a little slow lately. They’re here, somewhere, but finding bass and albies hasn’t been easy for me.

On this day we had one boat from MFCC running through the canal to check Scorton Ledge for bass, and another boat was working the west end of the canal and upper Buzzard's Bay for bass and albies.

My idea was to run down south through Buzzard's Bay to Vineyard Sound. With a plan in place I headed south, hoping for fish, and expecting adventure.


Woods Hole Passage

I took my time running the Cape side of BBay, looking around each of the necks and into coves for working birds, clusters of boats and breaking fish. Wing’s, Megansett, Scraggy, Old Silver, West Falmouth, Quisset, I checked them all and continued down towards Woods Hole.

As I was making the turn into Woods Hole Passage I stood up a little straighter, paid careful attention to what was going on ahead of me, and set my boat on a course to make an easy pass to Vineyard Sound.

For those who know Woods Hole Passage it is definitely a place where you want to stay alert when navigating a boat. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Woods Hole can be down-right frightening.

During the flood tide water from Vineyard Sound flows through the passage to Buzzards Bay. Currents roar through the narrows at up to 4+ knots, laying over navigation buoys and creating walls of standing waves. Outside of the navigation channel there are submerged boulders everywhere. It is a very tricky area, but it's also a perfect place for fishing large striped bass.

As I made my way through Woods Hole, I noticed a scruffy looking center console, anchored up in the rocks against the strong current. To me it looked like a typical commercial boat, worked hard, put away dirty, and paid for itself 25 years ago. Usually I give these working guys a wide berth but this time the guy onboard was waving frantically at me while I passed. I saw that his rod was bent down hard, obviously hooked into something big. 

I slowed and took a closer look.

The waving continued and the guy was pointing to the water as he struggled with the rod in his hands. I didn’t think for a second that he was telling me that there were big fish here, that wasn’t it. He kept on waving for me to come out of the channel and over to his boat, I was certainly curious, but cautious.

I slid out of the main channel and pointed into the current while creeping my way towards his boat. As I got closer he started yelling out to me. 

“She’s almost got me spooled! I don’t know what it is! I need help! She’s really a beast!”. 

I yelled back over to him “How can I help?”. 

He says “Let me get on your boat so we can chase him down.”.

At that point I paused for quick assessment. While exciting, I didn’t want to blindly jump into this situation. This guy was definitely in a tough spot, anchored up alone in the passage, surrounded by big rocks in a roaring current, obviously tired and hooked up to something big. 

I pulled alongside and he handed the rod over to me. I looked at the spool and saw that he was almost out of line. Whatever was on the other end was only about 50 yards away from winning this fight. He grabbed some other gear and jumped onboard. We let go of his anchored boat and let the current take us away as the fisherman began to reel and get some line back.

His name was Antonio. Born in the Azores and grew up in New Bedford.

He used to fish commercially but now just fishes “for the table". His wife is ill, he works the night shift stocking shelves and he fishes during the day. Antonio has five kids, tuna fishing is his favorite past time, and his truck needs exhaust work.

He told me all this during the first two minutes I had him onboard, all the while gaining line on this heavy mystery at the other end. Any thoughts I had of chasing albies were long gone. My trip had taken an unexpected turn - the adventure was on.

Big Brown Shark

Now I know my way around the local gamefish, but I know nothing about sharks (other than to avoid them). I learned later that this was a brown shark, which I’d guess was 7 feet long and weighing about 200 lbs. They are fairly common around here and some guys target brown sharks from beaches at night. They are protected and must be released if caught.

There was no way I was going to let him bring that thing aboard. I didn’t know anything about it other than it was really heavy, strong and had a big mouth of sharp teeth. Wanting to get an estimate of length we decided to pull it alongside the boat and straighten it out.

When Antonio tried to coax it over with a gaff the exhausted shark instantly exploded. For about 5 seconds there was nothing but chaos, white water splashing, tremendous hammering against the side of my boat and Antonio yelling out in Portugese.

Then it suddenly stopped, all went quiet. The rod was laying on the deck with a broken leader and the shark was gone.

We just sat in silence for a minute then both started laughing and back slapping as I motored my way back to his anchored boat. The shark had been caught and "released" safely, which I felt good about.

We got a short line onto Antonio’s boat then we just sat for while and chatted. He offered me a cold one but I was still working on my mug of coffee. I shared some pretzels and we talked about fishing, growing up in the area, our kids and fishing plans for the fall. Before I knew it the morning was getting late and the current had slowed to near slack.

We traded phone numbers, shook hands and I left my new friend anchored up in the passage. I cruised by Nobska Point then turned up towards Naushon and Tarpaulin Cove looking for albies.

My adrenaline was still flowing, my mind was racing thinking about that shark catch, and I caught myself doing more day dreaming than looking for albies. Not finding anything, and feeling satisfied anyway, I turned around and headed back up the bay for home.

I never did find albies on that trip. As a matter of fact I never even put a line in the water, but somehow it had been a great trip.

For me fishing isn’t so much about catching as it is adventure. You never know what experiences a trip on the water will bring. Once you let go of the dock lines, drop the mooring ball, or lock the car door, the adventure has started. You’ll be back in a few hours, with fish, or not, but always with a story to tell.

Tight lines 🎣


What do you think?

Let me know by commenting below.

  1. That’s a nice brownie. Hell of a battle in that Woods Hole current. I’ll bet he thought he had a 60-lb striper, lol!

    Glad the gaff never came into play. Not sure how that would play out legally with a protected species.

    Nicely written Steve.


    1. Thanks John for the comments, and for sharing so much of your fishing knowledge with me and all at mfcc over the years.

  2. And that’s what it’s all about—story.

    1. So true Kevin.
      I tend to remember the trips and people, better than I remember any fish.

  3. Your last paragraph tells it all. The fishing adventure.Great post Steve.

    1. Thanks Jake.
      Good luck to you during the fall run.
      Hope to see you out there.

  4. Great story… I love the way you took the time to connect with him … I learned from my patients that everyone has a story … everyone struggles … and if we take the time to listen we can learn and find joy in everyone’s life … thanks for sharing this wonderful story that says a lot about you!

    1. Thank you Jonathan.

  5. Nice! That’s a solid Brown Shark.

    1. Thanks Ryan. She was a beauty. Seemed pretty docile at first, but we got a taste of her power when she got angry.
      Awesome animal!

  6. OMG! What an adventure! Your new friend sounds like a real character! Crazy experience, fun story! When I was sea bass fishing with my brother last month he was struggling with something very big and very strong on the end of his line. As he continued reeling in, the line suddenly snapped free and he pulled in a jumbo sea bass bitten clean in 1/2. He suspected it was a brown shark that was originally on his line taking in a big bite of the sea bass! Fun fishing stories!

    1. Thanks Leslie.
      The shark + Antonio were an interesting pairing for sure.
      Salt of the earth. So glad I stopped.


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