When the opening notes of the Jaws theme begin, you can't help but be transported back to a pivotal moment in film lore—images of Bruce the mechanical shark lurk dangerously below the murky waters of your psyche while fear coils effortlessly down your spine. Your only hope is to send out a mental SOS, praying for a safety net in the arms of Sheriff Brody.
The stigma Steven Spielberg created in his movie, Jaws makes most of us fear sharks as much as an Al Qaeda terrorist. There are a few brave Californians who have gotten beyond the trauma and live their seafaring lives in the moment, many of those moments spent fishing for thresher sharks off the coast of Malibu—and on their kayaks, no less.
Team Quint (in honor of Robert Shaw's character in the film) is led by Jeff Krieger, who discovered the sport by mistake when he was out fishing for sea bass 10 years ago. A thresher shark jumped his bait, and Krieger, not having time to mentally replay the Jaws theme, was psyched up for the challenge, thinking: "Great, I'm hooked up to a shark. Now how do I land it without losing any fingers or toes?" He won the inauguration bout after an arduous 45 minutes, his prize an 80-pound thresher and one heck of a yarn to tell the boys over beer.
•For all things shark take a look at Discovery Channels web coverage for Shark Week
•Are the sharks getting their revenge on surfers? Find out in Surfermag.com’s web exclusive article
Krieger is now regularly joined by a whole crew that was featured on a recent television episode of Inside Sportfishing. On his first outing, one of Krieger's 140-pound teenage sidekicks managed to land a 100-pound thresher. Just 15 minutes later, though, a shark got the better of him, pulling him out of his kayak and underwater, causing him to lose both rod and reel. When he surfaced for air, vehemently cursing his misfortune and pounding his kayak, elder statesman Krieger had a few words of advice for the soaked youngster: "Live and learn. Never underestimate the power of these sharks. Unless you want to go from chump to chum in a few short seconds."
Perhaps because he is always the first to charge into the water, Krieger goes by the name Rhino. He is also the designated "shark wrangler," the one who lifts the threshers up by their tails and wrestles them into the kayak when they are ready to submit. He cautions that one should practice "safe shark," as he himself has experienced an occasional lap dance without protective clothing that has left him with a nice reminder rash.
Krieger is the inventor of the Rhinobar, a setup that enables you to mount two rod holders and a fish finder on your kayak, elevating the gear of the kayak deck to permit viewing of equipment while paddling. Once the lure has been cast, you place the rods in the rod holders and you're fishing. When you get a bite, you take four or five quick strokes to set the hook and operation shark snag commences.
The largest shark Rhino has landed was 10 feet 10 inches long and weighed 220 pounds. That catch took 45 minutes. His most enduring battle lasted approximately three hours and involved "an exciting sleigh ride" with "the big one." Estimated at 400 pounds, the thresher dragged him three miles out to sea before Rhino's 20-pound test line snapped, leaving plenty of time for heartbreak to sink in as he paddled listlessly back to shore.
In the biggest injury to date, two Quint members got their lines crossed and one ended up with a fishhook in his chin. Unfortunately, the entire painful and mortifying episode was highlighted on the Inside Sportfishing segment. Other than that, Rhino says, they have suffered only a few minor cuts and abrasions—not much compared to what the jaws of Bruce inflicted.
When asked if he has any desire to fish for larger sharks, Rhino proves that he is not entirely an animal, but a human, inclined to common sense. "Threshers are at the top of the list for inshore species on a kayak," he says. "Any others would be better targeted from a boat."
Rhino does admit that he too was affected by Jaws, and he's happy that he has yet to do a meet-and-greet, up close and personal, with a great white. In actuality, of the known 350 species of sharks, only a very small percentage pose any threat to humans. Still, Krieger cautions, "all sharks are potentially dangerous, and should be treated carefully." In other words, do not try this at home unless under professional supervision.
Now, if he can only enlist Sheriff Brody to help land "the big one" that got away.