By Paul Lebowitz
Ice trumps fire again. The overall heaviest kayak-caught fish record remains the province of the far, cold north, and once again involves an obscure shark species.
On September 1, Joel Abrahamsson paddled less than a mile from Andörja Island, Norway with an audacious plan. He wasn't just going to beat the estimated 300- to 500-pound salmon sharks caught by Howard McKim, Christopher Mautino, Allen Sansano and Allen Bushnell in Alaska in 2008, he expected to obliterate the mark. Abrahamsson was after a mysterious, goliath-sized creature that regularly exceeds 1,000 pounds and sulks deep in the abyss. He was hunting an ancient Greenland shark in water 1,600 feet deep.
"There are only about 10 to 15 Greenland sharks caught every year in all of Scandinavia so it is a rare species," Abrahamsson said. The fish are protected from commercial harvest; only recreational rod and reel fishing is allowed.
Video posted at SVT.se includes underwater shots of the massive Greenland shark, and one from above filmed by camera drone. Abrahamsson said the full video will be released on YouTube.
Abrahamsson, a Jackson Kayak pro staffer, brought a support team, boats staffed by a marine scientists from Havfiskeinstitut Norge and a camera crew to document his record setting exploit. He preset his drag for a hefty 50 pounds, climbed aboard a Jackson Big Rig, strapped into a harness and got to it. "Dropping the bait took about 25 minutes to avoid tangles. It took 20 minutes to wind the rig up to check if there was any bait left and had to be done every two to three hours," he said.
After a few abortive takes on 8-pound coalfish baits and a lot of cranking, Abrahamsson got a Greenland shark to stick. "The fight was just gruesome and extremely heavy. A few times it got a bit gnarly. I was scared of going over," he said.
Abrahamsson said the fight was the strangest of his fishing career. He used a Penn International 50VSX on a Sharkbound rod. "The fish is not a spectacular fighter but constantly tugs its head down and pulls slowly," he said. He had to reel constantly, taking care to avoid slack or a tangle.
"I put the reel in low gear and just ground the fish upwards. Greenlanders are known for rolling up the leader. As the line coils off their body during the fight it creates slack that you must reel in before it has time to turn," he added.
Ninety minutes later Abrahamsson reeled his leader past his rod tip, then passed the enormous fish over to the science crew by prior agreement. "We had a time limit of under five minutes to get it back unharmed. I was not allowed to handle it or secure it to my kayak," he said.
The science crew laid the shark alongside a boat, where it measured 401 centimeters long, with a girth of 202 cm. "The weight was calculated by a formula," Abrahamsson said: an astounding 1247 pounds. "The shark was estimated to be older than 200 years," he added.
Greenland sharks don't have swim bladders. "We filmed it going back and it was swimming healthily. I do not know what the weight limit is from a kayak. This was the weight limit for me but I am sure I could have done it without a boat if I had a fellow kayak angler help me stringing it or balancing my kayak. If I would have been allowed to kill the shark it would have worked to catch possibly bigger ones but that would never be an option for me," Abrahamsson said.
Andy Cho’s 225-pound blue marlin caught in the warm, tropical waters of the Big Island in 2010 remains the heaviest kayak fish to make it to a certified scale.
Like Cho and other kayak anglers who have tasted rarified, record setting air, Abrahamsson is now uniquely qualified to consider the outer limits. The thousand pound mark is toast. What’s the heaviest fish a kayak angler could conceivably handle?
“It is hard to compare different species. I am sure a marlin a quarter the size of this Greenland shark would be at least equally tough to fight. I think it is hard to guess a general weight maximum,” he said, but he laid out a new personal goal.
“My next dream is to catch a 225-pound Atlantic halibut,” he said. Will ice trump fire again?