After 17 years of fishing off Hilton Head Island, Chip Michalove thought he’d seen every thing.
Until Thursday afternoon.
“I was talking on the cellphone three quarters of the day and had been out there almost four hours before I saw it,” said Michalove, a champion shark fisherman and captain of Outcast Sport Fishing. “I was bored; there just really wasn’t anything going on.”
At his favorite fishing spot, only about seven miles off the island’s beaches, Michalove was alone and only catching small spiny dogfish.
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But then a little after 1 p.m., the small rod he had set up bent far over the edge of his boat, and the line snapped, he said. That’s when he saw it.
“As I reel it up, this huge, huge fish — the biggest shark I’ve ever seen in my life — comes to the surface and starts circling the boat,” he says.
It was unmistakably a great white shark, Michalove says, likely about 15 feet long and between 2,500 and 2,800 pounds. Startled and unsure what to do, he hears his second, larger reel scream as the shark bites that bait and line and takes off away from his boat, he said.
During the ensuing hour-and-a-half chase, Michalove excitedly called friend and Reelin Sportfishing Captain Marc Pincus to come help. He did not, however, snap a photo, and captures only a short video of his reel.
“He’s not lying; it’s a true story,” Pincus laughed Friday. “When he called me he could barely talk. (My friend and I) just happened to be down at the marina cleaning the boat and said, ‘We’ve got to go help this man.’ We were real excited. It was quite a spectacle.”
Just as Pincus made it within a half-mile of Michalove’s boat, though, the embattled fisherman called to say the line had broken, and the shark was gone.
Although it might sound like another tall fisherman’s tale (convenient there’s no photo, right?), S.C. Department of Natural Resources shark scientist Bryan Frazier says he’s sure Michalove encountered a great white. Frazier and Michalove worked with the team at OCEARCH to tag and track tiger sharks in Port Royal Sound last year, so Michalove called Frazier during the chase to explain the ordeal.
“I do believe him,” Frazier said Friday. “He knows enough about his species, and given his description of what occurred, I have no doubt it was a white shark.”
OCEARCH’s data prove great white sharks frequent the waters off Hilton Head, too, Frazier added. Last week, tagged great whites Mary Lee and Katharine “pinged” their locations just off the coast before reappearing off Florida this week.
“It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Michalove gushed Friday. “Just to see one was a dream come true, let alone to actually hook one.”