“ IN GRANDER COUNTRY”…..
It seemed I had cranked the handle of the huge 80 wide Shimano reel a thousand times, and yet still I was looking at a spool three quarters full. A bead of sweat ran from my forehead, into my eyes, taking with it enough sun oil to sting. “Towel “ I shouted, closely followed by, “ more drinking water please!” A fight with a big fish in a hot country means you are going to lose plenty of fluid through dehydration, depleting the body of natural salts and causing heat exhaustion. I had been hauling on this shark for three quarters of an hour, a laborious task under the hot sun of the Canary Isles. My tally of big fish over the years had got silly enough that I now stop recording everything. With my last marlin count at 250, and general species count over 100lbs passing the 500 mark I reasoned I had written down enough weights and had nothing left to prove. Yet there was one small gap that needed closing in the personal account book. I wanted to know if I could I really still “cut the mustard” on a truly monster fish? Now, on the island of El Hierro in the Canary Islands I was finding out. For the shark in the depths below that retained a constant bend in the 130lb class rod was no ordinary creature of a couple of hundred pounds. This was something far, far larger, in the four figure 1000lb plus category. What is affectionately termed a “Grander”.
I had booked the island’s only gameboat, the “DONA PI”, together with Capt Miguel Gamito for a dedicated 5- day assault on the giant Sixgill sharks that live on the edge of an undersea volcano in the south of this rocky island. The previous year I had been there taking both Sixgills, and the elusive night feeding predator, Escolar Chino (to 88lbs). Yet I had a feeling I was only scratching the surface. So with son Mike and wife Hilary as tag-man and photographer, we set off on the expedition. Over 4lbs of Bonito bait had barely been on the ocean floor an hour before it was intercepted by a big shark, and here I was, hauling and cranking to bring the monster near the surface. Few have ever seen a Sixgill, let alone caught one, photographed and tagged it. We had already broken the world record twice the year before, but rejected killing the fish just to get on the hero list. If I ever got this shark to the boat, the hook would be removed, an NMFS dart tag attached, and the shark released.(I’ve since had one of my big Sixgill released sharks recaptured, so it works) As my aching body reached the one-hour battle mark I wondered if I had made the right decision.
I made a few final hauls to drag the leader close enough to Miguel’s outstretched hand. He grabbed it and my part in the operation was over. Now all he had to do was control the shark while Hilary got the photos and the tagging/measuring done. Looking straight into the cat-like eye of a deep-sea shark species that could swallow a small boy whole gave Mike a few scares. A couple of head thrashes with jaws agape saw him retreat back into the cockpit. “This one is big,” said Miguel,” maybe 1,100lbs, but quick, get the tag in before he wakes up and drags me in!” Five seconds later and I was out of the fighting chair and looking at a shark nearly fourteen feet long and with a head and shoulders that would have done justice to a Brahma bull.
Catching a grander, or 1000lb fish is unusual, as so few species grow to that weight. While targeting big fish is largely luck, you can narrow down your sights considerably with the target being Sixgills.They just seem to be born big, and the smallest I have landed was 400lbs.They are distributed right round the world, rarely coming into water less than two hundred metres deep, and I had previously hooked and lost two of them in Gibraltar Bay, fishing at night. But on the island of El Hierro they have an area called COSTA CALMA (calm coast) that offers table-flat seas and incredible depths barely half a mile from shore. The north of the island and eastern edge is swept with a 20/40 knot Trade wind, but the Malpaso mountain range rises in the centre to over 4500 feet offering shelter up to ten miles offshore. The island is the smallest in the Canaries Archipelago, offering 278 square kilometres of diverse scenery. From arid slate-like landscapes and volcanic formations in the south and west, to the fertile land in the valley of “El Golfo”, with vineyards and plantations. Even dense pine and evergreen forests in the central area. It is this unusual geology that makes this tiny island the latest Big Game hotspot. Wahoo, Tuna, Blue Marlin and Hammerheads dine here. Around 100 million years ago the ocean floor swelled up and created the Malpaso Mountains. Then, a scant 50,000 years ago, one of nature’s most violent and destructive phenomena took place. A landslide on a gigantic scale .In a matter of seconds a large piece of island broke off and slid down the marine slope; an area of 300 square kilometres and something like 100 times the volume of the Mount St.Helen’s volcano. It caused a tidal wave more than 100 metres high that travelled all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to hit the United States eastern seaboard. Add to this the fact there are over 500 volcano cones on the surface and you begin to realise the amazing canyons and dropoffs that are present on the ocean floor. I believe without doubt that these unique depths so close to shore create an undersea food trap that the last giant predator of the ocean feeds on- The Sixgill shark.
With my first grander of the trip out of the way, a few beers in the southern port of La Restinga eased the back pain somewhat. Day Two was also to be something of a voyage of discovery. I had proved I could still hack it in the fighting chair, but could I do the business with full battle dress and maximum rated 80lb standup outfit? I personally had my misgivings, as to the best of our knowledge no other angler had taken a Sixgill on this method before. Was my brain writing a cheque my body could not cash? That morning I watched with some trepidation as Miguel dismantled one of the 80 wide reels from one of the 130lb class trolling rods and began strapping it to my Calstar 5ft 6inch standup rod. His reels have a topping of nylon over Dacron, which helped cut through any ocean currents to keep the lead weights down to a bare minimum of 3lbs.That was on top of the 4 or 5lb Bonito deadbait we were using. Half an hour later and the ratchet was on and everything in place. The point of no return for any red-blooded angler. As son Mike said, “You may as well wind the shark up Dad, it takes you half an hour just to crank up and check the bait anyway!” Thanks son. No point giving the old man any false impressions. Even so we all stretched out on “Dona Pi” while I secretly hoped for a blank. It was like getting off the ski slope chair lift at the top of your first black run. You either go back down via the chair lift, or… After a couple of hours came the dreaded call from Miguel. “Sorry, but I think we have some company”. The ratchet was slowly ticking away as some unseen giant below engulfed our Bonito. With a full back harness on, gimballed thigh pad, long peak cap with neck and earflaps I was in full battle mode.
Locking up the big reel I started to pile on the pressure as Miguel slipped the anchor and altered the boat to face stern to the current. The initial 200 metres were fine and I dropped into the specialised rhythm that is required for successful standup fishing. The answer to all captures of big fish is to keep their head coming towards you. That way, if they even flick their tail it will give them some momentum in your direction. I had taken many marlin, shark and tuna on 20/30 and 50 standups, but as my Calstar blank was rated to take 130 I decided a safety lanyard might counter any mishaps of locked up reels. Water was poured over me to prevent heat exhaustion but my thighs were the first to get the shakes from the pressure of the rod butt. Perhaps this was where the term “knee trembler” came from? After 45 minutes of sustained pressure the shark was close, but so were the spasms in my back. I wondered if the gas that pregnant women suck on during childbirth might have helped me. Using the high- lift foregrip on the standup blank I got those vital few yards that enabled Miguel to grab the wire. Tape and tag were duly employed and the camera recorded the first ever grander Sixgill on standup tackle. At 1,045lbs I intend it to be the only one I purposely try for, although being aware of the correct technique had given me that grander in a scant 50 minutes. I would have taken at least that on 130 in the chair.
Next day, after watching the firework display that was part of the La Restinga fiesta I was again anchored in 550 metres of water, again in backbreaking pose, trying to gain line on a sixgill. El Hierro really is the best place in the world for big grander sharks and this time I upped my personal best with a double-tagged 1,210lb specimen. Now I really was flying high, and decided to cancel on a proposed night trip for World record Escolar, in favour of setting a record by getting four consecutive granders in a row. By now I was aching all over, but at the end of the day had achieved what would have seemed an impossible feat back in England. Four grander Sixgills in a row! I then lost two others when the hook turned into the bait, and on the 5th and final day geared myself up mentally as I just knew if the bait stayed on the deep ocean floor for an hour or so, one of these deep ocean giants would sniff it out.
Around lunchtime the big reel clicked out the warning and donning the harness I dropped into the fighting chair. With the hook set, I cranked and cranked trying to get the shark off the bottom using the low speed gear. “Small fish” said Miguel, and I agreed, as I seemed to be getting line quite steadily. Then, for no apparent reason it got heavier, despite the fact I had already stacked 100 metres of Dacron back on the spool. “Maybe not so small?” queried Miguel. Being tired from the four previous granders I thought it might be me that was weak, rather than the shark strong. Yet Miguel was quick to point out that few people could maintain a bend in his favourite 130 for long! I increased the drag in an effort to move the fish. The harness answered that increase in pressure by snapping! Now I really was in trouble and my arms extended like Gonzo in the Muppets. For a couple of minutes Miguel tied the strap manually and I was back in the game, but another thirty minutes and I was definitely on the wane physically. I had yet to reach the Dacron/Mono knot so I knew something was different, and at 45 minutes of constant pressure I thankfully wound it a few turns on the spool. We passed the hour mark and I had already emptied a bottle of water and was pouring a second over my head to prevent hear exhaustion. With my cooled body I reached the 1-½ hour mark, a boundary that on over 500 big fish, I had never passed. Then inexplicably, the T-bar power handle snapped off, leaving me just a stub lever to turn. But Miguel isn’t the top Canary Isles skipper for nothing. He niftily unscrewed the offending shafts and tightened the nuts on a spare, all this in a couple of minutes. It wasn’t a power handle, but it would have to do.1 hour 45 and I knew I was past my sell-by date. Catching marlin is easy compared to Sixgills, as they are hooked up barely thirty yards from the boat. My hook-up was already 550 yards away to start with, and it isn’t possible to back down with the boat when the line is permanently vertical. I dug deep into the last reserves of strength and put a bend in the big rod that I could barely hold for five seconds before taking a turn on the reel. It was just enough to pressure the shark into rolling and I pushed the lever to maximum on the reel.
Mike’s shouts from the bridge were that it looked like a Killer whale, while the wife’s comments were mildly unprintable about why men had to fish for these things anyway? Even Miguel took out his camera and then I realised I really was into something special as he said, “You take photos and tag quickly Yes? I cannot hold one this size for long”. The double line came, then the rubbing leader and finally the swivel holding the 800lb steel trace. I noticed as Miguel hauled that he could barely lift it. I backed the drag, jammed the rod in a holder and literally staggered in a hunched position to the side of the boat. There I let my eyes drink in the sheer bulk, the awesome width, the car-like head, and totally mega, JCB bucket sized jaws of the biggest Sixgill caught on rod and line. It completely eclipsed our previous unofficial world record of the year before of 1,250lbs, as this incredible 700 kg weight converted to 1,510lbs! Two hours of agony was suddenly well spent as I watched Miguel struggle to contain this wallowing bulk as we photographed and tagged the Sixgill. This was the Incredible Hulk of the shark world. Thinking this must surely be the fish of a lifetime; the truth is that little is known about them, as it is only recently that anglers are using techniques to fish the deepest spots in the ocean. That they grow to over 2000lbs is well known, but Miguel thinks 3000lbs might be more of a ceiling weight. As captor of this leviathan I can tell you whoever wants to take on a double grander is welcome to it. For myself I had more than achieved my record-breaking personal targets. First to take an El Hierro giant on standup. First to catch FIVE consecutive granders. And the icing on the cake, the first to get a 1,500 pounder, completely shattering our previous unofficial record. There is now no doubt. If you want to catch your biggest ever fish, or join the exclusive grander club, then El Hierro is the island to go for- Home to the world’s biggest SIXGILL SHARKS!
THE PLACE- EL HIERRO -Most remote island in the Canary Islands, and as yet, the most under developed. Capital is Valverde in the mountains. Fishing spot is in the southeast at a fishing village called La Restinga, home to the island’s commercial Bonito fleet. Crystal clear waters plus 14 dive centres, three restaurants and a couple of supermarkets. Small town beach. Snorkelling first class. Apartment’s very good .NO A/C. must-trys are local fish-Cabrilla, Verve, and Tuna. Also Canarian potatoes and Mojo sauce. Climate-determined by the interaction of ocean currents from the Saharan Bank, and the Trade winds. Uniformly mild. Between 17 and 23C. Nights tend to be clear and cloudless.
GETTING THERE Flights into Reina Sofia, the airport in south Tenerife. Capt Gamito can take care of all your bookings from here on in. Suggest a stay overnight in the Hotel Andreas in Los Christianos, from where you can catch a Fred Olsen ferry over to Puerto Estaca in the north of El Hierro. Trip takes four hours, sails daily (subject to change). At Puerto Estaca Miguel arranges a taxi collection from the ferry down to La Restinga. Takes about an hour.
WEAPONRY– 4x 80 wide twin speed reels loaded with mix of 300 yards 130lb test mono topping to 700 yards of 130lb Dacron. Mid-range outfits comprise 3 x 50lb Penn International reels on Richard & Daniel French custom made standup rods .For light bore he has 2 x 30lb and 2 x 20lb Shimano outfits .For baitfishing he has a Ryobi SS80 electric reel with 1000yards of 50lb Dyneema braid.
COPYRIGHT: Graeme Pullen. All rights reserved.