Joe Gamez didn’t know right away what it was that bit onto his fishhook in San Francisco Bay on Saturday morning. He just knew that it was a lot bigger and stronger than anything he expected to catch that day.
It turned out to be a great white shark, which is rare to see in the bay and almost never caught by fishermen.
“It was almost like winning the lottery when it came up. We didn’t know what to expect,” Gamez said on Monday as he fielded phone calls from media outlets across the U.S. asking him about his catch.
“We’ve seen them inside the bay and heard of them, but I’ve never heard of somebody catching them,” Gamez said. “I think that’s the rarest part, that it was caught by a rod and reel by somebody inside the bay.”
Gamez, 42, has been operating his business, Golden State Sportfishing, out of Berkeley for less than two months. On Saturday, he took a group of six others out to fish for soupfin sharks, a species that he regularly expects to catch in the bay. He also expects to find sevengill sharks, another species common in the San Francisco Bay.
“Never in a gazillion years would I have thought I’d have got a great white,” Gamez said.
He had anchored his 26-foot fishing boat between the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz when he hooked what was clearly going to be the biggest fish of the day.
“I hooked it and fought it first, then I passed it on once I realized how big it was and said, ‘Hey, this is a big one. Who wants it?’ It went from one person to the next person,” he said.
Eventually all seven of the people on the boat had a turn at trying to reel in the shark, which continued pulling the boat east for about 2 miles until they were between Alcatraz and Berkeley. After about 40 minutes, everyone on the boat was exhausted, but Gamez wasn’t willing to give up.
“Obviously it was up to me, so I was like, ‘We’ve been fighting it this long, I want to see what it is,’ because if it was a big sevengill, we would release him. We don’t keep them, but maybe this was a world-record sevengill. When it came up and it was Jaws, it surprised us all.”
Gamez posted the final minutes of the struggle as a nine-minute Facebook Live video (language advisory), up until the shark was pulled up alongside the boat and then cut loose. He figures the shark was 6 to 8 feet long and weighed 400 to 600 pounds. Most sharks he expects to catch are longer, but not as heavy.
“The other sharks right now, they’re like between 250 and 350 (pounds), and they get long, 10 to 13 feet, but they had no, no power compared to this fish. This fish was on steroids,” Gamez said.
“I’ve never had a group of guys on the boat that were so excited,” he added.
Gamez can be heard on the video saying that they had to cut the shark loose as soon as he saw what they had on the line. State and federal regulations list the great white shark as a protected species, and it’s illegal to fish for or catch them — something he had to explain to his customers after he cut the line and watched the shark disappear below.
“Some of them didn’t understand what was going on. They were kind of bummed that we had to cut it,” Gamez said.
Though great white sharks are rare in the San Francisco Bay, they are seen regularly along the California coast. The one Gamez caught would be a juvenile. Full-grown great white sharks are about 15 feet long and can grow up to 20 feet long.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has documented 185 shark encounters since 1950 — most of them involving great white sharks — where a shark has approached a person in the water close enough to touch. Those include 102 cases where people were injured but survived and 13 fatalities.
The state has recorded 85 such encounters in that time along the stretch of coastline between Monterey and Sonoma counties, including four fatalities, the most recent being a 28-year-old man diving off the coast of San Mateo County in 1984.