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SPORTS WEEKEND | THE OUTDOORS / PETE THOMAS

Hungry Mako Leaves Astonished Students Open-Mouthed

April 23, 1999|PETE THOMAS

Those aboard the Islander last Sunday, as students of Eagle Claw Fishing Schools, learned how exciting a full-scale yellowtail bite can be.

But they also were given a lesson, by a full-grown mako shark, on where yellowtail belong in the food chain.

The sportfishing vessel, which runs out of 22nd St. Landing in San Pedro, was at Santa Barbara Island operating on a hunch that the abundance of squid in the area would attract schools of the popular game fish.

The hunch played out. With squid in the bait tanks, it didn't take long to tease the yellowtail into a frenzy, and before long the passengers were muscling 15- to 30-pounders to within range of the gaff.

The chaos eventually attracted the mako, however, and this is when the excitement really began.

"We see this big brown torpedo come in and start chasing the fish that had been hooked," said Ronnie Kovach, 52, the fishing school director. "At first I thought it was a seal, but then I thought, 'No, it's too small.'

"Then I thought it might be a sea lion, but it was swimming too fast. And then it came right up to the boat and stuck a third of its body out of the water."

At that point there was no question that the torpedo was no mammal, but a very large shark.

"It was eating one of the yellowtail and the angler was pulling back on his rod and the shark was shaking its head like a dog with an errant bone," Kovach added. "This thing was eight to 10 feet long."

Kovach, who is also host of the "Fishing Expeditions" television program, had a film crew on board and captured the scene, portions of which were aired this week on local news stations.

The mako, estimated at about 400 pounds, at one point came into range of a deckhand's gaff. He was tempted to stick the shark with the gaff, but wisely chose not to--at the request of skipper Mark Pisano.

"You don't want any part of that shark," Pisano told his crewman.

Pisano, 36, who has been working on fishing boats since he was 15, said he had seen only one mako larger than this one, while fishing at Cortez Bank southwest of San Clemente Island.

"A guy was fighting it and it jumped several times before breaking the line," he said. "What's weird about this one is that the [fishing boat] Thunderbird was in the same area three weeks ago and they saw one about the same size."

Which means the mako might have taken up temporary residence at the island.

Said Kovach: "In my 45 years of fishing, I've never seen a shark this big, or one with such total disregard for the environment around it. This thing came right up to the transom and didn't even care about us.

"It was pretty humbling. . . . I just thank sweet Jesus that nobody was at the island diving that day."

SPRING YELLOWS

The recent heat wave--after weeks of unseasonably cold weather and water--is being credited for vastly improving things at the Channel Islands and along the coast.

Yellowtail had been popping up here and there for the past month or so, but on Sunday two of the islands seemed to spring to life.

Fishermen at Santa Barbara Island have been using live squid to post daily counts ranging from 20 to 50, but the best action has been at San Clemente to the southwest.

"It went from horrendous last Saturday to really good on Sunday," understated Don Ashley, owner of Pierpoint Sportfishing in Long Beach.

Pierpoint's Big Game returned to port with 98 yellowtail for only 24 passengers. Fishing has remained steady all week, and the top count was 140 fish for the Top Gun out of L.A. Harbor Sportfishing. The San Clemente fish don't seem as interested in squid, but they love the iron lures.

Also interesting to note is that "acres" of yellowtail have been sighted on the front side of Catalina, Pisano said, and it might be only a matter of time--and perhaps a slight rise in water temperature--before they feel like feeding.

YELLOWFIN FEVER

Cabo San Lucas is famous for its marlin, but for the last 10 days or so the billfish have been upstaged by the tuna. Drag any feather and you'll get a strike, one guide said.

The Pisces Fleet logged more than 400 yellowfin tuna for the past week alone, "and we weren't even operating at full capacity," owner Tracy Ehrenberg said.

The Gaviota Fleet's 516 tuna caused longtime representative Larry Edwards to say it was "the largest tuna count I have ever provided for a single week in the area."

The fish ranged from football-sized to a 150-pounder caught by an angler from Minnesota.

The reason for the excellent fishing: "It's probably because the commercial [net] boats haven't caught on yet," Ehrenberg said.

The Pisces Fleet can be reached in Cabo San Lucas at 011-52-114-31288 or on the Internet at http://www.piscessportfishing.com. The Gaviota Fleet can be reached through Cortez Yacht Charters in Lemon Grove, Calif., at (619) 469-4255.

EAST CAPE: SMOKIN'

After weeks of unseasonable wind and cold water, the seas are finally calm and things are heating up, literally and figuratively.

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