Dave Knecht has grown up fishing the inshore and offshore waters of Southern California. He spends most of his time fishing on his kayak or on private boats for everything from bass and rockfish, to yellowtail and tuna. He also loves to chase threshers by kayak and has some awesome stories to tell. Dave also writes for BD and shares his fishing knowledge with us.
Q:What’s the biggest shark you’ve ever caught?
A: When I was growing up I used to fish mako and thresher with my dad a lot. We never got into any huge ones, but plenty in the 100 to 150-pound range. We caught a few blues as by-catch as well that were probably pushing 500 plus-pounds. Blues are pretty much “junk fish”, but as I kid I didn’t care and had a blast pulling on them.
Q:What’s the biggest you’ve seen?
A: I’ve seen some big ones, both from boats and the kayak. The biggest was on the kayak and I fortunately didn’t get a close up, but the dorsal was huge and there was some serious distance between that and the tail. It was definitely a white and I’d say it was easily 15 plus-feet, probably closer to 18-feet total length. The scary part is how shallow and close to the beach this one was.
Q:Where have you seen the most sharks?
A: They’re all over, just depends what kind you’re looking for. Maybe I’m just hearing about them more these days, but it sure seems like there are a lot more big whites and makos being seen and caught in SoCal. It may be due to the ridiculous overpopulation of seals and sea lions along the coast and islands.
Q:Have you ever been bitten?
A: Never been bitten, but I’ve been whacked pretty good with a thresher’s tail several times while trying to release them on the kayak. Definitely does not feel good.
Q:What species would you call your favorite?
A: From a boat, makos are tough to beat. They’re incredibly fast and unpredictable which makes them a ton of fun. From the kayak, I like targeting threshers. I fish them on 30-pound gear with a 130-pound leader for the abrasion resistance. If you fish them with live bait and circle hooks you’ll usually hook them in the corner of the mouth so you get lots of jumps during the fight, and can get a clean release when you’re done. For local kayak fishing in SoCal, they’re the best big game around. Seabass and yellows are a blast, but not much can compare to a 100 plus-pound thresher on a kayak dragging you around and going airborne. I’m a big supporter of catch and release with sharks whenever possible and only recommend keeping the ones that can’t safely be released.
Q:What is your least favorite shark?
A: They’re all cool in their own way when you’re targeting them, but they can all be a pain when you’re not.
Q:Please tell the story of your most memorable shark encounter?
A: Last fall a few buddies and I were fishing our kayaks off the Malibu coast for threshers. It was one of those mornings that felt a little more eerie than usual. Glassy water, overcast skies, a little bit of bait puddling around, but strangely calm and quiet. Never really saw any signs of the taxman, but I just had that weird feeling of being watched. I eventually decided to work my way south, while the other guys worked north. About a half hour later, my slow trolled greenback got slammed and I was on a good one. A few awesome jumps, and 45 minute fight later, I had a solid 100-pound class thresher to color. I wanted to release it, but after the long fight it wasn’t in the best shape so I decided to take this one. Plus I figured I’d have no problem giving most of the steaks away, so out came the tail rope. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried getting a tail rope around a live thresher, on a kayak, solo, but it’s no walk in the park. It probably took around 5 or 6 attempts that resulted in a few tail slaps to the chest and “oh sh1t” moments, but I eventually got the tail rope on, and started to bleed it out.
Game over, or so I thought. I called the guys on the radio that were now about ¼ mile away to see if one of them could paddle over and help me lift the shark on to the back of my yak so I could paddle back in. Right about then my buddy Mark responds, “Dude, I just got buzzed by a huge mako!” followed by “No, it’s a white!” “A F’in huge one!”
Hearing this while sitting in a kayak surrounded by a pool of blood with 100-pounds of meat hanging off the side was not the situation I wanted to be in.
I weighed my options (not that there were very many) and made a b-line for the kelp. Not that the kelp would have done much (my buddies that dive the Channel Islands always say “The spaghetti never stops the fork from getting the meatball”), but it at least made me feel a little better than sitting in open water in all that blood. I was only able to paddle about .5 mph with all the drag, but eventually made it. I had my knife out ready to cut the rope if I ever saw the white. Luckily nothing ever came of this other than a good scare and story. I later found out that the white actually bumped my buddy’s yak a few times while it was checking him out. He said it was every bit as long as his Ocean Kayak Ultra, which is 15’5”.