A Milton man and land-based shark fisherman said he believes he and his cousin may have reeled in their latest world record catch Tuesday night.
Earnie Polk, 43, said he and Joey Polk hooked an 11-foot, 805-pound shortfin mako shark off a Gulf Coast beach at about 10:30 p.m., and it took about an hour to bring the beast to shore.
"That's probably the best fish we ever caught," he said. "You'll spend many, many hours to catch a fish of that caliber or a fish of that size."
Polk said he did not want to disclose the exact location of the massive catch because he didn't want to draw droves of fishermen to the spot or create a false fear of shark-infested waters. The shark was hooked several hundred yards from shore, he said.
Polk and his cousin didn't intend to let anyone except friends and family know about the catch, but that changed Wednesday, thanks to social media. A photo taken by West Calhoun of Pensacola Beach of Joey gassing up his pickup truck at a local convenience store bearing the humongous mako hit Facebook and went viral.
Now all of this may all sound like a grand fish tale, but Polk and his cousin have the reputation to back up their claim. The two men hold a combined three world records from the International Land-Based Shark Fishing Association.
According to the association's website, Polk snagged his first shortfin mako world record in 2009. That shark was measured at 11-foot-2 but only weighed 674 pounds.
In 2010, Polk became the world record holder for catching an 11-foot-9-inch tiger shark at an estimated weight of 928 pounds. Joey beat his cousin's record a month later with a 12-foot-9-inch tiger shark, estimated at weighing 949 pounds.
Both tiger sharks were released.
Polk said he has submitted his latest catch's weight and length to be considered as the newest shortfin mako world record holder by the International Land-Based Shark Fishing Association.
Of the hundreds of sharks the Polk cousins catch every year, Earnie Polk said this one was one of the few they didn't release. After a vigorous fight on the way to shore, the creature was too exhausted to swim back out, he said.
Instead, Polk said he's preparing the legal paperwork to harvest a member of the species for consumption. He estimated he'll distribute about 600 pounds of shark meat to his family and friends.
"It's a $10 per pound fish at the fish market. It sells right along with tuna and swordfish," he said. "Between all of us, there won't be a bit of it wasted."
A misunderstood sport
Earnie Polk said he has followed the land-based shark fisherman's code of ethics since he first went fishing with his dad and grandfather at age four or five. They were shark fishing on the old Navarre Beach pier then, but Earnie still follows the same guidelines today.
"We don't do chumming whatsoever. We fish at night. We don't fish on crowded beaches. We don't fish anytime there are swimmers," he said. "We don't draw the fish to the beach. We just catch what swims by. The fishermen are there because the fish are there."
Earnie said bait is put out between 300 and 600 yards offshore by kayak.
Of the more than 300 sharks he and his cousin caught in 2013, they kept fewer than 20. The rest were released, most were tagged for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Polk said he and his cousin partake in the Cooperative Shark Tagging Program to benefit the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"We get to participate in all the tagging research that's done," he said. "(Land-based shark fishing is) just a good pastime."