Fred Dirsh Jr. cursed at first sight of the black-backed, silver-sided, toothy, son-of-a-gun shark leaping out of the Atlantic Ocean.
The 820-pound, more than 11-foot mako shark had taken the bait just outside of Cape May.
"Holy s---!," Dirsh screamed. "Holy s---!"
That was about 2 p.m. Saturday when Dirsh and four other members of their crew made the near-record catch of a non-great white shark ever caught off the Jersey Shore. Here's their story:
The trip began around 4 a.m. Saturday as the platoon of Philly natives motored out of the South Jersey Marina on the maiden voyage of the "Missfit." Those in the medium-sized boat were frequent entrants in the South Jersey Shark Tournament, which was a week away. This trip was a search for Yellowfin tuna, but with a test run for sharks.
By noon the Missfit had run 67 miles into the Atlantic's choppy May waters. Captain Rob Kurian, owner and captain of the Missfit, settled the engines. Fred Dirsh and his father, Fred Sr., prepped lines. Paul Tsoukalas baited hooks. Gary Blakla, the hulking bald man narrowed his eyes, cast his line and stuck the butt of his rod into the slot on his fighting belt.
When the shark bites
Not long after Blakla dropped his line, the rod peeled. Blakla was pulled almost over the edge. Then he was pulled to the right. Then to the left.
"I'm going to lose it," he thought.
When mako sharks take the bait, they tend to go vertical. This mako - its whole body, tail over head, rose more than 11-feet out of the water and cartwheeled back down. And repeated.
"Holy s---," Fred Dirsh Jr. screamed.
They all jumped to their jobs. Blakla was the rod man. Paul Tsoukalas was assigned to gaff the fish, and the captain drove. Dirsh Sr. was the shooter, and Dirsh Jr. was chared with leading the fish.
Kurian, the captain, drove the boat in circles. The shark jumped, flipped, rolled.
"Holy s---," the junior Dirsh screamed. "That fish is over 9 feet!"
The shark pulled Blakla for a lap around the boat. He slammed into the wheelhouse and dropped to his knees. They stood him back up. Paul Tsoukalas grabbed the back of Blakla's fighting belt.
"Gary (Blakla)," Dirsh Jr. yelled. "Don't let go and hold on, man."
Blakla reeled the shark closer to the boat.
The senior Dirsh cocked the 12-gauge hunting rifle and shot the shark four inches below the eye. She didn't take it well: jump, flip, roll.
It seemed inevitable the line would break.
"You're seeing the biggest shark you've ever caught in your life, a dream, jumping all over the ocean, and you're like any second it's all over," Dirsh Jr. said.
In all, Blakla fought the shark for 80 minutes. The goal was to tire it, make it woozy, then lash the tailfin to the boat. Near the end, the shark was close enough for Dirsh senior to get off another shot. Tsoukalas gaffed it. The rush was on to get it onboard.
"You just don't flop that kind of fish on the boat," Captain Rob said.
The goal was to get the shark through a back door and onto the boat. They first attempted to board the shark face first.
"But no one likes to do that," Kurian said, "because then you have a whole gaggle of teeth looking at yah."
But the shark's fins wouldn't fit. So they turned her around and brought her in tail-first and folded her fins back, pulling with all of their might.
For the first time, the Missfit crew really analyzed their haul. "I don't think anyone said anything for a minute or two," Dirsh Jr. said.
Dirsh radioed the Coast Guard and asked the servicemembers to notify the crew's wives and girlfriends to let them know they'd be late. Dirsh also asked if his wife could bring their son to the dock.
The Missfit's maiden voyage ended at 11 p.m., about 19 hours after it began.
Wyatt, Dirsh's 2-year-old son, peeked at the sea monster. He asked: "Is that a dinosaur, daddy?"
The shark was big. The New Jersey record, set in 1994, is 856 pounds. The Missfit crew came within 36 pounds of a breaking a 21-year-old state record. But their 820-pound shark was good for No. 2 on the all-time list.
If the catch was a week later, the crew could have won $250,000 in prize money at the tournament.
"I call her a black-backed, silver-sided, toothy, son of a gun stick of dynamite," Dirsh said. "She's nasty."
He then added: