Being a Washington native, Captain Kelly Barnum of 7 Gill outfitters, grew up hearing old fishermen and folks who lived on the bay, tell stories about sharks in Willapa Bay. Like many of his friends and peers, he dismissed these tales as mostly myth. Until about 5 years ago.
In the middle of one July, Captain Barnum and crew were out fishing for sturgeon, and weren’t having much luck as the sturgeon fishing had begun to drop off. He asked the guys if they were interested in heading out to the bay to find the “mysterious sharks”. They were all for it. They headed out, dropped bait to the bottom, caught a couple of dogfish and finally hooked on to something with a bit more fight. They fought the big fish for about half an hour and when it was finished they had caught a 7 foot Sevengill shark. From that moment on, Kelly was hooked. They caught 5 or 6 sharks that day, all catch and release. They went out again the next day and caught another 10 – 12.
7 Gill Outfitters started the first ever guide service in Washington to take sportsmen out catch and release Shark Fishing, last spring. What you can expect from a 7 Gill Outfitters Shark trip? An 8 hour world class, catch and release fishing trip right here in the Northwest that includes gear and bait. The thrill of catching a shark that weighs 250 -300lb, that has the ability to do serious harm to you if it wants too, is a rush that can only be gained through the experience.
Folks have expressed concern for the sharks’ safety during the catch and release fishing. Captain Barnum is just as concerned and has strict guidelines in place to do everything he can to ensure the safety of the shark. His vessel and crew will only use a stainless steel circle hook to try and prohibit the shark from swallowing the bait. The gear used is large enough to bring the shark to the side of the boat in a reasonable amount of time, so that the shark is not completely worn out. They practice reflex testing, which are small tests to find if the shark is too exhausted to swim away at the release point. Water is splashed in the eye, they hold a wooden stick near the mouth to see if the shark will try and bite it. They use the same stick to gently poke around the gills, and grab by the tail looking for the same reaction. When they respond to these tests, they are fine to go on their own way. 99% of the sharks brought to the side, are highly aggressive, respond to the above reflex test and swim away. These tests show that these sharks can hold up to the fishing pressure. This also means, they can be brought to the side, tagged, tested and studied, safely.
Captain Barnum has partnered with Greg Harris, founder and lead researcher for the Northwest Shark Preservation Society, to study these fascinating sharks, and together they have a goal. They won’t rest until Southern BC to Southern California is Sevengill catch and release only.
They are collaborating with fisherman and biologists in San Francisco, San Diego, Florida, Tasmania, South Africa and Argentina. NOAA is assisting the research of these two passionate protectors of sharks, by sending tags, DNA Sample kits and other much needed supplies for the 7 Gill Shark Study.
Up until this season the Sevengills were virtually unknown. Their research is just getting under way. “Every time we go out we learn something new” said Captain Barnum. And learning they are; the sharks come in to the bay late spring and early summer and seem to disappear before the salmon comes in. They seem to be feeding on the seals, which are a natural predator to our salmon. The sharks practice pack hunting behavior, meaning 8 -12 sharks will single out one seal and run it until it’s tired, and engage in a feeding frenzy.
They have also found that early in the season, all the male sharks are close in, a bit further out, the females are hanging out amongst themselves and by the end of July they gather together in one place. The females are covered in bite marks, which is indicative of mating season in the bay. It is believed that Willapa Bay may have the largest migratory concentrations of Sevengill sharks in the world.
Both Captain Barnum and Greg Harris, would like to see the State of Washington create and implement a certification course for an angler to take, since shark fishing is a new sport here in the NW. Captain Barnum and Greg Harris of the NW Shark Society would like to hold live Q&A’s, and public seminars to teach sportsmen about the proper fishing gear and handling techniques to release the sharks correctly, leaving both the shark and fishermen unharmed. They want folks to enjoy the fishing, and to keep the sharks safe in the process. If you interested in assisting and furthering their cause, the Northwest Shark Society is taking donations to help fund this program.
Greg Harris, founder and lead researcher for the Northwest Shark Preservation Society, is the featured speaker at the Columbia River Maritime Museum on April 4th, 2013. Greg will be speaking about Pacific Northwest sharks and will be discussing their current and future research plans. The meeting will be held at the Fort George Brewery’s Lovell Building in Astoria. Doors open at 6:00 p.m., so bring a friend and arrive early for food, beverage, and great conversation. The program begins at 7:00 p.m. with a short Q&A afterward.
There is also an education presentation at the Grays Harbor sportsman show which is April 20, 21 they will both be present and available for questions both days of the event. If you are interested in having Captain Barnum and Greg Harris speak at an event please contact either one of them at the links provided at the bottom.
A message from Captain Barnum; “whatever your outdoor sport, get involved, educate, volunteer. Don’t just take, give back. Find a group to volunteer for, if you can’t find a group, start one. Earn your way, do what you have to do to help out the species you are hunting…..Perhaps this way hunters and conservationists can find a middle ground.” His motto: “Conservation through Compromise.”
Shark Fishing not your gig? Visit their site for Sturgeon trips, Western Washington Roosevelt Elk Hunts or Wildlife Veiwing.
Now the resident Outdoorsman is wanting to go out and catch a shark. 🙂