On Easter Sunday, the thoughts of the world are going out to those killed in Sri Lanka and as such the intended topic of today’s piece – the 101st anniversary of the death of Baron Manfred von Richthofen in combat — didn’t seem entirely appropriate.
However, one of the beautiful things about history is that dates such as today have backup events we can discuss, and as a result, our topic today comes from the southern hemisphere, in fact to Australia.
It is there that we meet a gentleman named Alf Dean. One of eight children, Dean was born in 1904 and when he grew to manhood, built a house in New South Wales and set about one his passions — growing citrus and grapes.
However, there are times when those crops are out of season in Australia and that gave Dean time to do the other thing he loved, which was to fish. But, in keeping with Dean’s larger-than-life personality, he didn’t want to catch just any old fish.
Dean wanted to catch sharks. Big ones, in fact. Using only a rod and reel. And, that part of the Australian coast was especially suited for the task.
On one of his early trips, Dean hooked into a white pointer shark with a standard rod, which naturally broke when trying to land the beast. Cutting his line, Dean lashed the remainder of the rod to a broomstick and tried again, eventually landing an 868-pound shark for his efforts.
If you’ll pardon the expression, Dean was hooked. He also wanted to build a better rod and reel, which wouldn’t give out when he found the really big ones.
He researched and found that orange wood might do the job. He bought some and with the assistance of a local longbow maker, crafted a hand-made rod and reel which had one purpose — to catch world-record sized sharks.
So it was that in 1952, Dean tried again, in a different location. In a place called Streaky Bay, Dean waited overnight while an immense shark repeatedly bumped his boat all night long. At first light, Dean used his new tackle to hook the shark. After fighting the beast on 120-pound test line for 45 minutes, Dean had his prize – a 2,352-pound great white. It was a world record, and the first fish ever caught with rod and reel to exceed one ton in weight.
The local paper was enthusiastic:
“It was the most exciting Sunday morning in the town’s history. The Deans have charmed everyone with their unassuming manner and they have been given the keys to the town. They have already put Streaky Bay on the map of the world and we can expect an influx of big game fishermen from every corner of the world.”
Two years later, Dean broke his own world record by twenty pounds. In 1955 he did it again, hooking a 2,536-pound shark in the same spot.
By this time Dean had caught six of the seven largest fish on record using his rod and reel, but the best was yet to come. On this date sixty years ago today, Dean landed a 2,664-pound great white shark in his favorite spot.
Obviously, it was an immense catch. The shark was sixteen feet, nine inches long and had a girth of nine feet, nine inches.
To this day, no fisherman has come within 750 pounds of Dean’s record using a rod and reel. In all, Dean hooked over 100 sharks during his lifetime totaling over fifty tons in weight including six of the seven largest fish ever caught with rod and reel.
He even had a “one that got away” story. In 1952, Dean hooked into a shark that he believed was over 20 feet long and an estimated 4,000 pounds in weight. This shark, however, broke Dean’s line after an hour-long battle when he nearly had the monster close enough to the boat to tie off. He swore he later saw the shark again but couldn’t entice it to take his bait.
It’s doubtful whether another fish that large will be caught. Changes to the rules for big-game fishing by the International Game Fish Association to the types of bait and tackle that could be used changed how people had to fish for the sharks, which were eventually protected by law.
Dean became a guide, once helping actor Fred Gwynne hook a 1,600-pound shark in 1971. Gwynne’s insistence that the shark be released after being caught was also symbolic of the changes taking place in the sport. His biography, “Maneater Man,” was published in 1979. Dean passed away in 1991.
Have a blessed Easter, enjoy your day and enjoy today’s open thread.