Shane Johnston grew up with fishing. His father was a fisherman for forty years around the Glenbrook region and so was his Grandfather. Fishing for Shane is in the blood.
Leaving school at fourteen, he became a commercial fisherman catching mostly Flounder, Mullet and Lemonfish in and around Franklin, but it wasn’t long before another species of fish caught his interest. Sharks.
In his early twenties, Shark hunting was a bit of fun during Shane’s days off from fishing. Bronze Whaler sharks (also know as Copper sharks) are frequent visitors in and around the Manukau Harbour and an easy catch for Shane and his mates.
“The stuff we used to do was insane if I think back. We used set and hand lines mainly to catch them because in those days, the sports fishing clubs were just kicking off. For us, it was more about fun and getting the sharks in. We did sell the trunks too, although it wasn’t much, maybe $2 a kilo.” Says Shane.
Shane says when they caught a shark they would pull them up close to the shore while someone held the rope and have someone leap on top of the shark resulting in a wrestle.
“When sharks sense danger, they roll, so they’d roll you under the water, which was a metre or so and take a good fair chunk of skin off you at the same time.”
For Shane, he was fascinated by them and the harbour and says he wanted to study them and see what else was down there. Although his biggest regret is no fisherman ever carried cameras.
“I’ve seen Stingrays that would dwarf some of those Bronze Whalers.”
But it wasn’t just Bronze Whalers Shane wanted to hunt and had encounters with. A bigger, more dangerous species of shark was on his radar- The Great White.
Shane says while he never successfully caught a Great White, he’s heard and seen plenty of encounters with them, as Great Whites are more common around New Zealand harbours than people think.
From a reported near miss attack on a dog on Manukau Harbour’s Te Toro Boat Ramp to heavy duty hooks pulled straight, and cracked keel and smashed windows on his boat caused by a Great White, Shane says with Great White’s, its not so much their length, but their girth and width that make huge and powerful.
Their size is something he knows first hand after his first encounter with one that took place on the Manukau Harbour, while he was anchored off the Te Toro boat ramp.
“One day I was coming back from Floundering off Glenbook Beach and saw the fin, a big fin. I had put a few lines out to try and catch her, because that’s all I wanted to do, is catch a Great White.” Says Shane
“I had two lines drifting off the back of my two- footer boat that I had at the time. She came up in between the two lines and cruised up beside the boat, two or three metres from me, rolled sideways and looked at me with one eye and then submerged. She never touched the lines. Gave me a fright. A realistic guess was she was sixteen feet long.” Says Shane.
If that wasn’t frightening enough, Shane had his boat attacked a few days later just off the Waipa boat ramp in Waikato.
“I was sitting off the Waipa ramp on a flat, calm night and had my lines out for her. I was in bed in front of my little boat sleeping away when I heard a massive crash that woke me up. I thought I’d been hit by another boat. My boat had come out of the water and was crashing around with such force, I could hear the waves the boat was making hitting the shore,” says Shane
“My engine, inboard motor covers and everything had come off and after I’d got out of the mess and went around the back, I was listening because they say you can hear their tails swishing in the water as it comes near the surface. I didn’t know what to do. I was thinking about cutting the anchor and heading back to the beach. The Great White had come along my boat and put a crack in the deadwood keel, about two-three meters, put a crack on the cabin side and smashed one of the windows.”
Shane says it was terrifying, but is glad White’s are now a protected species and feels lucky to have seen so many sharks that allowed him to experiment with different shark hunting gear during this evolution.
He says over time, they found smaller hooks and gear resulted in more successful hunts for the smaller sharks and says they are desperate for food to come up and take a bite out of your hook.
Sharks also pick up electrolysis in water, so anything that is made of steel, especially in sat water gives off electrical emissions that they detect easily. Shane says that experimenting with smaller hooks and buoys above the lines in the water, wrapping the hooks and getting rid of the steel on steel, made for better successes than some of their other ideas.
“In our early days of shark hunting, no gear, no money, it did go through our minds whether we could somehow attach a battery charger to it and see if that would work. Electrify the hook and see if they would come and attack it. It would have just shorted everything out.”
Although he left the commercial fishing game long ago and no longer hunts sharks, Shane says he feels lucky to have seen so much ocean life during his time that sadly isn’t what it is today, mostly because of population and pollution.
He says to commercial fish successfully, you need to work hard to do well and sees first-hand how much environmental and evolution factors have changed the game and how important education is when it comes to fishing.
He says despite there being a bigger population, there are only a few who abuse the system for fish catches and says Fisheries New Zealand do a great job at monitoring the limits and daily limits of what people can catch.
“Recently, we came back from a fishing competition and Fisheries were stopping all the cars here in Waiuku. There must have been twenty-five or thirty guys. It was fantastic to see. In small towns, everybody knows everybody, so they see what’s going on, and who’s in what boat. It’s really the out of towners that cause some problems, but the system works well.” Says Shane.