A group of anglers were chasing tuna off the North Carolina coast when they unexpectedly hooked a giant thresher shark in just 60 feet of water on Jan. 10. Steven Viltoft of Southport, North Carolina, was on the rod at the time. He was able to boat the shark, which weighed 589 pounds and 1 ounce, making it the biggest thresher shark ever recorded in the state.
The giant thresher shark was certified as a new North Carolina state record on Feb. 9, obliterating the previous record—a 185-pound thresher caught in 2005—by more than 400 pounds.
Viltoft’s group was fishing with Oak Island Charters aboard Capt. Wally Trayah’s 30-foot Contender. The 45-year-old charter captain tells Outdoor Life that he typically releases large sharks because they pose a risk to clients. However, he explains that since the thresher shark did not survive the fight and was dead when Viltoft reeled it in, they decided to haul it aboard and weigh it on certified scales at a private dock. Threshers have a reputation as excellent table fare, and Trayah says none of its delicious meat went to waste.
According to the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, Viltoft and crew caught the shark near the Knuckle Buoy, which is located near a large shoal area southeast of Cape Lookout. Viltoft was using a custom tuna rod and an 80W Shimano Tiagra Reel spooled with 130-pound line and rigged with a mullet bait. The shark’s overall length was 164.75 inches, measured from the tip of its head to the end of its prominent tail.
What’s a Thresher Shark?
Thresher sharks are easily recognized by their massive, sickle-shaped tails, which they use to stun baitfish and other prey. The species name derives from this technique of “thrashing” their tails when attacking schools of smaller fish in the open ocean.
Common threshers can be found in temperate waters around the world, and they are highly migratory—sometimes traveling over entire ocean basins, according to NOAA Fisheries. They’re found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans as well as the Atlantic, where they range from Newfoundland down to Cuba. They’re considered a game fish here in the U.S., and in North Carolina they’re regulated as a pelagic shark species, which means they’re exempt from harvest and size restrictions. The IGFA all tackle world-record thresher shark was caught off Bay of Islands, New Zealand, by angler D.L. Hannah on Feb. 26, 1983. That shark weighed 767 pounds, 3 ounces.