Friday, September 22 , 2017, 7:00 am | Fair 57º


Captain’s Log: Shark, Sea Lion and Salmon — a Volatile Mix

Watching the food chain at work was worth the price of losing a fish on the line

We were trolling for salmon off of Padaro Lane one cool morning when the marine layer hung so low I could reach up and touch it. We had been at it since dawn and had no fish in the box. One takedown and zipped reel (I love the screaming sound of a reel’s clicker) put our adrenaline glands on overdrive, but when the fish came unbuttoned we had to hunker down and keep at it. Patience is a tenuous thing.

I was grumbling about a sea lion that followed us just behind our trolled lures because they are after salmon that focus too intently on our lures and forget to watch for danger. They also steal fish right off our hooks. But that unmanaged critter enjoys far more legal protections than I do.

The calm was torn by the sudden sound of a reel screaming, and all eyes turned to watch the rod tip pump deeply, multiple times. I raised my face to the heavens and bellowed, “Hookup!” That is my very favorite moment, and I hope you get a chance to see and hear me do that.

The designated charter passenger (we were on charter aboard my WaveWalker) jumped up, grabbed the rod and began to reel steadily. Thank heavens he remembered the lessons we gave him and didn’t try to set the hook with a savage swing. Salmon are often lost that way because they have soft spots in their mouths and a hard hookset can pull the hook free. This was a solid hookup.

The fish came right up to the surface and we could see that gorgeous chromium fish break the surface and fiercely toss its head trying to dislodge the hook. Just then a dark shape splashed behind the fish and that pesky sea lion had our salmon in its mouth! We pulled hard, hoping the hook was in a very hard spot and that the pinniped had a soft purchase on the fish. No such luck.

The three-way fight continued. We pulled the salmon from the front, the sea lion had the rear portion in its mouth and the salmon just wanted the heck outta there.

Then everyone got a shocking surprise. A six-foot mako shark blasted out of the water right in front of the sea lion, ripped the fish from its mouth and off our hook and dove deep to enjoy its meal. That sea lion had the most shocked look I’ve ever seen on a critter. It knew that it failed a primal test of self-preservation. Sea lions need to know about any large sharks in the area, and that critter knew he had messed up so bad it could have cost life itself.

We cheered the spectacle of nature. The food chain rattled loudly and savagely that morning, and we got to watch. It hurt to lose that big tasty salmon, but the show was worth it.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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