Sunday Favorites: Shark Tales

E.J. Green caught this great white on Christmas Eve in 1937. Photo: Manatee Historic Archives
E.J. Green caught this great white on Christmas Eve in 1937. Photo: Manatee Historic Archives
Merab Favorite
Coastal living has its perks but it can also have its perils. Folks never really know when they might swim into one of the most feared creatures on the planet: the shark. There are lots of historic tales about shark fishing in the Bradenton area and this week, I’d like to share a few of my favorites with you.
Probably the most famous local shark catch was that of Edgar J. Green in 1937. The story plays out like a local version of "The Old Man and the Sea." It was Christmas Eve and Green was finishing up his daily duties as the assistant of the ‘Longboat Key Sharkman’ himself, A. M. Holbrook.
Holbrook, a former mechanical engineer turned shark fisherman, started a lucrative business after moving to Longboat Key by selling shark 'parts'. The skin could be made into leather; he used the liver oil for vitamin supplements and shipped the fins to Chinatown for use in the now-infamous shark fin soup.
Anyway, it was a blustery Christmas event on Longboat Key Pass when Green, alone on his 28-foot wooden skiff, checked the lines of Holbrook's homemade shark-catching contraptions. Green worked hard to pull up the lines, some of them as long as 2,000 feet and attached to chains and sturdy Norwegian hooks.
One line refused to budge. Thinking it was a snag, Green began slowly working it until he felt it start to give. Slowly, he pulled in a 20-foot Great White shark that measured 8 feet around and weighed over 2,500 pounds. It was the largest Great White ever caught, beating out an 18-foot catch in Australia. Green towed it to shore alongside his boat, dragging it onshore on the beach at Longboat.
The next day, while the rest of the community was busy opening presents with their families, Green and Holbrook were butchering the massive shark. The liver alone filled three washtubs and the two men extracted enough oil to fill a 50-gallon drum.
1937 must have been the year of the shark, for the largest hammerhead ever caught in the area happened that same year.
At 18 feet long, Holbrook and his skilled team of shark anglers caught the biggest hammerhead alive in the Gulf of Mexico about 6 miles west of Longboat Key Pass. They towed it into Longboat Beach, where Holbrook’s "shark factory" was located.
Holbrook inspired a new generation of anglers to follow his dream. In the 1960s, Captain Bill Goldschmitt began a 40-year career of shark fishing on Anna Maria Island. In his memoir "The Sharkman of Cortez" he chronicled the most memorable of his 6,000 plus catches.
But the use of sharks had changed over the years. Instead of butchering the beasts for goods, Goldschmitt eventually made a living selling live sharks to Marineland, Mote Marine Laboratory, Miami Seaquarium, SeaWorld, and the Feld Museum of Natural History in Chicago. He also made a name for himself by pulling up large shark carcasses on crowded beaches, scaring beachgoers and infuriating government officials and members of the local business bureau.
One of his most memorable catches was a 14-foot tiger shark caught off Anna Maria Island’s Bean Point with an apparatus invented by Goldschmidt himself. The photo of him holding the massive shark’s mouth open on the beach decorates the front cover of this book.
Over the years, more record-breaking sharks have been caught in the Gulf.
In 2006, a Port Charlotte Man caught a hammerhead shark that was so big, Mote Marine Laboratory wanted to study it. He fought the creature for several hours and the mighty beast towed his boat over 12 miles from where he hooked it before it allowed him to pull it in.
The angler was happy to donate the shark to science, but there was one problem: the biologists had nowhere to store it.
Because they did not have a freezer large enough to hold the 14.5-foot female that measured 3 feet across, they contacted A.P. Bell Fish Company in Cortez to see if they could help out. The commercial fishing business had a scale big enough to weigh the beast (it was over 1,200 pounds), and cleared out enough freezer space for scientists to come in and dissect the creature.
Mote said while they didn’t condone the killing of sharks, they were grateful to have the opportunity to study the hammerhead.
Times have changed greatly, and while the shark population has been greatly depleted worldwide, giants still patrol the Gulf Coast on occasion. Over the years, skeptics questioned the validity of Holbrook and Green’s historic Great White catch, saying it could have been an issue of mistaken identity.
But today, modern technology has validated what Holbrook, Green, and Goldschmidt knew so many years ago: aerial photography and biological tracking have proven that Great Whites are known to stalk the shores of the Gulf, although it’s not as common as it is in deep water areas.
So the next time you go swimming at the beach, remember: decades of large sharks have lurked along the coast and they will continue to go on lurking. Happy swimming!
Reader Comments
MAR 12, 2023  •  Thank you for this really informative column. It's fascinating to have that little bit of history! As if red tide wasn't enough to keep us out of the water...!
MAR 12, 2023  •  Well, what do you know! Our own Amityville :) I really love reading these Sunday local historical tales. Thank you for this column.