Hunting for Jaws

Block Island style
Sun, 07/31/2016 - 3:15pm

The hunt for “Jaws” came to Block Island and Payne’s Dock in New Harbor on a sunny and steamy July weekend.
This incarnation had nothing to do with the Steven Spielberg directed summer classic, or the fictional great white shark that antagonized its characters while frightening beach-loving moviegoers, but it did include the same species of antagonist and its real-life adversaries. It was the 3rd annual Block Island Giant Shark Tournament held on July 15 and 16, hosted by the Connecticut Big Game Fishing Club, which featured the sale of chum, the weighing of sharks, and some wild fish tales.
The Giant Shark Tournament is the brainchild of Jennifer and Matt Kriedel from Newington, Connecticut, who have always enjoyed the sport of fishing for sharks and visiting Block Island. Fishing boats, 29 in all, comprised of a captain, angler and crew, from Long Island to Cape Cod, competed in the tournament with 13 total sharks weighed.
"Everyone seemed to enjoy the tournament," said Matt. "The whole point is to be able to relax and enjoy it all." The other point is bragging rights by catching the biggest shark, and taking home the top prize money.
Garnering the overall first place $25,663 prize was a 410-pound porbeagle shark caught by captain Len Grewer and his crew aboard the Hooker McGee that was so large that it had to be weighed by hanging the fish off the side of the dock. The porbeagle shark, which resembles a great white shark, is a species of mackerel shark that resides in cold waters.
In the coveted mako shark category, snagging the $5,287 first place winning honors by landing a 280-pounder on Saturday, July 16 was the crew of the SeaSaw. Threatening in that same category, but not placing, was the battle of the Fitzpatrick brothers, Matt and Brian, who caught 168-pound and 174-pound mako sharks respectively from their father Peter’s boat called the Fitz-Sea.
Bagging the tourney’s $9,225 second place prize was Captain Max Essery and his crew aboard the Sanibu out of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, who netted the first catch of the tournament on Friday: a large, eight-foot long, 360-pound thresher shark. And, rounding out the winners, taking the $6,225 third place prize by catching a 356-pound thresher shark, was the crew of the Matura.
The location where all of the tourney’s winning sharks were caught is anybody’s guess, as it is commonplace for a fisherman not to disclose his fishing spot. With a smile and a nod, the anglers competing in the contest indicated that the giant sharks were netted in the waters off of Block Island.
The Giant Shark Tournament, which began three years ago with nine boats competing, and blossomed to a total of 29 boats this year, appears to be growing annually in popularity. Part of the reason for its popularity is that the shark tournament boasts longer fishing hours than some other tourneys, with lines in at 6 a.m. and out at 5 p.m.
According to Jennifer Kriedel, her husband wanted to improve upon the restrictions set forth at other tourneys and provide contestants with a longer fishing window.
“The shark tournament was Matt’s idea,” said Jennifer. “He wanted to create a tournament that he would want to compete in; a contest that creates good camaraderie and sportsmanship, where people enjoy the overall experience. We've been coming to Payne’s Dock for years. The good thing about this dock is everybody is situated close together. People like coming back here. I mean, if you had a free weekend, where would you rather be?”
“I wanted people competing in the tournament to be able to fish all day,” said Matt. “So we expanded the hours with our tournament.”
“We’ve fished these type of big game fishing tournaments for 20 years,” said Matt’s friend and tournament coordinator Adam Demusy, who was married at the Southeast Lighthouse. “We've always wanted to run a tournament. Make it participant friendly." Demusy noted that the fishermen competing in the contest are respectful of the sharks and either eat what they catch or utilize the meat for fishing related purposes.
The tournament could be labeled a spectator sport, as demonstrated by the large crowds of people who assembled during the afternoon shark weigh-in periods. Each time a shark was being weighed a crowd of about 50 people congregated at the scale located on Payne’s Dock to witness the crew standing beside their prized catch.
Demusy said that all of the sharks caught during the tourney were weighed on the original “American Tuna Cup scale from the 40s. The whole east coast would come here for the tuna contest,” he said. “I told Matt this would be a great place to hold a shark tournament, and Payne’s was kind enough to let us use it.”
Giant Shark Tourney coordinator Ed Cohen said that he suggested that they play the famous theme to “Jaws” when the boats were arriving for the shark weigh-in at Payne’s Dock.
Max Essery said people emailed him clips from the movie “Jaws” prior to the tournament. “Jaws” is an all-time classic,” he said. "We were fairly successful competing in the tournament, finishing second overall. Although, first place would have been nicer, and more profitable." Essery's boat, the Sanibu, is named after his two boys: Sam and Nick, as well as his dog, Buster, a yellow labrador.
On catching his 360-pound thresher, Essery said that he and his three-man crew thought that they had snagged a bluefish. “We thought it was a small bluefish,” he remarked. “An hour into the fight we thought it might be something else. When we saw him we were trying to figure out how to get him into the boat.”
Angler Jay Cianciolo was the one responsible for hooking the thresher. “I fought him for an hour-and-a-half,” he said. “He yanked us all around. He was a mean, nasty sucker.”
One of Essery’s two gaffers, Mark Marcello, said that they had to get a tail line on the shark before hoisting it aboard. “He was heavy pulling him in,” he said. Fellow gaffer Steve Bakios agreed, “It was a pretty tough fight, because of its huge tail.” Thresher sharks possess exceptionally long tails that they utilize to stun their prey.
On arrival at Payne’s Dock, a gaffer aboard Peter Fitzpatrick’s boat proudly displayed a gaffer hook that had been mangled while trying to hoist a 174-pound mako onto the boat. “We were getting ready to head in and we hooked it,” said the captain.
In between the arrival of boats with sharks aboard at Payne’s Dock, the tournament’s crew interacted with members of the public, sharing their fishing tales and other stories. Tall tales were told of the big one that had gotten away, the miraculous rescue of a fisherman who had fallen overboard, and, of course, the need for “a bigger boat.”
“Everyone had a hell of a time,” said Matt. “We plan on being back here again next year.”
For information about the Giant Shark Tournament, including its rules and registration, go to