Sport History

We're NOT Gonna Need a Bigger Boat ...

Photo of Herb Goodman provided by Frank Mundus.

What is it about that place where the sand meets the sea? Since the dawn of time, like a hydrodynamic magnet, it has drawn us ever closer, and finally … all the way in. From our humble beginnings as hunter-gatherers to our recreational migrations in the early 20th century, the lure of this destination has been irresistible.

It is in this place – the surf zone, where, for nearly 400 million years, many species of the most feared marine predator have made a living doing what they do best. The great white, tiger, hammerhead, bull, dusky and lemon are just some of the sharks that live a life of perpetual poetry in motion; forever swimming, eating and propagating just beyond the water’s edge.


Scientifically, what we know of these animals today didn’t even begin taking shape until around the time Orville and Wilbur Wright first took flight on a beach in Kitty Hawk, NC in 1903. And still we know very little. However, that didn’t stop another group of pioneers from finding out what they could about these formidable creatures. As far as we can tell, it was in the early 1900’s when a curious and determined breed of angler decided to climb those last few links to the top of the food chain in pursuit of the shark. Two things were quickly confirmed. As a game fish, they are second to none and hunting them in this environment was nothing short of pure expeditionary adventure. As a result of their explorations, a new and unique form of big game fishing was born. It’s known today as, ‘Land-Based Shark Fishing’.


Certainly, most serious anglers interested in the history of big game fishing, overall, have heard the names Zane Grey and Ernest Hemingway. Their fearless contributions with rod, reel and pen are timeless, but they, too, had inspiration. There’s no doubt the recreational pursuit of big fish began on dry ground. But way back when, while Zane Grey was writing western-inspired novels, lesser known, but no less visionary writers and anglers like George Alflalo, who’s ‘Salt Of My Life’ was published in 1905, pioneered big game fishing from boats as we know it today. Not much later, Charles Frederick Holder, Mitchell Hedges, C. Mitchell Henry, Lt-Col F R Stapleton, Frank Mundus, Peter Goadby and Vic Hislop joined the list of trailblazers.


Throughout this period, technology caught up with the relentless appetite of trophy hunters and adventure seekers worldwide. As a result, linen line gave way to dacron and mono. Then bamboo poles and wooden boat hulls surrendered to fiberglass. As communications also expanded through the 1900’s and epic tales of what had become known as ‘Deep Sea, Big Game’ fishing became more common, this new sport became somewhat identified with a price tag that not every angler could afford.


Once again, this didn’t stop the land-based shark fisherman from figuring out ways to target, fight and land large fish on a limited budget and with limited means. From the confines of the beach and other attached structures such as: jetties, piers, bridges and even oil platforms, their ingenuity and perseverance paid off and soon anglers like Mike 'Hip' Sowden, Jim Adam, Herb Goodman, Allen Ricketts, members of the Durban Shark Angling Club, Walter Maxwell, and others, were taming a variety of shark species far exceeding lengths of 10 feet and 1,000 pounds. These incredible angling feats inspired by long-utilized surf fishing techniques had established the sport of ‘Land-Based Shark Fishing’ forever.


As the popularity of the sport continues to spread, a whole new generation is taking what we’ve learned from the past and using it to push the envelope, side by side, with our predecessors. For us, it's a special opportunity to write the next chapter in a story with an already rich history. Along with this alliance, also comes a collective awareness for the increasing vulnerability of these not-so-invincible animals, and the responsibility to do our part in ensuring their longevity for the sake of the marine environment as a whole.


- Sean Paxton, ILSFA Founder & President