WILLAPA BAY — Have you ever wanted to hook into a man-eating shark? If the answer is yes, then look no further than Captain Kelly Sea Barnum’s 7 Gill Outfitters and a fishing trip on beautiful Willapa Bay.

Barnum lives in Raymond and his broadnose sevengill shark guide boat leaves seven days a week from the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge boat launch for “about a dozen hot spots in the Nahcotta Channel” where chances are up to four fishers per trip can latch onto a sevengill shark.

“Yesterday (June 21) I took one client out at 7 a.m. and by 11 a.m. we came in because we were both so tired we couldn’t reel in another shark,” Barnum says. “We caught 15 of them, with one going about 10 feet and the average being about seven feet.”

Barnum practices catch-and-release, but occasionally allows his customers to keep a small one — five feet in length or less. Since sevengill sharks are currently classified by Washington Fish and Wildlife as a food fish, the limit is 12 per day (see related story, Page A13). The food fish, or any of their body parts, are not allowed to be sold.

Barnum uses a pistol to kill the sharks he lets his customers keep before bringing them onboard.

“I have been fishing for these sharks for about four years. We have caught them up to 12 feet long and I estimate they weighed between 400 and 500 pounds. The big ones are as big around as a 55-gallon barrel. I have caught several 10-footers that weigh about 300 pounds. We have hooked some that we can’t move or they take off and we can’t stop them. They are like a submarine,” he says. His website (www.7gilloutfitters.com) predicts that broadnose sevengill sharks may reach up to 15 feet in Willapa Bay.

The Florida Museum of Natural History says published reports about the largest broadnose sevengill shark ever caught was 9.8 feet long and 236 pounds and Wikipedia’s entry is for the record being 10 feet in length and bearing live young. The broadnose sevengill is the only shark in the genus Notorynchus, in the family Hexanchidae that still exists.

“There are a lot more (broadnose sevengill) sharks in Willapa Bay than people realize. There must be thousands of them, but there is little known about them because not much research has been done,” Barnum’s wife, Stefanie relates. “I caught my first one this year and it put up a hell of a fight. I’ve filmed us catching sharks and there are pictures and film clips on our website.”

Captain Barnum adds, “It is my belief that Willapa Bay may have the largest migratory concentrations of sevengill sharks in the world.”

He says, “Fishing aboard the F/V Shark Bait, a 19-foot Alumaweld Stryker jet boat powered by a 200-horse jet engine, you will experience firsthand the power of these predators. Using 15/0 hooks (about three inches long), 200-pound test line, and stout Ugly Stick rods, you may be able to tame these monsters. Prepare for a hook-set and line-peeling action and fear-inducing, boat-side behavior from these unpredictable sharks.”

Barnum removes the hook from the fish he releases or if that can’t be done safely he snips the wire leader and the sharks’ digestive system will dissolve the hook. “We work hard to protect these beasts for future generations. From what I have heard they don’t taste very good, but pictures will be abundant and the memories will never be forgotten,” he says.

“We have found high levels of mercury, PCB’s, and other harmful toxins in the sharks we have studied in Willapa Bay and those toxic chemicals are harmful for human consumption,” Dayv Lowry, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife research scientist cautions.

Barnum earned his captain’s license by taking an eight-day course and passing four United States Coast Guard tests. He also had to spend at least 360 eight-hour days of sea time operating a vessel. He says he is licensed to operate an uninspected passenger vessel and is a “food-fish, non-salmon” guide through WDFW. Barnum can take up to four passengers per trip.

Sevengill broadnose sharks are migratory and they come into Willapa Bay in May when the females give birth. The mature sharks then head back south to the San Francisco Bay area in mid-August according to Barnum. His website says the shark feeds on all types of prey including seals, porpoise, small fish and shellfish. It also scavenges for food on the bottom of bays and inlets. Much is unknown about this species of shark as researchers have just started collecting data to determine size, range, and habits of this beast.

“I have had many discussions about drawing attention to the shark fishery in Willapa Bay. Most local people don’t even know these fish exist here. I have landed hundreds of sharks in the last four years, some as big as 12 feet, and now I’m ready to share this exciting, adrenaline-rushing, fear-inducing experience with the rest of the world,” he states.

On June 24 an outdoor magazine, Horns and Hooks, photographed one of 7 Gill Outfitters’ guided fishing trips.

Reservations can be made on the website or by calling 360-942-5475. The cost is $185 per person and $165 for anglers 15 years or younger. Guided sturgeon trips in the Naselle River cost $165 and $145 for those 15 and younger. The trips are eight hours or “until your arms are exhausted” and the boat has a full zip-down canvas cover and heater. Anglers need only have a freshwater fishing license and they need to bring their own food and beverages.

“This is one of nature’s true apex predators. I try to release the sharks gently and unharmed,” Barnum concludes.

   

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