It was just after the Second World War when Alf decided to chase sharks and the available records. But he was not alone. For example, Mr GR Cowell, Chairman of the Game Fishing Club of South Australia, was also keen to catch the biggest sharks, as was Mr EHV Riggs, an early achiever who had set a new record with a 792kg (1747lb) great white shark – a fish he’d hooked and lost a week earlier. It still had his hook in its mouth. Jim Veitch was another contender: he beat Riggs’ 1747lber with one of 1752lb.
In 1950 the shark fishing became more widely recognised by everyone after Governor Sir Willoughby Norrie arrived in Port Lincoln. He planned to take a three-day shark-fishing expedition to the Joseph Banks Group of islands in Spencer Gulf – and the media was watching. There, he hooked, played and landed a huge white pointer that later made the Port Lincoln scales groan as it read out 2225lb (1007.92kg). This blew away Jim Cowells’ record of 1919lb for the fifty-four-thread line class (equates to 74kg).
Many years before, Zane Grey had said that Port Lincoln is a game-fishing port rivalled by few in the world, and this proved the point. Port Lincoln’s inhabitants were pleased, as this would draw tourists to town.
The local paper The Port Lincoln Times gave front-page attention to the developing shark fishery and the huge size of the fish being weighed. Alf Dean came in after the governor and weighed one of 860lb caught on 39-thread line (53kg).
Over the ensuing weeks other shark hunters came to town and several big sharks were landed – the race was on for records, pins from the game club, and the coveted holder of the title for the biggest shark ever landed. However, the most notable catch around that time was a 1241lb (562.17kg) white pointer landed by 16-year-old angler J Cowell.
The following year, 1951, saw more big captures and records broken. Alf Dean brought in a 1585lber, and Mrs Cowell set a new woman’s record of 811.5 pounds. Two pin fish were weighed by her husband – 1592.5lb and 1378lb – with both well over 500kg.
A year later, the stories of a huge white pointer in Streaky Bay had everyone’s interest, particularly Alf Dean’s. The fish was called Barnacle Bill and said to be far bigger than any caught so far.
This saw Alf anchored at the outer light, which marked the entrance to Streaky Bay. After dark their lines remained onboard, but whale oil was being dribbled into the black water to attract sharks.
At two o’clock in the morning there was thumping and knocking on the bottom of their boat, so they raced out and discovered two sharks in the light. One was the biggest Alf Dean had ever seen, while the other was a smaller, more ‘typical’ specimen. The boatman and deckhand agreed that the big one could be a new all-tackle record.
They waited till daylight before organising the boat to take the big fish on. All went to plan, with the large one taking a bait. Alf was using his 39-thread (53kg) outfit and immediately thought he should have deployed his heavier 54-thread (74kg) setup instead. However, the fight only took one and a half hours and was relatively uneventful. The shark was then towed back in for weighing.
After some organisation to find a weigh site, it was hoisted on the game-fishing club’s scales, and Alf couldn’t believe it when the weighmaster called out the details: 2333lb (1058kg). That made it a new world record, as well as the heaviest shark caught with rod and line anywhere in the world, and the first shark capture to exceed a ton in weight. It measured 4.95 metres in length and was 2.7 metres in girth.
Again, the shark hunters grabbed front-page news, this time in the West Coast Sentinel newspaper. The entire shark fishing fraternity from around the world was thrilled and in awe of Deans’ catch. What else could happen in this exciting sport?
Plenty, as it turned out, with the shark fishing attracting more shark enthusiasts and the quality of the tackle continuing to improve.
There was impending excitement as 1953 rolled around. More sharks had been caught and some massive specimens seen, but Alf Deans’ monster remained the biggest.
Alf returned to Streaky Bay during the first week of January, 1953, for a seventeen-day session. He wondered what was ahead and if he could find Barnacle Bill.
His first shark of the trip was a white pointer of 1600lb, over fourteen feet long. They took it in for weighing, then steamed straight back out to where more sharks were waiting for them.
He baited the largest and successfully fought it for 90 minutes before steaming in to get that one weighed, too. Weighing 2356lb, this fish was another new world record and his second shark over a ton in weight.
Later in the week, his companion on that trip landed a 1808lb white pointer, and that was it for the rest of the trip, with no more sharks showing up to play.
Alf Dean returned to Streaky Bay later in 1953, chasing a really big white pointer – over 3000lb he hoped. Having lost a female in that size range on a previous trip, he knew they were there. Also, Barnacle Bill was his nemesis – was there such a fish? Surely there were too many sightings of this monster for it not to be true?
The ensuing trip resulted in a pin-fish shark for the game club weighing 1004lb. And while the one he caught later that day at 1600lb was bigger, Alf knew there were bigger fish out there.
One night during the trip they were awoken by a large shark attacking the boat – so they were ready when daylight came. The shark was still there, and it took a bait straight away. This was too good to be true. The fight started with a five-hundred-metre run, but was relatively short lived, and Alf had the monster secured in one and a half hours.
Taken back to the scales at Streaky Bay, it proved to be 2372lb – so another world record and taking over the mantle of largest shark ever taken on rod and reel. The townspeople wondered when it would end.
Next day Alf landed another biggie and towed it in for weighing. The scales settled on 1808lb. Then back out he went again, but they never saw another shark for the rest of the trip.
Alf’s next trip at the end of 1953 led to the capture of some big sharks – but nothing like the one that showed up during the night of December 16. As usual, they waited till daylight, and it proved to be the biggest shark Alf had ever fed a bait to. Hooked at 7am, Alf fought the beast for over five hours. Then, when the huge fish was finally brought boatside, everything went pearshaped. A moment’s hesitation saw a loop of trace go around the fighting chair’s footrest, and it was then broken off.
In 1954 Alf revisited Port Lincoln. The catches here were good in number, but only weighed up to 1200lb – not a match for Streaky Bay fishing.
In December, 1954, he was fishing out of Ceduna, looking for a new all-tackle record, but nothing topped 2000lb. So, in April he returned and was rewarded with hook-ups on two good fish. The first was a potential pin fish for the club, the second a probable line-class record – and he lost both!
Some consolation came in the form of a relatively small specimen of 1680lb (762kg), which was successfully baited and caught. Then a biggie turned up. It took a bait and the fight was on. Alf fought the fish hard and it succumbed after an hour. The shark was then towed in for weighing; Alf had a premonition that it could be a new record. In fact, it was – a 2536lber (1150.2kg). He had done it again!
Then, in 1959 he managed it once more with an almost unbelievable 2664lber (1208.3kg) that was seventeen feet long (5.2m) and had a girth of 2.9m!
Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster of ‘The Munsters’ fame) visited in 1971. Guided by Dean, he caught a 1600lber and was adamant it be released. This was unheard of at the time, and set a new precedent for the shark hunters. Times were changing.
This was also reflected in a change of IGFA rules that prohibited the use of mammal meat for bait and berley, restricted the tackle that could be used, changing the way they could fish.
By this stage costs were going up and game fishing was becoming beyond the reach of many. While Alf Dean retained an interest in the sharks and caught more, his other favourites, whiting and snapper, became his primary target species.
Now great white sharks are protected. I wonder what the biggest one swimming in the world’s oceans weighs – I bet its bigger than any taken out!
Information and images for this article came from Colin Thiele’s book Maneater Man, published in 1979 by Rigby Ltd, Melbourne, Australia.
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