Bryan “Bear” Holeman has spent most of his adult life pursuing and catching a variety of offshore fish – many of those being sharks in the clear waters off the Florida Keys.
Until the seventh annual Madfin Shark Series was held last month, his girlfriend Jen Hurst had never fished for sharks.
But there was little doubt which half of the couple performed best during the tournament.
“She did an excellent job, much better than me,” Holeman said. “I’m losing fish, missing fish, missing hooks. She was perfect.”
“Nope. I had never been shark fishing,” Hurst said, laughing. “I grew up fishing in San Francisco and I have been living (in Key West) for several years. I’ve gone fishing with Bear many times, but never for sharks.
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“But it was a lot of fun – a little scary but very exciting.”
The Madfin Shark Series is the only nationally televised catch and release shark competition in the world. The series will air on Outdoor Channel throughout April and May at noon on Tuesdays, 8:30 a.m. on Friday and 3:30 p.m. on Sundays. The broadcast is hosted by famed outdoor host Tommy Sanders and British actor Butler Yates serves as the narrator.
This year each team was comprised of a married or dating couple – there were two of each. Also, the rules required both teammates to alternate between catching sharks and removing hooks.
The teams earned points for each shark caught, depending on the species. And those points could be doubled each time a hook was removed the teeth-filled mouths.
Hurst also had zero experience removing hooks. In the weeks leading up to the tournament, caring for the couple’s 8-month-old son, Brannan, did not allow for much preparation and practice time.
“They stuck a hook in a box and showed me how to use the (dehooker),” she said. “We had planned to go out and practice, but either the timing wasn’t right or there were some weather issues. We tried, but it just never happened.
“But I got all my hooks back. I impressed myself.”
Holeman, who was raised in the Oklahoma City area and played football at Tulsa University, operates a fishing guide service in Key West with his brother Travis. He is a frequent competitor in the Redfish Cup offshore series and also previously took part in several FLW Tour bass fishing events.
But at least for the Madfin Shark Series, he admitted he took a backseat to his girlfriend.
“She performed like a champ,” Holeman said. “I’m losing little nurse sharks, and she pulls in a real nice bull shark. I’ve seen grown men cry and hand over the pole with bull sharks.
“And she had never done the shark thing at all. I was very proud of her.”
Holeman said he was most concerned entering with tournament with his girlfriend’s inexperience in the dehooking process.
But again she outperformed him.
“I was worried about her for sure,” Holeman said. “I was like, ‘Are you OK?’ ‘Yeah, I got this.’ She got all of her hooks back. I didn’t, but she did.
“I was pulling one in, handling it nice and easy, never got an ounce of energy from the shark. Even (the cameraman) said, ‘Boring.’ Then just like that, it jerked up just as I was reaching down and came within inches of my fingers. I was like, ‘Damn, that was close.’
“But she never had one issue even though I had several.”
The aspect of comprising the teams with couples seemed to help not only the telecast, but the competition, Holeman said.
“Let’s face it, using the couples will help get people to watch that most likely wouldn’t have watched it otherwise,” he said. “I mean, anyone can relate to couples bickering and griping back and forth, right? And it helped the competition, I think, having to switch off fishing and removing hooks and all that. It all added to it.”
“All of the couples had a good time together, hanging out with each other and in the mornings getting ready to head out. It was a great experience. I loved every minute of it and would definitely want to do it again.”
Madfinairs this week at 8 a.m. ET Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday, noon ET Tuesday and 6a.m. ET Thursday.
For more information and videos, go to the Madfin Shark Series home page