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Davis' Top 3 Saltiest Fights

Mark Davis runs down saltwater species that put up greatest battles

Davis' Top 3 Saltiest Fights
Mark Davis talks saltwater fishing at ICAST. (Jeff Phillips photo)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Comparatively speaking, most sharks are wimps, says Mark Davis, host of “Penn’s BigWater Adventures” that airs on Outdoor Channel.

Now, he does include one shark on his short list of the biggest, meanest, toughest saltwater fish to fight, but most sharks don’t live up to their hype.

“I may take some heat for this, but the whole ‘Jaws’ thing is kind of a myth. Sharks, pound for pound, I would have to put them in the wimp category,” Davis said as he wrapped up hosting’s live web casts from ICAST. “I’ve caught 400-pound sharks on 30-pound. You can catch a 6-foot blacktip on crappie tackle. You’ve just got to take some time.”

Armed with rod and reel, Davis has tangled with many species of shark, including a couple encounters with the biggest, baddest out there, the great white. He’s hooked two whites while targeting mako and cut them loose after realizing it. The bigger was Jaws-sized.

“It was about 22 feet, close to 2 tons,” he said. “No problem with them whatsoever on 200-pound braid. They’re strong fish, they’re big fish, but they are not billfish, they are not tuna.”

Those are his top species under the criteria of using the biggest tackle and most drag in pursuit of a fish that can whip you on a daily basis. He knows he’ll get some strong arguments – a 12-foot shark in surf, or tarpon or grouper on light tackle, so there are some qualifiers in the saltiest fight discussion.

“If you take everything else into consideration in a power rating, to me, it’s unpredictability, it’s power, it’s speed and it’s aerial,” he said.

Mark Davis puts most sharks in the wimp category. (Courtesy Big Water Adventures)
Mark Davis puts most sharks in the wimp category. (Courtesy Big Water Adventures)

No. 1: Billfish

In Davis’ grading, billfish top the heap. Blue marlin are the largest in the category, with an 1,805-pound specimen being the heaviest caught by rod and reel in 1970, but commercial fisherman have netted larger. One brought to a Toyko market was reported to weigh more than 2,400 pounds.

“You can put billfish in one category,” Davis said, “and pound for pound, what they’re going to be able to do, you have to put them on top. Probably black marlin on the very top of it. The black marlin is a blue marlin on some sort of speed and hallucinogens.

“The blue marlin is a game fish. For pure power, a swordfish probably has them both beat, but they don’t do all the crazy stuff, jumps and changing directions.”

No 2: Tuna

For stamina and strength, not much comes close to a large tuna. The fish are built for speed, with a torpedo body shape and streamlined fins. An Atlantic bluefin tuna can grow to 15 feet and weigh upwards of 1,500 pounds.


“A tuna, you know what you get,” Davis said. “It’s going to run, it’s going to sound, it’s going to get a lot of power.”

No. 3: Mako shark

Speed, power, leaps and all the sharp, pointy teeth make the mako “one of the baddest fish that swims.” Davis said.

Corey Knowlton of “Jim Shockey’s The Professionals” agrees. He was part of the team that landed the world record in June 2013, a 1,323-pounder he called “a gigantic nightmare swimming around looking to wreak horrible terror.”

“It’s got the power of a swordfish, the speed of a tuna, the aerial ability of a billfish,” Davis said. “It’s got free will and knows what’s going on. A mako will always save the last bit that it’s got for the boat. And even if you’re going to release it, that can be a chore if you’re not paying attention.”

This might garner more calls of crazy, but Davis said he sees something in makos no other fish possess. He’s seen other hooked big pelagic fish looking back at him, but there’s really nothing in their eyes.

“A mako is looking at you and thinking about it,” he said. “All you have to do is look at one looking back at you and you can realize there is some spark of awareness and thought process. Am I telling you this is Jaws and he’s wanting to climb in the boat? No. But I can tell you there’s very few people who have taken a good look at a mako boatside that wasn’t actively looking back.”

He says they also can take the fight wherever and however they want, no matter how well you drive the boat. Along with power, speed and unpredictability, makos are known for athletic jumps.

“If you put all those four together, you got something with big crazy teeth and eyeballs looking at you, I’d put them in the top 3,” Davis said. “Billfish are top and I’m going tuna next and mako third. We’re talking about pure power and big, mean, nasty knockdown fish.”

Click here for videos, stories and photos from ICAST 2014.

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