PRATT — Caden Blankenship, a 2019 Pratt High School graduate, has a passion for fishing. And not for just local game fish in lakes and ponds around Pratt but for much bigger fish in a much bigger pond.
Blankenship was recently on a trip to the West Coast with his family. He and his father, Steve Blankenship, went fishing for mako sharks, something he has done before. Blankenship wanted to get a record mako, but what he ended up getting was much more.
Blankenship hooked a great white shark.
Blankenship, 18, was fishing with World Class Shark Tours off the San Pedro coast, which is near Los Angeles. On past fishing trips, he has reeled in a 30-pounder mako shark and a 50-pounder. He was 10 when he caught his first and 13 when he got his second.
On this trip July 10, he started fishing at 9 a.m. They had laid out miles of chum line. Chum is a mixture of fish parts, bone and blood that is thrown into the water to attract sharks that have a very keen sense of smell.
Blankenship hooked a 350-pound mako and fought it for about 10 minutes before he lost it. Nothing happened for about five hours.
Everyone was half asleep when a big shadow went past the boat very fast.
“We were hoping for a mako,” Blankenship said.
They prepared a 2-foot, 10-pound skip jack tuna and threw it in the water. The great white took the bait and the battle was on. The men couldn’t tell exactly what they had, but after 64 minutes, the fish was brought alongside the boat.
“When we reeled it in, we could see it,” Blankenship said.
Everyone on the boat, including the crew, was excited. Great whites are the face of sharks and they are rare in most parts of the world, including California and Florida. A member of World Class Shark Tours said the company had only seen three great whites in 40 years with only two caught.
“My dad and I were feeling ecstatic,” Blankenship said.
The great white was 11 feet long and weighed about 1,000 pounds. Battling a 1,000-pound great white for an hour takes its toll. Using an 80-wide reel, Blankenship was standing up in the boat and leaning against a bait box as he pulled and pulled to bring the fish in. There was a powerful jolt every time the shark would move its head.
“It was like being strapped to a car,” Blankenship said.
It took a lot of upper body strength, including his core and legs. Blankenship, a high school standout football player and wrestler, said his quads were bruised after the hour-long battle.
“I had a very sore body. Those were the most well-earned bruises I ever had,” Blankenship said. “The fight was amazing, but I loved it. The fight is everything.”
When they got the shark against the boat, Blankenship reached out and briefly grabbed the dorsal fin. That's something few people have gotten to do. A video shows Blankenship grabbing the fin, while an underwater GoPro video clearly shows the shark swimming with the line in its mouth.
Great whites are protected, so the men used a pair of bolt cutters to cut the line as close to the hook as possible, Blankenship said.
“I felt like I had accomplished a lifelong goal. Nothing is better than a great white.” Blankenship said. “It still doesn’t feel like it's real. That was the highlight of my life.”