Catch of a Lifetime

February 2010
Written By: 
Harold Rohrback

Walter Maxwell’s giant tiger shark caught off a North Myrtle Beach pier held the world record for forty years.

On Saturday, June 13, 1964, onlookers who had gathered at the Cherry Grove fishing pier watched in disbelief as the biggest tiger shark they’d ever seen slowly swam into view. Local angler, Walter Maxwell, had fought it for hours, bringing the shark so close he could almost touch it—and then, just as the monster fish reached the pier, the line broke.

Maxwell vowed to those who had gathered that he would stay on the pier night and day, if necessary, to get another chance at the giant fish. Earlier that day, Maxwell and some fishing buddies had ventured to the Cherry Grove Pier in North Myrtle Beach for a day of casting lines. Word on the street was that some huge sharks were being caught, so he came prepared with a heavy-action rod and a 16/0 Penn reel spooled with 1,400 yards of 130-pound test-braided Dacron line.

After being foiled in his first attempt, Maxwell went after his fish in earnest later that night. He talked one of his buddies into paddling out a small boat, dropping his bait (a live skate) in the deep water, and waiting. His persistence paid off: Just after sunrise on Sunday morning, a large tiger shark bit.

“When he hit the bait, the shark just went out on a straight line,” Maxwell explained in earlier recorded interviews. “When that fish jumped, it was almost in the surf. There was a tremendous crashing sound.” On two separate runs, the fish took almost all of the line off Maxwell’s reel. After his defeat the day before, Maxwell was not in the mood to give up easily. He fought the fish through the afternoon and into the evening.

It is estimated that Maxwell, a stonemason by trade, cranked the handle of his fishing reel more than two thousand rotations. On several occasions, friends poured water on his reel to keep it from overheating.

After almost five hours of fighting the fish, Maxwell got the tiger shark next to the pier for the last time. His friends were able to secure it with a gaff and heavy rope while waiting for a wrecker to hoist it onto a flatbed truck. It was Monday morning before the fish could be put on a certified scale where it weighed in at 1,780 pounds, 13 feet, 10.5 inches long, shattering the International Game Fish Association World Record by 300 pounds.

In 2004, that record was broken by an angler whose tiger shark (caught off the coast of Ulladulla, Australia) was only 5 pounds, 11 ounces heavier. But for Myrtle Beach’s angling faithful, Walter Maxwell’s fish story will always be one for the books.