Alfred Dean didn't need a bigger boat...and he still managed to land the world record great white shark.
Around the world, no fish strikes fear in the hearts of humans quite like the great white shark. This monstrous, predatory fish has been the villain in countless horror movies, most famously when Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Jaws hit the big screen back in 1974.
That movie made multiple generations afraid to go into the water, and often leaves people wondering just how large these sharks can grow, and if it's possible to actually catch one using regular fishing tackle.
As a matter of fact, there have been many massive great white sharks caught over the years, but the world record for the single largest shark ever caught on a rod and reel belongs to a man named Alfred Dean. His fish has the distinction of being not only the largest great white shark caught by angler, but also the single biggest fish recorded by the International Game Fish Association, ever.
This is the story of that giant shark, the largest fish ever caught by rod and reel, and why it will never be topped in the IGFA's record books.
The Angler Who'd Go Down in History
Alfred Dean was born in Victoria, Australia in 1904 into a family that farmed citrus and grapes. Like his father, Alfred took to the farming of these same crops once he grew older, which kept him busy for most of the year. However, Dean was able to get out and pursue his love of fishing a few months each year between harvests.
He quickly formed a love for the ocean and shark hunting. At that time, targeting shark species was not a super-popular pastime. Most sharks were bycatches while anglers were targeting a different species, but Dean wanted to tangle with the biggest fish in the ocean, which is what eventually led him to pursue great whites.
It didn't take long for the angler to develop a reputation for big fish, especially after his first catch of an 868-pound white that was captured on a pole that was jerry-rigged back together using a broomstick after it had broken on another shark earlier in the trip. This encounter was a key turning point for Dean, because he realized he needed heavier equipment. He ended up sourcing some heavy-duty wood himself, which he then commissioned to be made into super strong fishing rods.
The new gear was finished with perfect timing because locals in Streaky Bay, South Australia had been seeing a giant great white they starting calling "Barnacle Bill." Dean was intrigued by the story and in 1952, headed into Streaky Bay looking for the beast. While he didn't find the shark of legend, he caught a 16-foot, 2,352-pound great white on 120-pound line. The big fish was a world record and the first game fish to ever exceed one ton in weight. It instantly redefined the maximum size of fish that could be fought and landed using a rod and reel.
The Biggest Great White Shark Ever Caught
For the next three years, Dean devoted all his free time towards trying to catch a truly monstrous shark, and he caught several large ones including a 2,372-pounder, again near Streaky Bay in 1954. He broke that later with a 2,536-pounder. However, none of these were the giant he wanted.
Most weekend anglers can relate to that. No matter how big of a fish you catch, anglers are always wanting more at the end of the day. It was around 1954 when sightings of a 25-footer began to circulate around Ceduna, South Australia. Dean was skeptical of shark sizes that large, but he decided to start fishing the waters around Ceduna anyway.
On April 21, 1959, he encountered his largest shark ever. Dean and his crew were able to coax the giant 17-footer into biting, and that set off a nearly hour-long fight on 130-pound test line. Eventually, the big fish tired out and the crew were able to dispatch it and tow it back to the docks in Denial Bay. There it was officially weighed at an eye-popping 2,664 pounds.
The huge shark once again broke Dean's own record for a great white shark, and it still stands as the largest great white recorded in the IGFA record books to this day. Odds are very good it will never lose that top spot, either.
Why Dean's Record Will Never Be Broken
Back in the 1950s, shark research was nowhere near as advanced as it is today. People were simply not thinking about the conservation of many of these large ocean predators the way we do today. Heck, we've got entire weeks dedicated to the great fish on the Discovery Channel.
Marine biologists and international governments have since worked together to make great whites a protected species. In most parts of the world, it is now completely illegal to target them. Incidental catches do happen, but they are now rare because many of the tactics employed by great white hunters in the early days are now prohibited. When an angler hooks into a great white, it must be released immediately.
It's worth noting that Dean caught his record 2,664-pound great white while using porpoise as bait. Current IGFA rules prohibit both the practice of chumming and the use of any parts of a mammal except for hair or pork rind as a bait. That means the catch wouldn't even qualify for the books today.
The Alfred Dean great white shark was essentially grandfathered into the record books.
Because IGFA entries require a weight taken on a certified scale, and one cannot weigh a giant great white without killing it first, it's safe to say that Dean's spot in the top of the record books is not going anywhere anytime soon. Maybe a long time from now great white populations will rebound to the point where they can be harvested again, but it seems unlikely considering the many challenges the species faces.
Other Giants Not in the Record Book
Technically, Dean's shark is the largest ever in the IGFA record books, but plenty of other giants have been captured by other shark hunters.
Frank Mundus, who is said to have been the inspiration for the character of Quint in Jaws, may be the most notable. In 1986, Mundus caught a massive 17-foot great white off Montauk, New York that weighed a staggering 3,427 pounds on a rod and reel. This giant fish (pictured above) would have taken over the top spot, but the IGFA disqualified the catch because there had been a dead whale in the vicinity of the catch. The organization declared this a violation of the rules on chumming.
Amazingly, this was Mundus' second-biggest catch ever. In 1964 he harpooned another giant that was estimated at 4,500 pounds. Because the weight could not be verified, that shark also did not qualify for the record books. Legend has it that Mundus' early tactic of using harpoons and barrels to tire a shark out is what inspired Peter Benchley to write those techniques into Jaws. Of course, that method is now illegal for pursing these ocean giants. It's worth noting that Mundus eventually changed his tone on the killing of sharks and became a catch and release advocate before his death in 2008.
There have been a few other catches rumored to be in the 20- to 21-foot range, but most of these claims have proven to be either unconfirmed or greatly exaggerated.
We do know that great whites can reach that 20-foot, 4,500-pound range. The most famous of these examples is a giant female great white named "Deep Blue."
This shark was first spotted by a film crew working on a special for Shark Week near Guadalupe Island, Mexico in 2014. She was estimated to be at least 20 feet long and nearly 4,400 pounds in weight. She is also believed to be at least 50 years old.
Because researchers were able to document the different marks and scars on her body in such detail, she has provided a wealth of information into the life and habits of these fish that even shark researchers did not know, including the vast distances they travel.
In 2019, Deep Blue went instantly viral when she showed up in Hawaii on a sperm whale carcass that was being watched by researchers studying tiger sharks. Photos of the shark swimming next to scuba diver Ocean Ramsey demonstrated just how massive this white shark is to the public.
Amazingly, the large shark showed no interest in divers who watched her the next few days. However, it's a good bet the shark felt no urge to feed since it had all the food it needed from the whale carcass.
Because of protective fishing regulations, it's probably safe to say we will never know exactly how large these amazing predators can grow. Perhaps it's better that way. Because these big fish can continue to capture our imaginations on the rare occasions they are seen!
Enjoy the outdoors?
Don't miss a story! Sign up for daily stories delivered to your inbox.