Many Anglers Journal readers first learned about Capt. Steve Quinlan in the Spring 2017 issue and my feature “Monster Man.” I was shocked to learn that he recently died unexpectedly of natural causes at his Long Beach, California, home, leaving behind his wife of 36 years, Patrice, and a fishing community full of friends. Steve was 62 years old and at the top of his game, which made his death even more of a gut-punch for those close to him.
I heard the news just a few days after Steve, who was a charter skipper, texted me photos and video of a big, fat female mako that a friend of his from Texas landed on Father’s Day. Jimmy had come out with his teenage son and 30-year-old daughter in search of the “fish of a lifetime.” Steve had concerns about turning a serious mako hunt into a family affair, but it all worked out. After a four-plus-hour battle, he and a deckhand photographed, recorded and cleanly released a likely pregnant mako that taped out at 11 feet and weighed an estimated 1,100 pounds. Her body was shaped more like a football than a shark in the images Steve texted.
Steve had soured on the charter business, but he was still passionate about catching and releasing big makos. During the past decade, he had built up a successful business taking out conservation-minded anglers who were equally passionate about doing battle with these amazing apex predators. Of course, there were customers who claimed to be OK with the catch-and-release ethic, only to resort to begging, bribery, even threats in attempts to convince him otherwise once the moment of truth arrived. Steve always stuck to his guns.
Steve won several big-money mako kill tournaments and was featured on the TV reality shows Shark Hunters and Shark Hunters East vs. West. One mako in particular, however, changed the trajectory of his angling life and made him a proponent of catch-and-release fishing for large sharks. Steve’s heaviest mako was an 1,175-pounder he caught in 2007 that was 50 pounds shy of the IGFA World Record. It was the last big shark he would kill.
The mako wasn’t caught during a tournament or a charter. Steve had taken out some business acquaintances so they could experience Southern California’s mako fishery. During the course of an all-night battle, Steve allowed himself to be browbeaten into taking that fish, and he was never the same. Although the meat was donated to the Long Beach Rescue Mission and Steve himself cooked and served a gourmet dinner for the needy and homeless, it left a bad taste in his mouth. Taking the shark, followed by a protracted legal battle over the possession of its jaws, changed his mind about harvesting large, broodstock makos.
Steve earned a captain’s license and focused on catch-and-release charter trips targeting the biggest makos in the Southern California area. During a 12-year span, he guided customers to several fish estimated to be larger than the 1,175-pounder. He perfected his technique of sight-fishing for giant makos, fighting them as the crew worked as a team and safely removing the hook or cutting the leader at the fish. He was so good at it that there came a point when a 700-pounder was considered the minimum for a “decent” trip.
Steve lived for catching granders — fish in the 1,000-pound-or-larger category — and he got plenty of them, including that final trip. I take some comfort knowing he went out on a high note.
Steve’s friends and family plan to gather in September to commit his ashes to the sea, a most fitting farewell.