The captivating emergence of a thresher shark, its powerful tail slicing through the water’s surface, left a lasting impression on Greg Vespe, the former executive director of the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association. Vespe’s fascination with these awe-inspiring creatures was evident as he recounted his recent encounter with a thresher shark off the coast of Newport.
For Vespe, this marked the second thresher shark he had successfully reeled in this year using his personally crafted 19-foot center console boat. Hailing from Tiverton, he had similarly caught a couple of threshers the previous year, including an impressive specimen measuring 11 feet, 4 inches in length and weighing 325 pounds.
“These creatures possess a majestic beauty,” Vespe mused, emphasizing their uniqueness. “Unlike other sharks that tend to approach fishing boats, threshers rarely surface nearby. To truly witness their magnificence up close, one must experience the thrill of catching one. Every encounter is distinct.” He elaborated on his most recent catch, describing how the shark initially remained submerged, only to burst from the depths, soaring dramatically above the water’s expanse.
Last summer, during a fishing expedition southeast of Newport, Vespe and his companions, Dave Dube, Phil Duckett Jr., and Todd Corayer, managed to reel in an impressive 11-foot, 4-inch thresher shark.
Vespe’s accomplishments were rooted in his favored angling locale: the waters off Newport’s southeastern reaches and the mouth of the Sakonnet River, both offering an exquisite view of the shoreline.
Commending the crew’s adeptness, Vespe attributed their success to the collective effort. “My father, Ric Vespe, steered the ship, while my son, Shawn Hayes Costello, and cousin Stephano Leoni from Italy manned the reel. Their combined expertise was instrumental.”
Undoubtedly, angling for sharks entails inherent risks, a fact Vespe was keen to acknowledge. Reflecting on the potential dangers, he remarked, “Caution is imperative due to the inherent bite risk associated with sharks. Yet, one must remain vigilant regarding the thresher’s unique weapon: its tail, often referred to as a whiptail. It serves as a tool to incapacitate prey. The tail’s force was evident when our recent catch struck the boat’s engine housing. A more forceful swing could have spelled danger for anyone on the stern.”
Vespe also shared a couple of pointers for aspiring thresher anglers. “I’ve found that smaller baits, around 1 to 2 pounds, work best. Butterflied mackerel and jumbo squid have yielded positive results. Additionally, I tend to employ less chumming compared to conventional methods. Threshers don’t seem to be drawn in by chum; they rely more on locating the bait themselves.”
An intriguing facet of Vespe’s story is the culinary appeal of thresher sharks. Drawing a savory parallel, he revealed, “Thresher meat bears a striking resemblance to swordfish and is equally delectable. Needless to say, my family enjoys sumptuous meals when we decide to keep a thresher.”
Unlike many overfished shark species, thresher sharks boast a different status. The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) attests to the sustainability of U.S. wild-caught Atlantic common thresher sharks, lauding their responsible management and harvest within U.S. regulations.