SHARK COWBOYS explores the humongous effort of every-day Texans working to save the sharks of the Gulf of Mexico through a thrilling conservation tournament known as Sharkathon.
Sharkathon is an annual shark fishing tournament taking place on the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world: Padre Island National Seashore. The island is a regional treasure with a rich history of local shore fishermen.
Drawing the participation of 700 men, women, and children from across Texas, the competition results in the successful tagging and releasing of over 100 sharks annually. With 250,000 sharks being slaughtered around the world daily solely for their fins, the anglers competing in Sharkathon are instrumental in gathering research geared towards saving these apex predators.
SHARK COWBOYS begins with an introduction of our elite team of anglers competing for Men’s First Place Shark: Duke and Blayne. You cannot miss their camp when driving down the hours of undeveloped beach to mile marker 37. Duke and Blayne fish out of a retired military vehicle and base their headquarters in a huge PVC pipe and plastic dome tent. They’ve put together a support team of dedicated friends who are each assigned jobs such as catching bait, cooking or tending the campfire to ensure Duke and Blayne can focus solely on kayaking out bait and tending their reels. These close friends met in vet school at Texas A&M and their friendship was sealed when Duke, who grew up fishing on the coast, took Blayne on his first shark fishing trip to the Gulf of Mexico twenty years ago. They continue to bond over their passion for inventing better methods and instruments to successfully tag and release the largest sharks to win Sharkathon. While the two have consistently won First Place Shark over the years, no one in the tournament’s history has ever caught a 10’ shark during Sharkathon and collected the $30,000 bonus prize. Duke and Blayne are determined that this will be their year to catch the prize shark but are faced with a new challenge: the favored J hook for shark fishing has now been outlawed and a circle hook will now be used.
Valerie Gallegos learned how to fish before she could walk. It’s an annual tradition for her and her cousins, brothers, aunts and uncles to compete in Sharkathon. She is a self-professed poor sport and consistently competes against herself to improve. She recently won her first trophy fishing in Babes on the Bay, a huge all-female off-shore fishing tournament in Rockport, Texas. A stark contrast to Duke and Blayne and their found family of focused anglers, the Gallegos fish while focusing on the conservation and time spent together as a family. And at night, they party.
Valerie’s 10-year old son, Max, has inherited his mother’s passion for fishing. Over the course of the years we follow him we see him lose focus of his love of football as he gets more passionate about fishing and catching a winner for the kid’s division of Sharkathon.
Dr. Greg Stunz, Professor of Marine Biology at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, is the leading scientist researching the sharks of the Gulf of Mexico. He explains on camera how this tournament is crucial in saving sharks and our oceans by gathering research that is not yet available. Dr. Stunz relates with humor, the tragic tale of Einstein, a favorite shark the researchers had been tracking. After pinging around the Gulf for a few years Einstein suddenly made a direct line to the Mexican fishing village of Tamaulipas where he’s continued to ping for the past year in someone’s refrigerator.
Pico is a 7’ Mako shark tagged by researchers at the Harte Research Institute. He traveled from the gulf to Long Island. As we follow our anglers in the year leading up to Sharkathon 2021, we will be showing where Pico is in his journey leading up to the tournament. Will he show up for the big weekend?
Over the years that we follow our anglers we see heartbreaks, triumphs and the dangers of shark fishing. Our story begins in 2018 with Blayne making a gut-wrenching phone call to Duke’s dad breaking the news that Duke has failed to return to shore after a kayaking trip out to set bait. Duke finally shows up four hours later to the immense relief of heart-broken crew, having abandoned his sinking kayak and swimming the two miles back to shore.