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 tag and release 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 to 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 bait fishing, 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 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 catch 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 prize. Duke and Blayne are determined that this will be their year to catch this 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 off 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 a tragic tale with humor about how through tracking, they were able to see a favorite shark, Einstein, make 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 in 2015. He’s traveled from the gulf to Long Island and back. As we follow our anglers annually in the year leading up to Sharkathon 2021, we will also be showing, through animation,  where Pico is in his journey leading up the tournament. Will he show up for the big weekend? 

Over the years that we follow our anglers, we see heartbreaks and triumphs. Our story begins with Duke being lost at sea for four hours during Sharkathon 2017. When he fails to return within an hour and a half of kayaking out to set a bait, Blayne calls the coast guard and makes a sobbing call to Duke’s dad, letting it be known that Duke has failed to return to shore. After his kayak took on water and began to sink Duke abandoned the boat and made a two-mile swim back to shore, finally showing up to his heartbroken crew.

SHARK COWBOYS not only explores a cross-section of economically and ethnically diverse Texans that converge for one grueling yearly tournament, but it also focuses on conservation and the dire need for information that doesn’t currently exist. Our sharks are in trouble and 700 Texans step up annually in an attempt to help save them.

About the Filmmakers

Rachael Connelly • Director / Editor

Rachael Connelly is an award-winning Texas filmmaker and UT film graduate. She cut her teeth in Los Angeles for ten years as a video editor before returning to Austin, TX to raise her daughters, start a local branch of her editorial company, and begin directing documentaries. Her directorial debut, the documentary, “Miss Snake Charmer,” enjoyed a successful festival run and is now distributed by Gravitas Pictures and streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime.

Kevin Ray • Director / Editor
Kevin was born and raised in Cleveland, Tennessee. He studied Film and Television at Savannah College of Art and Design. Upon finishing school, Kevin moved to Los Angeles where he worked in both Commercial Editorial and Narrative films. He has since moved to Austin, Texas where he works as an Editor at Union Editorial, while also pursuing independent film projects. He directed a feature documentary called “The Great Journey” and also a narrative short, “Lawn” that played at the Austin Film Festival. He is a new dad, has a bunch of pets, and spends most of his free time being a huge nerd.

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