Now I have retired, leaving home at 5am in the wind and rain is not something I do often but on the 27th November 2018 that’s exactly what I did. 260 miles later as I ring the doorbell, hoping I am at the right place, I glance to the right and see a SACGB Sticker on the window …. I smile, reassured.
The door opens, and I am welcomed by Dave who guides me through the hallway where brother Mike greets me warmly. With both the boys being SACGB 50+ Members, I have communicated with them before but never met them. They beckon me into the living room to meet their Mother who greets me with a wide grin and an outstretched hand. I stand back and look at her and blurt out, “you don’t look big enough to have caught that 369lbs Porbeagle”.
Yes, you have guessed correctly, I was shaking the hand of none other than Pat Smith, who has held the Ladies All Tackle British Porbeagle Shark Record, since 1970.
Dave says, “welcome to Mums shrine” and points to the walls. I see a shark, then a picture of Alan Dingles beloved Lady Betty, then I turn and see a painting of the Looe quayside with the Lady Betty in the foreground and other SACGB memorabilia filling the gaps between numerous family photographs. In front of me on the footstool is a large pile of scrapbooks with pencil drawings of sharks on the front covers, which I find out later was the work of a younger Dave.
November 2018 – Pat is still proud to wear her SACGB smock
As I sip my coffee and munch on a mince pie Pat tells me of her love for Looe. Her parents often holidayed in Looe and she recalls being told by her mother that she took her first steps in Looe. It was during a visit to Looe that she met a young man called Don, who later became her husband. Dave and Mike then recall some of their Looe childhood memories. It is clear that Looe is a very special place for the Smith family. Pat adds, “my childhood holidays in Looe were wonderful, Martin Bray and I played together as children you know”.
We move on to fishing and Pat tells me her father was a keen angler who introduced her to fishing at a young age. When her own family came along, naturally she took them fishing too. A typical Smith family Looe holiday would be two weeks with every other day being a fishing day with their favourite skipper, Alan Dingle.
Alan Dingle‘s Lady Betty
Pat says, “it was during an unusually quiet reefing trip in 1966 that Alan suggested we try for shark. We agreed and were immediately smitten. All four members of the family qualified during one week with Alan Dingle, in 1967”.
Pat and Alan enjoying a brew aboard the Lady Betty
There was a very active sharking social circle in Looe at that time with weekly SACGB members’ meeting in the Shark Bar at the Hannafore Point Hotel. Pat was great friends with Dr. N S Lorraine’s wife Joan and enjoyed the company of many others whose names you will know; Briggy, Rex Barnes, John Duxbury and Hamish Rogerson to name a few.
I point to what I consider one of the most iconic shark pictures ever, the one with her, Alan and the record shark. Tell me about this one I say. Pat continues, “until Monday the 20th July 1970, my largest shark was an 82lb blue. On that day we were fishing with Alan aboard the Lady Betty, and left Looe at 9am. Don had taken the wheel and when we reached Alan’s chosen mark, two lines with mackerel baits and a ruby-dubby bag were
put out and we started to drift. It was a slow day and a bit grey. As always, Alan was working hard trying different depths and freshening baits. Then around 1pm we got a run. I took the rod and quickly brought a small blue, somewhere close to 20lbs to the boat which we unhooked and immediately returned. The day progressed uneventfully then I saw Alan check his watch before announcing that it was 2.45pm. I knew this meant we would soon be heading back. Alan had barely finished speaking and a ratchet started to sound. Don, who had been feathering most of the day for bait, said to me, “you take that one Pat”. As the line began to leave the reel at an increasing speed, I settled into the fighting chair, put the rod in the butt socket and got ready to strike. It all happened so quickly I did not have time to put a harness on.
Immediately I struck I knew it was heavier than any shark I had hooked previously. The first run had taken 200 yards of line which I began to recover slowly then suddenly the line went slack, and I felt that sickening feeling which comes with a potential fish loss. I kept on reeling and very soon reconnected with the fish. The shark sensed the line tighten which made it run again and this time it went deep.
Alan who until now had not spoken much, said quietly, “it’s a big fish”. I remember thinking the pain in my arms agrees with you! The fish started to swim round the boat, so Alan started the engine and Don took the helm. It dived several times and each time I recovered line it would sound again. Throughout the fight Alan encouraged me, telling me how well I was doing and saying, “take it easy, there’s plenty of time”. It was a very hot day and both men were constantly mopping my brow as the sweat poured from me. Don told me later that he had watched a piece of ruby-dubby on the line and although I thought I was recovering line, it never moved for 15 minutes.
After what seemed an age and several more dives to the seabed, Alan announced that the trace was in sight and a few minutes later I managed to bring it to the gaff. I was exhausted.
The fish was too big to bring aboard so Alan made it fast to the gunwale and when I looked over the side, I could hardly believe my eyes, it was enormous.
Pats shark lashed to the boat on its way in to Looe
At this point Dave takes up the story and says,” I had just returned from holiday with my friends and had decided to catch up with Mum and Dad in Looe. When I arrived, you could feel the excitement on the quay. I made an enquiry and when I was told that there was a big shark on its way in, aboard the Lady Betty, I knew that it had to be either Mum or Dad”
Pat continues, “when we approached the Banjo Pier, we could see that it was lined three deep along its length. The entire quayside was full of people who wanted to see this fish. It was only when it was hoisted over the quay and on to the scales that I could fully appreciate its size. It dwarfed me and although I was very tired, I felt energised at the same time.” Hamish Rogerson was the weighmaster and soon announced to the crowd it was 369lbs. The shark measured 8’6” and had a girth of 4’. It was also found not to be pregnant, so she really was a big girl. When you consider Pat stands 4’11” tall or as she would say 4’11” and a “little bit”, you begin to understand what she meant when she says she felt, “very tired but energised”.
Being resident at the Portbyhan Hotel, they made their way back there and were pleasantly surprised to find that Louis and Shelia Portman had put a bottle of champagne on ice so they could have a celebratory drink. Pat says, “I don’t remember much more about that evening, but I am sure I got off to bed early. Back in those days SACGB Members would meet in the Shark Bar at the Hannafore Point Hotel once a week so on that occasion I celebrated my success more thoroughly.”
I turn to Mike for comment who says sadly, “I missed it all as I was at work”.
The shark, which beat Hetty Eathorne’s record Porbeagle by almost 100lb, was quickly recognised as the British Women’s All-Tackle Record and the British Women’s 130lb Line Test Class Record. Over 48 years later, both these records remain unbeaten.
After the appropriate verification procedures had been completed, Pat was also confirmed as the Women’s All Tackle World Record Holder plus the Men’s & Women’s 130lb Line Test Class World Record holder
The SACGB awarded Pat the Mitchell Hedges, Sammy Porbeagle, Midland (including a replica) and the Alan Caunter trophies. She was also awarded a special trophy by the SACGB to recognise her World Record achievement which is shown in the picture below.
SACGB Special Trophy to mark Pat’s World Record
In addition, Hamish Rogerson commissioned a unique hand-crafted gold brooch in recognition of Pat’s monumental achievement.
The honours didn’t stop there though. A shark of this calibre merited a Dutfield Tapestry which was awarded to Pat, although Pat had to prompt the company to send Alan Dingle his tapestry which she says he truly earned for all his hard work.
The hand-crafted brooch
In 1970 the Bacardi Rum competition was still in place but Pat missed out on the winning spot to Phil Taylor’s 370lbs Mako … short by 1lb! However, she was recognised and travelled to the Hotel Europa in London to be presented with a cheque for £92.50 (and no doubt a Bacardi or two) from Mr Daniel Bacardi.
Pat being congratulated by Mr Daniel Bacardi
Pat was also invited by the House of Hardy and became a member of the prestigious Hardy Hall of Fame which was another tremendous honour.
From the moment the shark was weighed Pat was stopped in the street in Looe by people wanting her autograph. The Cornish press, radio and TV also sought her out, such was the scale of her achievement. When she returned home the level of interest in her achievement continued with the local Leicestershire and Midland press, radio and TV all wanting to meet the lady who had caught such a large shark. Someone once said that everyone has their 15 minutes of fame and in Pat’s case this was very true; indeed, within the sharking community she continues to be respected by many who have never met her but appreciate the scale of her achievement.
By now I have finished my second cup of coffee, and another slice of cake, and although I could sit all day and listen to the Smiths’ sharking adventures, I take my last pictures and leave.
As I drive home, I remember the headline on one of the local newspaper cuttings which reported on her Porbeagle, which said, “small but brimming with vitality”. I couldn’t agree more with that reporter; even at 94 years of age, she is still brimming with vitality and her passion for sharking and the SACGB is as strong as ever.
Thanks Pat, Mike and Dave for talking to me and sharing some of your most treasured memories with us.