Local Hermanus fisherman, Bill Selkirk, caught the world’s biggest man-eating shark with a rod and reel in 1922

Bill Selkirk en sy Tamaai Haai

In April 1922, Bill caught his record man–eating shark of 2,176 lbs (967 kg) which took him five hours to land with a rod and a reel. In 1969, Coena Haman gave a vivid description of this drama to a visiting reporter of Die Burger.

bill selkirk shark“It was at 12:30 that day when the news came of sharks in the harbour. Bill and I went to Frans–se–klip (Frans’ rock), the rock in the harbour from where he caught the other sharks. We could see it at once. It was huge. Bill immediately put out the two paraffin tins with kabeljou as bait. The shark disappeared, after a while came back, took the bait and tore away with it. The bamboo rod bent under the strain while the line whirred through the reel.

“Bill was all concentration while a crowd collected. It was a titanic fight as the shark made Bill run across the rocks to the harbour. Across Piet-se-klip while man and shark were fighting each other, Selkirk had to draw on all his skills to tire out the monster and keep it from breaking the line on the reefs. The fight continued until seven that evening when he, with aching back and arms, at last had the shark on the sand. It was the largest fish to this day, caught by rod and line from the rocks. The huge shark was claimed as a world record, but this was contested because, it was said, he had used a float. According to the rules, floats were not allowed.”

The huge shark was claimed as a world record, but this was contested because, it was said, he had used a float. According to the rules, floats were not allowed.”

Selkirk Landing Fish

Today you can visit the De Wet's House Photographic Museum, inside you will find the The Selkirk Room in the fisherman's cottage is devoted to the trophies and memory of Bill Selkirk, including the jaws of his world record breaking great white shark.

Who was Bill Selkirk?
William Robertson Selkirk, who grew up in Kimberley, came to Hermanus after World War I. He became a specialist in shark catching. He opened a bait shop near the old harbour and started his pursuit of sharks. He caught the first Mako shark to be landed in Cape waters. At his bait shop, Bill was always ready when the cry “Tamaai haai!” (huge shark) was heard.

Bill lived in the house opposite the old harbour and had a telescope to watch the movement of the sharks. The local schoolboys were great friends of Selkirk. When they spotted a shark, they ran to give him the news. He gave them half a crown to take the paraffin tins and steel hooks to the water. He always had fish handy for bait. When he turned fifty in 1933, he had already caught fifty sharks—one for each year of his life.

This story was told by Coena Haman
Coena Haman who owned the Cafe Royal (now Hermanus Pharmacy) for many years, when he was a boy, used to shoot sharks from the harbour rocks. He teased them towards a paraffin tin thrown into the water, which bobbed away from the shark as it tried to grab it. When Coena returned from World War I, he went to the harbour with his gun. A strong man was standing nearby and told Coena not to shoot. “I want to catch them,” he said.

Coena said he would eat his hat if he could do that. The stranger was Bill Selkirk and shortly afterwards he caught with rod and line a shark of 445 kg. Coena was not made to eat his hat. Instead, Selkirk stood him a ginger beer.

Bill Selkirk and his catches in and around the Old Harbour, Hermanus.

B.Selkirk his Catches R 02 B.Selkirk his Catches B.Selkirk his Catches2


SJ du Toit, Esme

Photos: Hermanus Old Harbour Museum

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