“There’s a thin line between stupidity and bravery, and I walk that right in-between.”
So says “Showtime” Eric Young, who can be seen Thursday evenings wrangling both full-grown men and 14-foot-long sharks—unfortunately, not in the same place.
The dynamic professional wrestler became a pseudo-scientist of the sea when Animal Planet contacted him about doing a show that would combine his love of adrenaline with his favorite pastime: fishing. “When I got into pro wrestling, it took all my time and all my money—I was busy buying spandex pants and tall boots with all my money, rather than fishing rods. I love the outdoors, fishing, doing crazy stuff, and the show is a perfect match for me,” Young told The Daily Beast.
And “there’s probably nothing cooler in fishing than catching a shark,” Young says. We’d have to agree (especially when it’s all catch and release!). Here, Young curates his top five shark catches from the show, from using pantyhose as bait to coming face to face with a 14-foot shark.
PADDLE BOARD CATCH
“Probably the scariest shark catch for me was in the premiere episode of Season 1, catching a [lemon] shark from a paddle board. I have good balance, but it was basically the first time I had ever been on a paddle board. With most of this stuff, it’s very extreme and fringe. People in the fishing community haven’t seen half of the stuff we’re doing. You can’t really see it on the show, but under the paddle board, there were sharks everywhere. There was blood in the water, the sharks showed up, and it was pretty wild. The blood in the water is how you attract sharks—they can smell a drop of blood in the water up to two miles away. It’s an amazing process, you don’t see them—then all of a sudden there’s one, there’s another one, there’s another one—they flock toward the blood.”
“In the second episode, we used women’s pantyhose to catch sharks. You cut the fish up and you stuff it down into the pantyhose and tie it off. It’s like a fish sausage basically, so all the oil and all the blood is coming out of this thing. You can make it as big or as small as you want, and the bigger the bait, the bigger the sharks. We had boulder-size pantyhose full of fish guts. When we first got there, I laughed at the idea, but it works! It 100 percent works.
We caught a 7-foot nurse shark that day—it was massive. We brought it up to the boat and I got to lay on top of it. We put a hose in her mouth so she could breath water, to keep her healthy and strong before we released her. Laying on a shark is just crazy, their skin is like sandpaper. Whether it’s a nurse shark or a bonnet head or spinner shark or a black tip, it’s a shark. Bull sharks are the only ones you really have to look out for. We caught 10 or 12 sharks that day.
It was a nerve-racking but amazing experience.”
“We were in this rickety rowboat that looked like it was about to fall apart. We paddled about two or three miles out behind a shrimping boat. In the morning, the boat dumps their bycatch, which is all the stuff the boat catches on accident with their nets. It’s against the law to keep it, so when they dump it in the water, the sharks appear. From 10, 20, 30 years of the shrimp boats doing this, the sharks will follow these boats for miles. There could be 10, there could be 100, there could be 200 sharks behind this boat. We were on this tiny little rowboat waiting for them to dump the stuff in, and when they did we put our lines in the water and caught a bunch of sharks that day.
On my bucket list, I want as many check marks as possible. I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie in the first place; it’s what got me into pro wrestling and doing this show. When you swim with sharks, that’s the real deal.”
“We did a blue-water free-diving episode in Puerto Rico with Roberto Reyes, a world-class free diver; I think he has 11 world records. Free diving is diving without a tank, so you’re doing breath holds. It’s really hard to be able to go deep enough and stay there long enough to catch a fish. You don’t belong there, so often you scare them away.
Roberto told me there was this one spot where there’s always tiger sharks. I don’t tend to know a lot, but I know that tiger sharks are on the higher end of being very aggressive. But he’s like, ‘They’re puppy dogs, it’s no big deal!’ So we got there and we look down and we see a 6-foot reef shark. And it was crazy—probably only the second time I’ve been in the water with a shark. But the truth is, you’re always in the water with sharks. If you go into the ocean, there are sharks.
But not even 20 seconds later, we saw a huge, 14-foot shark that swam about 40 feet from us. So of course, we start swimming toward it because I wanted the underwater camera guy to shoot me in the foreground of this shark. Their eyes are on the side of their head, but I felt like it was looking right at me. We were looking at each other, and then off it went—it was super scary. Super, super scary. My heart was racing, I was 10 feet away from a 14-foot tiger shark and not a lot of people can say that.”
“We went fly-fishing for mako sharks in San Diego, we caught 10 or 12 that day, and they just look amazing in the water. They are fast and powerful and scary-looking and cool.”
DINOSAURS OF THE WATER
“In Oregon, we were with a research team and we did a competition: my boat versus these boats of scientists to see who could catch the most sharks. But it was really early in the season and we were there four days in a row and we didn’t catch any. We finally caught one on the last day and it was a 9-foot broadnose, a shark that has the fastest bite radius, which means that when you’re holding onto its tail, they can whip around and bite you twice as fast as almost any other shark. But they are like dinosaurs. They are super cool-looking. They have seven gills. Most sharks only have five. I’m not a scientist, but it was cool to research why these sharks are coming up into this bay.”
DON’T BE SCARED
“The phobia of sharks that comes from America is directly related to the movie Jaws. But I’ve learned so much about them that I have a healthy respect of sharks. The truth is, as human beings, we aren’t on the menu. They don’t want to eat us, they don’t like to eat us, even a 13-foot tiger shark wouldn’t want to eat me—I’m too big. He eats 15-, 20-pound fish. The story of Jaws was based on a bull shark, but great white sharks are scarier and more intimidating-looking, so that’s the shark that was in the movie. It’s a huge misconception, but it’s why Shark Week is so big and why I have a job making a television show about catching them. People are fascinated by them and completely petrified of them.”
Off the Hook airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m. on Animal Planet. You can also see Young in the ring on the same night during Impact wrestling on Spike TV.