"It was a beast, the scariest thing I've ever seen in my life," said Johnston. "Anything you drop in the water, this thing would have eaten."
It was a shortfin mako shark described as a "nightmare" by the 40-year-old Texan.
Johnston was among a group of fishermen aboard a sport fishing charter boat out of Huntington Harbour. They were being filmed as part of a reality show on the Outdoor Channel. It took two and a half hours to reel in the huge shark. Johnston said it came out of the water 25 feet five times.
"If I were to slip, I would have been at the bottom of the ocean," said Johnston.
Once ashore, its sheer size was clear: 12 feet long, 8 feet around. The International Game Fish Association still has to approve the catch, but a certified weigh master called it a world record at 1,323 pounds.
Officials say the previous world record for a shortfin mako shark is 1,221 pounds. It was caught in 2001 off the coast of Chatham, Mass. This catch shatters the record by more than 100 pounds.
But the catch is drawing criticism from some activists who wish the animal had been released back into the ocean.
Biologist Kady Lyons, who works in the shark lab at California State University, Long Beach, says it is difficult to watch such an impressive animal being taken from the sea.
"For animals though that have fairly low populations that we're not really sure on their stability makes it a little difficult, in my opinion at least, to justify or support something like that," said Lyons.
The boat's captain says the fishermen abided all fishing laws and it's not hurting the shark's population since few are removed.
Johnston says the fish will be donated to feed homeless people. His adventure will air at a later date on Outdoor Channel. While the guys took off for another day of fishing, Johnston took it easy.
"It's nice. I don't want to do it again. My legs hurt, my shoulders hurt, every muscle in your body hurts," said Johnston. "My shark fishing career is officially over. I'm going to be an observer today on the boat."