Montauk is the fishing capital of the world, and though it holds more world fishing records than any other port, that is not the only reason for its fame. It’s fame is also based on the fact that in 1986, a man named Captain Frank Mundus brought in the largest fish ever caught by rod and reel. The record Captain Mundus was aiming to beat was held by a fishermen in South Australia who reeled in a 2,664 pound killer white shark on April 21, 1959. Killer sharks are thought to be the largest fish it’s possible to catch on rod and reel. Whales are larger. But no whale is going to be killed by a hook and line.
It was around 1951 that Mundus, his wife and fishing boat Cricket II moved to Montauk pursue shark fishing. Mundus bought a boat slip in Montauk Harbor. He put a giant sign high in the air over the slip which read MONSTER FISHING. For years and years, he chartered out his boat to sport fishermen almost every day during the fishing season just before dawn looking for the great white.
What the rest of this story is about is the day in 1986 he found that fish and broke that record. And it is also about how something I wrote in Dan’s Papers that week caused its disqualification from the record books. I found this out four days ago researching this story. And I was shocked by it. I had no idea that what I wrote in Dan’s Papers that week had been the cause. Nobody ever blamed me for it. No one even told me about it, not even Frank, who I knew until the year he died in 2008. Frank always said he was denied the record by the International Game Fish Association on a technicality. He never said who was to blame. He certainly never said I was to blame. I had only written what he had told me.
In early August 1986, Captain Mundus piloted his Cricket II charter boat 30 miles to the south of Montauk. Aboard were three men who had chartered the ship. They were looking for shark of course, but not any killer Great White. Killer Great Whites are very rarely seen. There are sharks that weigh in the hundreds of pounds all over the place out there.
The men fished all night way off shore, and the next day were heading back to Montauk, when, about halfway back they came upon a giant dead whale floating in the sea, which Mundus knew would attract Great Whites. Near by to the dead whale was another charter boat from Montauk called the Fish On, captained by Donnie Braddick. Captain Mundus and Braddick motored over to get close enough to discuss things.
These are the great whites I’ve been looking for, Mundus said. I’d like to hook one.
I’m not equipped for giant shark, Braddick told him.
I am, Mundus said.
As Mundus recounted, the fishermen aboard his boat were asked if they’d like to stay and try to catch one of the man eaters. All the fishermen on Mundus’ boat said they’d like to go back to shore so Mundus flagged down a private boat to take them home.
Captain Braddick asked his fishermen, but they wanted to go home too. Captain Braddick motored them back to shore. And then he and his mate came back to the dead whale—it was four hours later—and Mundus and Braddick and their two mates lashed their two boats together to make the effort.
It was two in the afternoon. Mundus told me later what happened next and that is what I put in my article in the newspaper when I met him back on shore the next morning. The article was called THE FULL STORY. I took pictures of this Great White, dead, all 17 feet of him, lying on the dock in Montauk. And I wrote, among other things, the following sentences.
“The monster took the hook around 4:30 in the afternoon with Mundus in the chair. Mundus immediately got up, Braddick sat down and the fight was on.”
Mundus also told me he expected the fight might last eight-plus hours and at 60 years of age, he was uncertain he could last that long taking the fish alone. He knew the IGFA needed to have one fish, one fisherman and a fishing line appropriate for the fight. So that’s why he turned the seat over to Braddick. Braddick fought the beast with 150 pound test line.
As the fight proceeded, with Braddick using 150 pound test line, reeling the fish in and then letting him out, Mundus called on the ship to shore to Carl Darenberg, Jr. at the Montauk Marine Basin, the largest fishing station in Montauk and the only one possessing a giant crane.
“We have a Great White shark that we’re estimating is over 2,000 pounds,” Mundus told him. “We are getting our gear together now and working him. How late will you stay open?”
Carl said he’d wait up all night if necessary. Keep him informed.
As the sun set, the Great White continued to fight. The men brought the fish alongside and tied ropes around him, as he thrashed about. After another hour, the thrashing stopped.
They had done it. This was going to be very near the world record. In fact, Mundus thought, this was well over 3,000 pounds. Twenty years earlier, Mundus had gone out with harpoons and rifles and killed a Great White weighing about that. It had taken him 12 hours to tow in with the shark alongside. Was this one even larger than that one? He remembered how far that earlier fish’s tail stuck out the back of the Cricket II after he lashed it to the side. And so, now, after untying the Fish On and having the mates take her in, Mundus and Braddick began their long slow journey home.
Montauk was then and is today a fishing town. Carl Darenberg, Jr. did not keep what he had heard about over the ship to shore to himself. People began to gather out at the dock where the winch was. And Darenberg would give updates. They were now 20 miles out, now 15.
The Cricket II came through the jetties at about five knots at 11:30 p.m. More than a thousand people from the town were out at the dock by that time and, as searchlights played along the side of the Cricket II, they could hardly believe their eyes. The fish was creamy white. It’s mouth hung open, its tongue hanging out, its sharp jagged teeth exposed.
Of course, the first order of business would be to weigh the shark. Spotlights and car headlights were beamed out to the scene. The crowd was kept back. The steel crane was extended out over the boat and steel cable wrapped around the fish. Then the crane began to lift it. The crowd began to cheer the Marine Basin. “Go, go, go,” they shouted. But the fish, lifted by its tail to as high as the boom would go, still left the head end of the fish underwater.
They eventually decided to use a cargo net to lift the fish, the sort you might use to bring boxes from a dock aboard a freighter. Just after midnight, it was placed under the fish and the crane, using four heavy ropes attached to each of the corners of the net, brought it up.
What an incredible sight it was. It was swung over to a scale and set down. The scale went up to its maximum of 3,500 pounds. It hovered at that. This fish, along with its 73 pound cargo net, weighed almost exactly that. So the fish weight was calculated as 3,500 pounds minus 73, or 3,427 pounds—breaking the old record by nearly half again.
My interview with Mundus came on that Wednesday. Newspaper and TV people from all over the country were there. (A two minute clip by a TV newsman at News 55 is online and you can see the crowd and of course the fish, which, at one point, the newsman crouches down next to.) Mundus was asked why he had Braddick fight the fish.
“I had to have an idiot in the chair. I ain’t going to handle that idiot stick. I’m no spring chicken.”
He also said that as a charter fisherman, he was obliged to let others bring the fish in.
“If I did fight the fish, it would look awfully shady. We invented the game.”
He had indeed invented the game of shark fishing, charging $1000 a day or more to give thrills to enthusiastic visitors.
The fish stayed on the dock all that day and the next. Finally the head was cut off and sent out to a taxidermist. The body also was gutted, Mundus would keep the backbone. And maybe the tail.
And Mundus had another story to tell, the story about a phone call he got on Thursday.
“I have been answering the phone all day,” he said. “As soon as I put it down it rings again. Then I get this call from a guy who said he wanted the carcass. I said to the guy ‘you mean you want the head for a mount?’ and the guy says ‘no, I want the whole fish.’ ‘What you gonna do with the carcass’ I ask, and he says he has some chemicals to preserve it. He said he was from a lure company. He said he would give me $25,000 for it. I jumped in the truck and rushed down here and there was the head in one spot and the tail in another and nothing in between. So much for $25,000, easy come, easy go.”
The record from South Australia remains to this day.
So here it is 2012, and I am researching articles written about this extraordinary fish and I read a lot, even read THE WHOLE STORY, which I find in the archives.
And there it is. “Mundus immediately got up, Braddick sat down and the fight was on.”
Here is what fishing writer Lou Russo recently wrote in his account about what I had written.
“This (incident reported in Dan’s Papers) was the likely reason that the IGFA did not approve the record,” he wrote. “A record 547 kg shortfin mako catch by Jody Daniels on the Hustler captioned by Glen Hodson on March 2, 1990 was disqualified for the same reason.”
I told this story to a friend this morning.
“So you’re the guy who should kill himself?” was the reply.
Well, yes. Montauk should have had one more, the very biggest one more world record. But it didn’t. I should have not written what I did. But then I just didn’t know better.