Frank Mundus Shark Fisherman Montauk

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

WorldThe Biggest Game

By Tony B Burch

A few captains have had the glory of bringing a Grander to their boat. A tiny handful can claim sharks over a ton. But catching a fish over 3000lbs is a claim that only one sport fishing captain can make.

One captain and fisherman stands on a pedestal above and beyond all others. That man is Captain Frank Mundus, formerly known as the Montauk Monster Man. From the 1950s through the 80s, Capt. Mundus fished almost exclusively for giant sharks. Catches about his boat, The Cricket II, include the largest fish ever taken on rod and reel, a 3,427lb white, as well as a 1080lb mako that still stands at the 50lb class record.

Capt. Mundus has lived a life that sport fishermen today can only dream of. He has such stories as having six white sharks to the boat in one day, and seeing giant billfish sunning themselves on the surface. He had one of the most successful charter boats in history, and became the authority for shark fishing. He has made several television appearances, been the subject of three books and countless articles in nearly every major publication worldwide, and will be soon releasing his autobiography.

As sport fishermen, we know Capt. Mundus for these accomplishments, but the general public knows him for another reason and by another name. The character Quint in Peter Benchley’s book Jaws, and in the blockbuster movie that followed, was based on Frank Mundus. Although Mr. Benchley has never acknowledged the fact, there is no doubt that many of the events that took place aboard the Orca in Jaws were in fact taken from actual happenings on the Cricket II.

Over a decade before Jaws (1961 to be exact), Mundus harpooned a 3,000 lb great white in 75 feet of water, right off the bathing beach of Amagansett. The New York Daily News ran the headline: “3,000 lb Man-eater taken off the beach at Amagansett, L.I.” Capt. Mundus used barrels attached to his harpoons, used piano wire leaders, ladled chum, and had a real adversity to the boats radio just to name a few of the similarities between him and Benchley’s shark hunter.

Recently I had a chance to sit down and talk with Capt. Mundus. As a young eager fisherman, I could have listened to his stories for hours. Tales of giant whites biting the boat then ripping hundreds of yards off a reel, and other equally exciting stories poured into my ears and straight to my soul, making my heart beat a little faster. But one thought prevailed in my mind as it does in each of your minds when you read about a majestic monster of a fish, why can’t I catch one like that?

Frank would say there’s no reason why you can’t. He’s retired now and living in Hawaii. In his backyard he grows fruit trees and tends a small garden. He says he doesn’t miss the ocean or the fishing. He accomplished what no one else has, and will be immortalized in fishing lore for generations. But I managed to get him away from his pineapples long enough to pick his brain a bit for some of his secrets. If there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to catch a monster, then how in the heck do you go about doing it?

The Rules of the Game
Great white sharks are now protected in most of the world and are considered endangered due to over fishing. A targeted fishery for their teeth and jaws combined with accidental catches by long lines and gills nets have drastically diminished these top predators. However, the National Marine Fisheries Service has left fishing for them on rod and reel open for catch and release only. These giant fish must be handled carefully to ensure the safety of anyone involved, as well as the safety of the shark. A good measurement and photo can provide the angler with proof of his catch and a tagging stick makes a good substitute for a gaff.

On the other side of the table from the white shark, the marine mammals are also protected. In the years past, pilot whales were the choice for chum. Near dead whales were also prime locations to find sharks although catching them there proved as difficult as selling a lollipop to a kid who works in a candy story. Today it is illegal to approach a dead whale, or to use any marine mammal as chum or bait, even if it was dead when you found it. White sharks do stick close to and feed on whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. Fishing for a white in an area where these mammals frequent is not a problem, but the mammals must not be disturbed or harassed in any way.

Fishing is a sport and should be played that way. The fish are our opponents and must be treated fairly. In the quest for a white shark, should you run across any other sharks or large game fish, it is important to remember that these fish may be protected as well. Always release unwanted fish with as little harm done as possible. Should you catch something that you are allowed to and wish to keep, it is important to gaff the fish and prepare it properly for food or mount. For example no sport fisherman would shoot a mako several times and haul it in just for bragging rights. Mundus says, “Shooting a mako after he fought so hard to get away is like kicking someone that you already knocked down.”

The Monster Mash
In order to draw sharks to your boat, you’ve got to chum. Chumming is popular for bluefish, tuna, and all kinds of fishing. But for sharking, it’s taken to a whole new level. Chum bags, powders, and the like wont get the job done either. For calling up big sharks from the deep you’ve got to chum heavy and steady. With enough chum out there, the small ones get pushed back and the big ones move in.

Capt. Mundus brought out at least four 30lb cans of chum a day. That’s a minimum of 120lbs of chum for a days fishing. The chum has to be ladled out at a steady rate. You can’t just throw out a lot and then stop. Imagine feeding pigeons in the park. You have a handful of peanuts. If you throw out the whole handful at once the pigeons will come eat what’s there and then leave quickly. But if you throw out a few peanuts a time, pretty soon the pigeons will be eating out of your hand. It’s the same with chumming sharks to the boat.

The mash that composes chum can be made of just about whatever you have access to. Ground up fish of any kind, menhaden oil, and beef blood are common ingredients. Sharks come more readily to what is natural to them, so fish works better than beef blood. Another analogy from Frank explains this. Imagine you smell a steak cooking on a grill. You know what it is and you want to take a bite. But if you smell something that you have never smelt before, something completely foreign, then you certainly don’t want to eat it.

Other important components of chumming are audio and visual aspects. Underwater speakers, firecrackers, and rattles sometimes serve to attract large sharks. Shining lights beneath the surface at night serves two purposes. The light draws baitfish, which will draw sharks. But it also helps you to see what is down there in your chum.

Shark Stalking
Finding a great white could be like fishing for your keys that you just dropped overboard in 100ft of water. But if you sit in the same place long enough and keep trying, eventually you will get one. White sharks travel all over the world, swimming far offshore or right along the beach. The only rhythm they follow may be that of the marine mammals that they feed on. Find the migratory path for these animals and you find the hot spot for whites.

Frank Mundus found his honey hole off the New York coast when the pilot whales came through. On the west coast of the US, whites come around during the sea lion calving season. In South Africa and Australia, big whites seem to pay regular visits or even have permanent residence. But these lone hunters swim all around the globe. They’ve been spotted in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Alaska, England, and even rarely in the Gulf of Mexico. Just find your favorite spot, fish it hard as often as possible, and eventually a white will come around.

R and R, Doesn’t Mean Rest and Relaxation
When choosing the weapon to battle a monster shark, there’s not that many in the arsenal to choose from. You’re going to need a big outfit, 130-class rod and a reel to match. The rod is going to have to be a big tall stiff rod, about a 7-footer, with Aftco Big Foot roller guides and a metal butt. The reel is going to have to hold at least 750-yards of 130lb test and have a superior drag system. You can also bet on sitting down for the fight. Not even a professional wrestler can stand up with a 130class rod. A good fighting chair, including back support and a footrest, will be also needed.

Line is another critical aspect of sharking as in any type of fishing. After all it’s the only thing between you and the fish. For a white, 130 lb test is a definite, going higher than that could result in busted tackle or angler. Mono is the best option among line now. Its tough and its cheap. Cost of line is a big factor when filling up a large reel. Dacron could cost you 100 bucks, and then you might lose 300yards to a break off. Mono costs much less and can be bought in large bulk spools. Changing line or removing the frayed portions will be necessary after every encounter with a big shark.

The small diameter super braid lines are changing the world of big game fishing. Giant tuna and billfish are being caught on light rigs spooled with the super braids. As of yet, no one has tried any really large sharks on super braids, but it may be possible. But it is still doubtful that a great white shark will be caught on anything less than extra heavy-duty tackle. When I asked if he thought a white could be taken on stand-up tackle, Mundus said, “An 800-pounder sure, a grander maybe, a 3000-pounder . . .ha ha ha.

Terminal Tackle
Everyone knows that to catch a shark you’ve got to have some type of metal leader. It can be either wire or cable. The wire can be double, tripled, or even quintupled. The cable can be plastic coated or not, or in any size from millimetres to an inch. The wire can be twisted in any number of ways for attaching to hooks or swivels. The cable uses connector sleeves that are crimped down. Which one is better: wire or cable? I asked Capt. Mundus and he said, “Don’t make a damn bit of difference.” I waited for Frank to decide that one was better than the other, but he never did. “If the wire or the cable gets in the back corner of a great whites jaws, he will bite through it. It doesn’t matter to the shark which one you use, so it’s up to the anglers preference.”

At one end of a 25ft leader, a large swivel or snap swivel, at least 500lb test, will be needed. Also a loop should be left on this end of the leader for clipping a rope to when the fish is beside the boat. For a hook on the opposite end, only two types will do: circle hooks or Japanese long lining style. Both these hooks are essential for catch and release because they will snag in the corner of the jaw and eliminate gut hooks. Huge meat hooks are not needed to catch a white shark. Even a large circle hook can be held in the palm of your hand and never more than two hooks are needed. Adding weights or floats to the leader is again optional and based on the individual anglers preference.

Fish Food
Contrary to popular belief a female swimmer is not the best bait for a great white shark. In fact the same rule for chum applies for bait. Whatever you use has to be a natural food source for the sharks in that area. The key to bait is that it must be FRESH. If you wouldn’t eat it, then chances are a white shark won’t either. Also variety is important, have several different baits rigged and ready for when the big guy makes his appearance in the chum.

What fishermen find appealing is not always appetizing to the fish. We may buy the prettiest most expensive lure and never get a bite on it. In this case we may spend an hour rigging up a perfect bait to present to a white, only to have him ignore it. That’s why you must have several different baits such as shark fillets, tunas, live mackerel, squid, stingrays, or whatever else is available. When rigging bait it is not important to try and hide or bury the hook, if the hook is buried in the bait it will not set well. The hook should be attached to the bait but not embedded in it.

Attacking the Shark
It may take some teasing to get a white to take a bait, but once he does then the long awaited battle has begun. Often enough it will end seconds afterwards, with a bitten leader or tail whipped line. But if luck is on your side, then you’ll be in for at least an hour-long battle. In this critical time the skipper must keep the boat following the fish and clear of the line. The shark may roll up in the leader, but there should be enough wire or cable for that. When the loop end of the leader clears the water, the mate should clip to it with a rope that is attached to some type of winch or pulling system.

With a giant white shark along side the boat, adrenaline would be coursing through anyone’s veins. With no gaffs being used the boat side saga will be short. Everyone must remain calm and do their part.

When your big fish is brought up alongside the boat, the man at the wheel should remember to turn the boats rudder—hard to the right if the fish come up on the right side, and hard to the left if the shark appears on the left. With the rudder turned hard over and the boats motor going ahead at idling speed, your big fish will come up and lie against the boats side with the stern heading away from him at the same time that the bow is doing the same. This way, he’ll continue to swim ahead at a slow speed and never know what happened. Someone gets a tag in and takes a photo and then the mate quickly snips the leader. Two good hands will be needed to pull the rope onto the winch, one to steer the boat, the angler, and a possible extra hand undertakes the tagging and photographing. Going after a white is not a task that can be done alone or even in a pair.



Calling Captain Quint, for Another Summer of the Shark


It’s hard to believe that it has been 30 years since Captain Quint, the nut-case shark hunter played by Robert Shaw in "Jaws," made one of the most magnificent movie exits ever, sliding feet first and screaming down the gullet of a monster great white.

No such indignity, thankfully, ever befell Frank Mundus, the old Montauk shark fisherman who was the inspiration for the character. Far from it – Mr. Mundus retired quietly 16 years ago to a house in the woods on the Big Island of Hawaii, 2,000 feet above shark level. He and his wife, Jeanette, tend a grove of orange trees, a few sheep and a wild boar named Arnold. He is pushing 80, but apart from a few medical annoyances ("bypass, aneurysm – the usual," the crusty Mr. Mundus said on the phone the other day), he is fit and ready for action.

In other words, grab your chum buckets – Frank Mundus is coming back. He is heading to Montauk this summer to cash in on the 30th anniversary of "Jaws" with daily shark-fishing charters in June and July on his old boat, the Cricket II, and a shark-fishing tournament after that.

Media feeding patterns being what they are, the East End promises to be Shark Central by then, and Mr. Mundus, who pioneered the artless sport of shark fishing in the 1950’s, plans to be in the thick of it. You can be, too, but it won’t be cheap: a day with Mr. Mundus runs $1,800 for a party of five.

Mr. Mundus is no Robert Shaw, whose portrayal of Quint – slayer of fish, crusher of beer cans, master of the manly art of obsessive self-destruction – was one of the best things about "Jaws." But by most accounts, his own included, Mr. Mundus is a wily self-promoter. His Web site,, plugs books about him, including his autobiography, "Fifty Years a Hooker"; Gatorade ("Gatorade Gets Me Going: Look Out, Sharks, Here I Come"); and signed 8-by-10’s of a 3,427-pound great white caught from his boat in September 1986.

That shark, and a bigger one he harpooned in 1964, made his reputation. "Jaws" didn’t hurt, though it did kill his monopoly in the shark-charter business. Before Mr. Mundus, nobody in Montauk caught sharks on purpose. But years ago, with swordfish and marlin scarce and white whales out of the question, he tried what he calls "a Barnum & Bailey trick": he put up a sign by his boat that said "Monster Fishing." Fishermen were hooked.

This is how you fish for sharks: you scatter bloody fish parts into the water and wait. If you wait by a dead whale, as Mr. Mundus did in 1986, you may catch something really big. It’s about as complicated as staking out a fire hydrant for a dog. It can be boring, as Mr. Mundus explained while describing a complicated game he invented to make catching sharks more challenging. It involves three fishermen, ropes and nooses, and sounds cruel, though not necessarily crueler than a harpoon.

Mr. Mundus, in fact, sounds a little like a conservationist these days. Not everyone recognizes how badly sharks have been overfished and underloved – victims of Asia’s hunger for shark-fin soup and sport fishermen’s yearning for a shark-slaying testosterone fix. Mr. Mundus swears by the use of circle hooks, which catch in the jaw, not the gut, increasing a hooked shark’s chances of survival. He helped start a shark-tagging program and supports catch-and-release fishing. For someone who once made a living demonizing sharks, he seems sensible, almost compassionate, about them now.

So even though Mr. Mundus has killed a lot of sharks and is looking to torment some more, it’s hard to begrudge him one more chance to feed at this movie’s blockbuster carcass. He will be working 11-hour shifts for weeks on end, jawboning about the old days and how he caught his monsters, and why "Jaws" is full of stupid inaccuracies – it’s enough to make you feel sorry for the guy, not to mention his captive customers.

The return of Mr. Mundus, I’ll admit, also makes me feel a little nostalgic for the traumatic summer of 1975, when Steven Spielberg and his scary movie emptied the nation’s beaches and led Bob Hope to joke about moving to Kansas City and posting a guard by his waterbed. Sharks are fun to worry about, as you may remember from 2001, when a sleepy, news-free summer was jolted to life by a shark frenzy in the media. It was pointless, hysterical and heedless of the suffering of the few real victims, but it was better than Gary Condit. Then came September, and that was the end of that.

Terror was so much simpler then. If prickly old Mr. Mundus on the Cricket II can revive memories of a shivery time while spreading the word about circle hooks and making a few bucks, he should do so – with best wishes from all of us on shore.

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