25 January 2011

great white

me with the great white caught in Montauk, 1986
if you watch the video at the bottom you'll see my cousin and I at 1:55
ABOARD THE CRICKET II OFF MONTAUK, N.Y. — The sun was high and the ocean flat; only the flies were biting. The biggest thing the Monster Man had reeled in all morning was an egg sandwich from his cooler and a couple of landlubbers to listen to his shark-hunting stories.
      Suddenly, one of the poles set in holders off the side of the white 42-foot fishing boat doubled over as something strong down there pulled the line out fast.
The reel screamed and so did the Monster Man: Frank Mundus, 81, the legendary Montauk fisherman who is widely recognized as the inspiration for the movie “Jaws,” and its memorable grizzled shark hunter, Quint.
            “Somebody take the pole,” Mr. Mundus barked. Somebody did, and soon a nine-foot thresher shark was splashing off the stern. Its long narrow tail slashed through the water and smacked Mr. Mundus on the shoulder, sending him reeling backward.
But the Monster Man struck back, planting his large gaff — a giant fish hook on a pole — through the shark’s back and hauling it into the boat. As the decks ran scarlet with the blood of the flopping 150-pound shark, Mr. Mundus seemed happy for the first time all morning.
Yes, Frank Mundus, who officially retired more than a decade ago, still has a taste for shark blood, and has not lost the knack for hooking what he calls monsters of the deep.
In the 1990s, Mr. Mundus sold the Cricket II and retired to Hawaii, where he tends a small farm. He was persuaded to return to Montauk this summer by Sean and Brooks Paxton, brothers from Florida who are shark enthusiasts and are in discussions with New Line Television productions.
            They want to make a reality show out of a summer with Monster Man aboard the Cricket II, which was in dry dock in a North Carolina boatyard.
“Frank is great entertainment, and we think it could make a compelling show,” said Jim Rosenthal, president of New Line. “All three of them are larger-than-life characters, and it’s a cool story, from Frank’s history to them getting the boat back and on and on.”
The three men are not exactly living like television stars. They take out daily charters and sleep aboard the Cricket, with its lumpy cushions and cramped quarters, surviving off sandwiches packed in ice in a small cooler. Once Mr. Mundus returns to Hawaii next month, the brothers plan on turning the boat into a shark-research center, from which they can preach responsible fishing and conservation.
“When we tell people this is the real-life ‘Jaws’ boat and Frank’s the real-life Captain Quint, they’re very interested,” said Sean Paxton, 41.
One recent morning, as the Cricket II stopped 11 miles south of Montauk Point, Capt. Tom Huffman (Mr. Mundus let his captain’s license expire) called to his 16-year-old son, Tommy, “Start chumming.”
           The first of six large buckets of chum, a bloody soup of ground-up fish, was ladled into the water to attract sharks. The belly of a four-foot long brown shark was slit and its dripping carcass strung on a rope with a half dozen striped-bass bodies. The rope lowered into the water.
Soon there was a mile-long slick of meat, blood and oil — Mr. Mundus calls his special mixture monster mash — whose smell in the water attracts sharks. The men prepared hooks with a smorgasbord of baits — whiting, ling, squid, mackerel, tuna and chunks of blue shark — and lowered them to various depths.
           Mr. Mundus’s stories are as incessant as the lapping of the waves, most circling back to “Jaws” and how in the 1960s he repeatedly took out the author Peter Benchley, who loved the way Mr. Mundus harpooned huge sharks with lines attached to barrels to track the shark while it ran to exhaustion.
He said Mr. Benchley was also fascinated with the 3,000-pound great white the Monster Man harpooned off the bathing beaches of Amagansett, N.Y. in June, 1961, sparking fear along the shore. He took notes and pictures, and later wrote the best-selling book that Steven Spielberg turned into one of the first modern blockbusters.
Mr. Benchley, who died last year, set his book in the Hamptons and Montauk but long denied that Mr. Mundus was an inspiration.
“If he just would have thanked me, my business would have increased,” Mr. Mundus said, clearly still irked. “Everything he wrote was true, except I didn’t get eaten by the big shark. I dragged him in.”
          Mr. Mundus wears a gold hoop earring in his left ear and a shark tooth on a gold chain around his neck, taken from a 3,427-pound great white he caught in 1986, the heaviest fish of any kind ever taken on rod and reel. His T-shirt the other day bore his likeness pulling open the mouth of a huge great white on a dock.
Little has changed on the Cricket II, where all these huge sharks were landed. Only there are few if any monsters for Mr. Mundus to catch. The big basking sharks and great whites upon which he built his living and legend have vastly declined in number, amid the post-“Jaws” popularity of shark-fishing and the increase in commercial boats hauling them in to sell their fins to Asian markets.
            There is also a ban now on killing the several-ton pilot whales that Mr. Mundus used to tie onto the boat to attract sharks.
              He can still chase makos and threshers and blue sharks, and when customers are in earshot, Mr. Mundus still calls this good sport, though privately he dismisses it as child’s play. Today, shark tournaments can be won by a 300-pounder, a puppy in Mr. Mundus’s heyday.
So now this man long hated by conservationists is talking like one. He sounds less like Quint these days than the eco-minded shark sympathizer “Jaws” character of Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfuss.
           Mr. Mundus said he was an early proponent of shark-tagging programs, catch-and-release shark fishing, and the use of special circular hooks that catch a shark in the jaw rather than the gut, increasing its chances of survival upon release.
         As if to prove the point, Sean Paxton caught two blue sharks after the thresher was caught, only to tag and release them.
Back at the dock at the Star Island Yacht Club, onlookers beseeched Mr. Mundus for autographs, and one, Cris Kiszka, asked — again — to buy the fish-fighting chair bolted to the deck of the Cricket II.
         Mr. Kiszka, who lives in Middletown, N.Y., claims to have the world’s largest “Jaws” memorabilia collection. Mr. Mundus shooed him away, and someone asked the old shark hunter how the fishing was.
“We got a few bites,” he responded. “Of course, on a real shark trip, you lose count.”

Doug Kuntz for The New York Times

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