On August 4, 1986, the saga of the largest great white shark ever caught by rod and reel began. Frank Mundus, the legendary Montauk Captain, summed up how his wits, bravery and luck of that day were important to him by saying, “In 1986 I achieved my lifetime ambition of catching the largest fish of any kind on rod and reel with the help of some seasoned mates and an experienced angler.”
I had the opportunity to sit with Frank Mundus a few times late in his life on his Cricket II (after it was fully restored in 2007), docked at Star Island Marina in Montauk, to talk about his fishing days. Old and gruff yet amicable, Frank was over 80 years old then, but when I asked about that August day in 1986, he asked me, “Did you read my book, Fifty Years a Hooker?” I had to respond, “not yet.” He went inside the Cricket II and came out with a copy, and said, “It’s all in the book, it’s on me, read it.” He told me the 3,427-pound shark was taken by rod and reel, while “the other one,” referring to the giant white of 4,500 pounds that is in Salivar’s bar, “was caught with a harpoon and barrels just like in Jaws, the movie…but that one,” as he pointed to the replica of the 3,427-pound great white that hangs at Star Island, “ that was with a rod and reel.”
The story, as he wrote in his book, starts with a charter of men from the Advantage Food Company fishing for tuna. The group was by Jerry Rounds, a name that lives in fishing infamy because he and his party had the chance to be part of this history but, as do so many on long fishing trips, asked to be taken ashore when given the chance to take part in the great white hunt. They had been out all day and perhaps had long drives back to Jersey.
It started that day with a radio report of a nearby dead whale carcass. Mundus steered the Cricket II to the carcass and roped the fishing boat to the whale. Rounds said, “Frank, it’s almost 7 p.m. When are we going home?” But Mundus knew that he was staying for the possibility of fulfilling his life’s goal, “catching the largest fish ever on a rod and reel.” He radioed a nearby charter boat named the First Light and used it as a taxi to bring the Rounds party back to Montauk. Meanwhile, Donnie Braddick, captain of the Fish On, was also at the whale carcass with his fishing party and hooked a great white, but that white shark got away after a battle ending with the shark biting himself free. Mundus actually told Braddick that after he picked up pizzas in Montauk, he should head back out to the whale and help him catch a great white, along with his two crew members, John DiLeonardo and Ted Feurer Jr.
Braddick came back around 10-11 p.m. that night with the pizza and lashed his boat to the whale, thus freeing Cricket II. With seven white sharks at times feeding around the whale, Mundus announced that he was going to go to sleep, saying that there was no way he was going to fish for a great white in the dark. The next morning, besides actually walking about on the dead whale carcass, the men spotted the “big boy” they wanted and hand-fed him the baited hook, and then he went down. With Braddick in the chair, the fight was on. One hour and 40 minutes later when the “big boy” surfaced. “His head and body rose out of the water. He emerged almost to his dorsal fin. The shark was snapping his jaws as his head jerked from side to side, trying to bite the line.” Mundus took a gamble and threw the boat in reverse as Braddick reeled in more line, then he threw the boat into forward gear, full throttle. Then there was some more fighting with the great white. They had attached the first flying gaff with half-inch nylon rope and the shark rolled the line around him, then the crew was able to land a second flying gaff; “He [the shark] found out he couldn’t get away by trashing and rolling; now he started to pull our heavy boat in circles, spinning the Cricket II around like it was a button on an outhouse door.” By 6 p.m. they were heading home with the shark in tow behind them. They called Montauk Marine Basin so that someone [Carl Darenburg, Jr.] could go up island and get a scale large enough to weigh the monster. At 11 p.m. they were at the Montauk Basin Dock with their catch weighing 3,500 lbs., estimated less the weight of the ropes and lines at 3,427 pounds, a record.
But in Mundus’s world, nothing ever seemed to go easy, so of course the International Game Fish Association disqualified the shark because, in their words, “the whale was doing the chumming.” But as far as everyone else was concerned, the boys landed the record by almost 1,000 pounds.