Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A surprising catch!

Few people were more disappointed by the level of shark fishing this summer thank Frank Mundus, the renowned "Monster Man" who spent the last six weeks fishing his old boat out of Montauk. Certainly no one felt more personally responsible for it than Mundus.The skipper and famed shark hunter, who was the inspiration for the character Quint in the book and movie "Jaws", returned home to Hawaii this week after what was supposed to be a celebration return to Long Island tied to the film's 30th anniversary and a way to advocate catch-and-release fishing.

Instead, what he saw on the water was a disturbing lack of shark life. There were week-long stretches when the Cricket II (which looks shockingly similar to the Orca from the movie) didn't see a single shark, and the entire month of June was a virtual bust. Except for a few threshers and makos in mid-July and a pesky blue shark Mundus said he caught several times - the number of hooks in its mouth kept increasing - the water was desolate of sharks."It was horrible," he said. "They're scarce.

But I told them years ago it was going to happen and they didn't listen to me."Mundus practically invented sportfishing for sharks in the 1950s, marketing "Monster Fishing" trips out of Montauk. By the time the movie "Jaws" was released he'd been doing it for 20 years and had perfected his technique. In 1986, he and Don Braddick caught a 3,427-pound Great White shark off the coast of Montauk, the heaviest fish of any kind ever taken on rod and reel (it was denied an IGFA world record due to a technicality).

But around that same time, a spike in sharkfishing popularity led to a marked decrease in the number of fish. Mundus tried to develop ways to save the sharks, beginning a tagging program and pushing catch-and-release fishing, but it was too late. Between recreational anglers looking for the thrill of catching a fish the size of a small car and commercial boats harvesting the sharks for their fins (a delicacy in Asia), numbers dwindled.Shark tournaments these days are typically won by fish in the 300-pound range.

Mundus said back in the day, if a shark wasn't 500 pounds no one noticed.He makes the calculations that if 100 boats sail from a port, say Montauk, and on a good day each catches 10 sharks, that's 1,000 dead fish in a single day from a single port. Extrapolate the math over a summer, over a decade of summers, and it's no wonder why there are no great sharks to catch.This summer's charters with Mundus were billed as his last fishing trips, and people forked over $1,800 for a day on the water with him.

The gruff old angler is turning 80 this year, barely nimble enough to work the deck of a boat. But there is a chance Mundus could return next summer with an added surprise. He's talking to producers about the possibility of starring in a realty TV show."Wouldn't that be good, to have the cameras with all these people jumping and dancing around me?" Mundus said with a laugh. Nice triesTwo cautionary tales this month about anglers who caught huge fish but failed to cash in during tournaments.

First, a Virginia angler reeled in an 873-pound bluefin tuna on July 9 to exceed the Delaware state record by more than 500 pounds, according to The Associated Press. It was caught during the annual Delaware Open Tuna Trolling Tournament, but the boat, the Captain Ike II, was on an overnight shark-fishing trip when the tuna hit and wasn't registered in the tournament. Then, last weekend, anglers caught an 1,100-pound tiger shark fishing out of Martha's Vineyard but failed to win their tournament because they were fishing 70 miles offshore and returned to the dock six minutes past the entry deadline. It certainly wasn't too little, just too late.

Tight linesCapt. Bruce Cash of the Port Jeff Ace and Prowler said he's seeing signs that the porgy fishing in his area is about to explode ... The Montauk Grand Slam Tournament which features prizes for fluke, bluefish, striped bass and sea bass, will be held Aug. 27 and 28. For info visit www.montaukgrandslam.org.


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