When I last spoke to Frank Mundus the evening of July 17, 2007, the setting sunlight only highlighted the weathered look of the now deceased veteran seaman.
The 80-plus years had a cost but yet aboard his restored fishing boat that evening he smiled and joked of times and days long gone. As he sat on his boat, The Crickett II, docked at the Star Island Marina in Montauk, Frank Mundus was still at it. He was even then still chasing the idea of catching the next great white. The man who inspired the movie Jaws was once again living on the Cricket II as he did back in 1951 when he first arrived in Montauk with his wife and first daughter. “I‘d leave them (wife and baby daughter) at the dock when I’d go out in the morning,” said Frank of his first days living in Montauk (after moving from New Jersey) on the Cricket II. “Finally I rented a small house for a hundred dollars a month.” After three great fishing years in 1988, 1989, 1990 Frank sold everything and moved out of Montauk. Then after living in Hawaii for fifteen years Mundus returned to the South Shore.
He had partnered with Sean and Brooks Paxton II to restore the Cricket II in order to take out small parties to fish and to film. They were planning to launch a TV fishing show featuring Frank to be filmed on the Cricket II at sea off Montauk. The boat also had a nice story to it. In 1946 Frank went down to the Virginia side of the Chesapeake Bay to pick up his new custom made fishing boat Cricket II. He drove a $25 Model A Ford that was twenty something years old all the way from the Jersey shore to Virginia. There he paid $10,000 for the custom made Cricket II, but then Frank had a dilemma, what to do with the car. “I put the car in the well of the boat and motored the boat to Jersey,” he said proudly, adding, “Hell, the car cost $25 so I had to take it with me. When I got to Jersey I had a charter so I didn’t have time to take the car off the boat, so I just took the group out with the car on board. What a mess, the car and all the mackerel we caught that day.”
When asked about some unusual groups he had taken out Frank recalled a “bunch of nuns back in the fifties for mackerel.” But Frank’s legend was built on the landing of the largest great white sharks with road and reel, (over 3500 pounds) and the largest overall great white shark caught, 4500 pounds. That one was caught with harpoon and barrels, just like the one in the film “Jaws.” The reason the story of “Jaws” mirrors the catching of the 4500 lb. great white was because according to Frank, he told Peter Benchley, the author of the book the movie Jaws was based on, every detail of his catch. He never received a dime but Frank thanked Roy Scheider, a star of the movie, for acknowledging that Frank Mundus was the real Quint in a TV interview. “All I ever wanted was one word, Thanks, I never got it,” he lamented. Frank became friendlier in the end because as he said, “I no longer drink two bottles of booze (bourbon) a day, that tended to bend my attitude.”
Then the conversation shifted over to the topic of fishing, Frank told stories of when in 1961 after a tuna contest he filled his boat with a discarded 350-pound tuna’s left at the dock after the tournament. He laughed and said, “No sushi back then, I used it for shark bait.” Now sometimes that same tuna might be worth $10 a pound. Frank also fondly remembered landing a Wahoo a tropical fish off Montauk.
When asked about Montauk what had changed and what has remained the same his answer was two fold. “When I came here in 1951 there were 3 motels, now there are over 100, but the docks, the boats, and the fishermen, that will never change, the talk at the dock, that will never change.”
Then that night Sean and Brooks Paxton ushered onto the boat a small boy to meet Frank. Mundus signed the boy’s copy of his book, “Fifty Years A Hooker,” posed for a few pictures, and then made the boy smile and laugh.
Again he looked around and took in the beautiful night, and then he looked at me. He said no words, but said everything with those no words.
As legend his life had not been perfect, but he did take so many men out for the adventure of their lives. Also that night before leaving Frank brought up August 4, 1986. On that day his saga of largest great white shark ever caught by rod and reel occurred. Frank Mundus the legendary Montauk Captain who summed up how his wits, bravery and luck that day were important to him he said in his book, “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 asked about that August day in 1986, and he looked at me and said, “ Did you read my book, “Fifty Years a Hooker,” I said, “ not yet.” He went inside the Cricket II and came out with a copy, and said, “It’s all in the book,” tossing me the book he said, “It’s on me, read it.”
The rest of this story is from that book. What he did say to me then was that the 3,427 lb. shark was taken by Rod and Reel, “the other one,” (referring to the giant white of 4500 lb. that is in the Salivar’s bar), “was caught with a harpoon and barrels just like in Jaws the movie.... but this one”, as he pointed to the replica of the 3,427 lb. great white that still hangs at Star Island, he said, “ that was with a rod and reel.” The story of that catch starts with a charter of men from the Advantage Food Company fishing for tuna lead by Mr. Jerry Rounds, a name to live in fishing infamy, because he and his party had the chance to be part of this history. However as do so many on long fishing trips, They asked to be taken ashore when they were asked if they would like to take part in a great white hunt. Jerry Rounds and his group had been out all day and perhaps were very concerned about their long drive back to Jersey. The adventure started that day with a radio report of a nearby (about 15 minutes) dead whale carcass. Frank steered the Crickett II to the carcass and roped the fishing boat to the whale. Jerry Rounds reportedly said, “ Frank it’s almost 7pm when are we going home?” Frank knew he was staying to attempt to catch his life’s passion, “The largest fish ever on a rod and reel, ” so Mundus 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 actually hooked a great white but that white shark got away after a battle ending with the shark biting himself free. Frank actually told Donnie via the radio as he was heading back to Montauk to pick up some pizzas and head back out to the whale and help him catch a great white. Donnie along with his two crew members, John DiLeonardo and Ted Feurer Jr. did come back around 10-11 pm with the pizza. Then Donnie lashed his boat to the whale thus freeing CRICKET II. With seven white sharks at times feeding around the whale Frank announced he was going to sleep saying that no way he was going to fish for a great white in the dark. The next morning the walked about on the dead whale carcass, then the men spotted the big boy they wanted and actually hand feed him the baited hook. Then the shark went down. With Donnie Braddick in the chair, the fight was 1 hour and forty minutes old when the “ big boy” surfaced.
In Frank's written words, “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.”
Frank then took a gamble and threw the boat in reverse as Donnie reeled in more line, then Mundus threw the boat into forward gear, full throttle. After some more fighting they attached the first flying gaff with half-inch nylon rope and the shark rolled the line around him, with that the crew was able to land a second flying gaff. Again in Frank’s words, “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. Mundus and the boys were heading home with the shark in tow behind them. They called Montauk Marine Basin so that someone, (Carl Darenberg Jr.) could go up island and get a scale large enough to weigh in the monster. At 11 p.m. they were at the Montauk Basin Dock with their catch being weighed in at 3500 lb. Less the weight of the ropes and lines, the final weight was set at 3,427 lb. a record. But in Frank’s world nothing ever seemed to go easy. The International Game Fish Association disqualified Frank’s shark because in their words, “the whale was doing the chumming.”
But as far as everyone else in fishing was concerned the boys landed the record by almost one thousand pounds.