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Sep 14, 2008 1:40 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

"Monster Man" Frank Mundus dies

Sep 14, 2008 1:40 AM

Legendary Montauk charter fisherman Captain Frank Mundus, whose self-promoting antics and blood lust earned him widespread acclaim and contempt, died last week in Hawaii after suffering a heart attack earlier this month. He was 82.

Capt. Mundus ran a charter fishing boat out of Montauk for 40 years and was internationally famous for his prowess at hunting down and killing giant sharks and locally for his promotion of his bloody profession, which many other Montauk captains credit with having put Montauk on the fishing world’s map.

Capt. Mundus is said to have been the mold for author Peter Benchley’s character Quint, the brusque shark hunter in the book “Jaws,” portrayed by Robert Shaw in the 1975 movie. Mr. Benchley denied he had used Capt. Mundus as his model.

In 1986, Capt. Mundus and another Montauk charter captain, Donnie Braddick, caught what is still listed by the International Game Fish Association as the largest fish ever caught on rod and reel, a 3,427-pound white shark, aboard Capt. Mundus’s boat, the Cricket II.

His gruff demeanor, self-aggrandizing nature and shameless displays of dead sharks were both reviled and celebrated in Montauk, where the dock behind his charter boat was draped with the carcasses of sharks killed during the day’s fishing. Later in life, Capt. Mundus said he deeply regretted the killing of so many sharks, by his own hand and those of dozens of captains nationwide whom he had inspired.

After his death last Wednesday in Hawaii, where he had lived with his wife, Jeanette, since 1991, Montauk fishermen recalled how Capt. Mundus introduced shark fishing to Montauk and the world with clownish behavior and gory displays of dead sharks.

“He was a good fisherman, a good businessman and a good showman—three attributes you need to be a successful charter boat captain,” said Ed Miller, owner of the West Lake Fishing Lodge in Montauk, where Capt. Mundus kept his boat for many years. “As far as his ethics, I guess he left a lot to be desired, but I think, at times, we all do. He brought an awful lot of business to Montauk.”

Capt. Mundus’s controversial style was most apparent in his unapologetic killing of marine species, including whales before whale hunting was outlawed, and basking sharks and ocean sunfish, simply to grind up their carcasses at the dock and use them in his homemade chum. He also often harpooned large sharks rather than baiting and fighting them on rod and reel. In 1964, he harpooned a white shark, now considered an endangered species and protected by law, that weighed 4,500 pounds.

The carnage he left in his wake was nearly outpaced by the fanfare that preceded his every move. Capt. Mundus was loud and shameless in shaping his image as a eccentric, grisly old salt with a personal grudge against sharks. He famously painted one toenail green and one red, the same as maritime navigation markers, supposedly to remind himself which was which. He wore a hoop earring in one ear, an Australian slouch hat and a large shark’s tooth around his neck. The return of his boat to the dock was almost always heralded by shouting and bragging, followed shortly by the hoisting of sometimes dozens of carcasses that had been dragging behind the boat or hanging from its superstructure.

“He always said the charter business was 90 percent show and 10 percent go,” said Chris Miller, Ed Miller’s son, who grew up on the docks where Capt. Mundus kept his boat. “He knew that being a character was good for his business. He knew the value of self-promotion in turning it into dollars. Give the people something to laugh at.”

Frank Mundus was born in Long Branch, New Jersey and grew up in Brooklyn. He started his charter fishing and shark hunting business out of Brielle, New Jersey. In 1951, after one of his show-and-tell deliveries of a dead whale to his home port raised the ire of other captains and the local municipality, he moved his family and his business to Montauk.

In Montauk, Capt. Mundus honed his skills at catching sharks, a fishery of little interest to the charter captains of the time. He advertised his charters as “monster fishing” and regularly returned to the dock with giant sharks and other rarely seen species of the deep—many of them harpooned as they swam past his boat—piquing interest among landlubbers in the mysterious and gargantuan creatures that lurked offshore.

Even in those less days, his methods and the slaughter they produced were criticized. When Mundus and Braddick brought their monster great white to the docks in 1986, there was talk that Capt. Mundus might have killed the whale the shark had been feeding on when they baited it; or that perhaps they had harpooned the shark rather than baiting it at all—either of which would have negated the catch as a world record. The International Game Fishing Association ultimately ruled the catch, which the captains recorded with a series of photographs, was legitimate.

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