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September 23, 2008

Frank Mundus, famous great white hunter, passes

"He is one of the last great, colorful fishermen," - Peter Benchley

A man who many thought of as the world's greatest shark hunter and as the person serving as the inspiration for the character "Captain Quint" in the blockbuster movie "Jaws" has died at the age of 82, according to an obituary in the Los Angeles Times.
 
Frank Mundus, a veteran Long Island shark fisherman whose fame began in 1961 off a New York beach with his harpooning of an estimated 3000-pound great white shark aboard his boat Cricket II, saw his reputation skyrocket three years later when he drove a lily-iron darthead into the hulk of a 17-foot-long, 4500-pound great white off Montauk, NY.
 
In 1986, he was at the helm of the 42-foot boat, helping an angler land a 3247-pound great white shark on rod and reel.  Because Mundus himself became involved in the rod-and-reel battle -that is, more than one person touched the outfit - the fish did not qualify as an International Game Fish Association world record, but many observers still consider the feat the largest non-IGFA sanctioned catch of any species ever landed on rod and reel.
 
(The recognized and decades-enduring IGFA all-tackle, world record for a great white shark stands at 2664 pounds, caught in 1959 off Ceduna, South Australia, by the late Alfred Dean.)
 
While Mundus didn't bring many great whites to shore during his four-decades-long career, those that Cricket II did tow back were usually huge.  In one interview, Mundus said his total of caught-and-kept great whites was only seven; much of his business as a shark hunter was based on fishing for blues, makos and threshers.
 
Because of improved marine-management tools now in place worldwide, a greatly heightened concern for dwindling great white populations and a crackdown on shark-finning, it is now illegal to possess the species in any U.S. waters.
 
Mundus was never officially credited for being the model after which the colorful and a few-compass-points-off-course character Quint was created and who played a major role in the 1975 mega-hit "Jaws."  The movie was based on a novel written by the late Peter Benchley.  Instead, Benchley claimed that Quint was a composite character.
 
"Lord knows, the character Quint is based on a lot of fishermen I know," Benchley was quoted saying in a 1991 Newsday article.  "I don't object to [Mundus] saying he was the inspiration.  He is enormously skillful.  He is one of the last great, colorful fishermen."
 
Colorful, indeed.  Mundus wore a large gold earring and had a shark's tooth dangling from a neckchain.  It was also reported that his left big toe was painted red for "port" and his right toe "green" for starboard.
 
Benchley, in the Newday article, did acknowledge that he had, more than once and before the production of "Jaws," fished with Mundus aboard Cricket II.
 
When asked by a reporter if Mundus had ever found human remains in a great white, he reportedly said, "No, but I did once find a bunny rabbit."  (In the interview, it appeared that Mundus wasn't joking.)  
 
Another time, while night fishing, the eccentric Mundus put one of his business cards inside a chum bucket.  The next day, one of his anglers caught a blue shark that had swallowed the card.
 
 Mundus wrote three books about his career fishing experiences: "In the Slick of the Cricket," "Sportfishing for Sharks" and "Fifty Years a Hooker."
  
In the early 1990s, according to The Los Angeles Times, Mundus moved to the Big  Island of Hawaii, to enjoy retirement, living 2000 feet higher than sea level.  He still returned to Montauk for about a month each year, to chartering a restored Cricket II to small fishing parties and for filming.  He died September 10 of a heart attack.