Back in port,
Mayo bought another complete tuna rig and an old Crosby catboat, recently
retired from the mail run between the Cape and Martha's Vineyard. Her name was
On Time. "I don't think she was, very often," says Charlie, who renamed
her Chantey. Fishing under sail, he caught big fish that fall—he began to find
it easy—and almost starved to death. There were far more tuna than
charter business developed slowly, his reputation hardly kept pace. He became
known as a master seaman with a keen, probing mind; he was curious about the
sea and everything that lived on its surface or beneath. On the Sunday morning
when Pearl Harbor flamed, he was in port at Washington, taking aboard fish
tanks on an assignment to collect specimens from southern waters for the
Smithsonian Institution. "I'd been worrying about those poor devils they
kept bringing ashore off torpedoed tankers," he says. "I felt that our
ships should take advantage of the protection of the inland waterway. So I
worked on that for a while, and then I went to the Caribbean with Nelson
Rockefeller on a shipbuilding program designed to replace the interisland
carriers that had been called up by war." In 1943 Charlie moved to
Washington as civilian in charge of hull maintenance on the wooden PT boats.
"The housing situation was terrible, so we lived on a 43-foot schooner tied
up at the Capital Yacht Club. Our son was almost born on that boat. Ing just
made it ashore. We called him Stormy. Actually, he's Charles Atkins Mayo
When the war
ended, Charlie went back to the Cape and converted his old catboat to power,
built a flying bridge and installed outriggers. The Boston newspapers began to
write about his catches, and business boomed. In '49 he bought a sports
fisherman in Fort Lauderdale, brought her north and renamed her Chantey II, and
for a while he tried to run two boats. "I had to give it up," he says.
"I couldn't stand someone else fishing my customers." Chantey III, a
38-footer, was custom-built on the Cape in 1954, and not until then did Charlie
sell the old Crosby catboat. It was off her in 1948 that Dieter Dix, then of
the University of Chicago, caught a 751-pounder that is still the largest tuna
ever brought aboard one of Mayo's boats. "That was a wonderful year,"
says Charlie. "So good that boats from other areas began to move in, and I
never caught so many big tuna in my life. Two days after the 751-pounder, we
caught another that weighed 749�."
fishermen were drifting their mackerel and herring down the slick of a chum
line, or hounding the commercial drag boats that attract tuna to the trash fish
dumped from their nets, Charlie Mayo was trolling. He has always believed that
this is the sporting way to take big tuna. He has drifted baits from a kite and
chummed and fished deep, too, when necessary, and he will do so today if he can
catch tuna no other way. But the most rewarding hours of Mayo's life are those
spent high on the flying bridge of Chantey III, cruising the Truro shore or the
chop off Race Point or the waters outside Highland Light, the two big diesels
rumbling beneath him, outriggers spread and baits skipping in the water astern.
Beneath the long-billed swordfisherman's cap that covers his shaggy, graying
head, Charlie's eyes sweep the water for 360�, missing nothing, searching for
birds and whales and the smallest ripple that might lead him to big tuna fish.
It is then that Charlie Mayo is as much hunter as fisherman, and it is then
that he is at his best.
predilection for trolling for tuna stems from the characteristics of the fish
itself. The sea has produced nothing so near hydrodynamic perfection; a big
bluefin is about as close to a ballistic missile with teeth as a fish can get.
Its strike is a showering explosion of fury, followed by a screeching run of
300, 400, sometimes 500 yards. But if the strike comes fathoms below the boat a
great deal of the fun and excitement escapes the angler. Never having seen his
prey, he can only watch the line disappear from the reel, fascinated at first,
alarmed later, finally resigned to spending perhaps half a day pumping the
great body out of the depths where it seeks to hide and where it seeks to
return, after each run, with the determination of an elephant on its way to the
burial ground. Not even Charlie Mayo will claim that a tuna approaches a big
marlin for acrobatic entertainment, but he tries to fish in a way that forces
the bluefin to approach on the surface, to strike on the surface and to fight
much of its great fight on the surface.
Mayo has trolled
everything from plugs to bait to feathers to Ing's best hatband, fast and slow,
near and far, from outrigger and straight back and in combinations of all
kinds. There were days when he was tempted to troll one of his mates. Often the
tuna would strike anything; at other times, even when the surface boiled with
big fish, nothing seemed to work. Until one day, testing, probing, trying,
Charlie came upon the answer—and everything fell into place. "It was like
magic," he says. The solution was a series of varied, multiple skip
were working on the same system at the same time Charlie has no way of knowing.
Off Wedgeport and in pursuit of big-eyed tuna off Chile, fishermen have long
used strings of four or six or eight bait fish on one leader, sometimes as a
teaser in conjunction with single baits on another line, sometimes as the
primary lure. But Mayo knew nothing of this, if indeed such experiments were
being carried on elsewhere as long ago as 1937; to his own satisfaction, at
least, he fathered the device alone at that time. By 1940 he felt that it was
perfected and that all of the really pressing problems were solved; how many
multiple baits for each line, the type of bait and the correct combinations to
use, how many lines, how far apart the baits should be, how fast to move them
through the water, how to rig them for proper action, how to make the tuna
strike the hooked bait in the series, how to insure that the baits ahead of the
hook would pop off at the moment of strike so that no other tuna or shark would
make a pass at these now-useless appendages and sever the line.
"I began to
take fish with the multiples when everything else failed," Mayo says.
Through the years he has varied his techniques, as a fisherman will; he has
hand-carved wooden plugs patterned after the multiple baits, and some of these
are gorgeous indeed, including a series decorated in pastels by one of
Charlie's Provincetown neighbors, the Butch painter Nanno de Groot. Two
Governor's Trophy fish were caught on these artificials, and the Nyberg
Products Company now offers a line of rubber lures that are remarkably true to
the originals in action and detail. But Mayo feels that the baits he discovered
and perfected back in those days before the war are still the best. The primary
ingredient is the squid, to man's eye at least one of the less attractive
morsels of the sea. In series with other squid or in combination with mackerel
and herring, however, this many-tentacled cephalopod is irresistible to a tuna,
particularly when sewed and tied to one of Mayo's leaders with Aunt Lydia's
green carpet thread. So many spools of Aunt Lydia's carpet thread lie around
Chantey III that she sometimes looks less like a boat than a rug factory. With
three lines trailing at varying distances, and with each line usually carrying
four baits of different combinations—although almost always anchored by a
squid—the wake of Chantey must look like a 10-course dinner to a big
wonderful thing to see," says Charlie. "We still get quite a few blind
strikes—I guess you can never eliminate that, nor would you want to,
completely—but so often you see the fish approach, up the wake from dead
astern. He's pushing water ahead of him like a miniature submarine. Then he
begins to move faster—and then he strikes. There's quite a commotion. A lot of
things happen in a rather short time, and each time I get the same thrill as I
did with the first."
charter boatmen moved into Cape Cod Bay after the war, their curiosity was
piqued, quite naturally, by Mayo's success, and in pursuit of the recipe they
converged like a pack of wolves. Two Boston men entertained Charlie one morning
until 2 a.m., hoping that something would slip on an olive. Nothing did.
Strangers began to book charter on his boat, strangers with unusually sunburned
necks and fish scales under their nails. "I became a very suspicious
man," Mayo says. "Every customer was guilty until proved innocent. I
began to feel like J. Edgar Hoover." Other sports fishermen would run up
Chantey's wake, right on top of Mayo's baits, peering into the water with
binoculars like sightseers on a double-decker bus. "I had to stop the boat
so often to let my baits sink out of sight that I hardly had time to fish,"
he says. Once a Gloucester man hired a float plane and came swooping perilously
low across the water from astern. "He was throttled back, and I didn't see
him until he passed the boat," says Charlie. "I almost fell off the
bridge, I was so surprised. He circled around, looking down into the water, and
of course it did me no good to slow the boat since he could see the baits
anyway. But I guess he must have been going too fast to be effective. So the
fellow had the effrontery to land that seaplane right alongside me, and then he
stepped out on one of the pontoons. I felt like ramming him. We just pulled the
baits in and left."