Mayo gives his
mates a great deal of credit for protecting his secrets through the years. Most
of them were college boys: Henry Wallace was the son of the late editor of the
Louisville Times; Rocky Holman graduated from Annapolis and became a commander
in the Navy; Nick Swords was another Naval Academy man; Gayle Charles of Yale
later served as a mate with Irving Johnson on the Yankee's around-the-world
cruise and eventually went into business in South Africa; Richard Strachan
received a master's degree from MIT, where he now works as a metallurgist; Bob
White graduated from Wesleyan, went through the Rhode Island School of Design
and now manages the children's art museum in Louisville. "There were
others, and they were all loyal," says Mayo. His current mate, and a genius
at sewing and rigging a multiple skip bait, is Bob Tobin, a junior at Boston
College. The mates in later years have always had a partner in Stormy, who is
now a sophomore at Dartmouth and, according to Charlie, "the best mate of
all." After graduation Stormy probably will become a marine biologist;
already he is working with the scientists at Woods Hole, supplying them with
the eyes of big fish, particularly tuna, for a cornea-transplant program.
To Charlie the
most amusing thing about all the cloak-and-dagger tactics surrounding his
baiting system is that he would probably have been only too happy to pass his
discoveries along to others had they approached him in the proper way. This is
exactly what he did with several favorite customers who owned boats of their
own. And this is what he finally did, unwittingly, to a fellow charter boatman
who was no friend. A customer whom Mayo considered above suspicion came aboard.
The man was allowed to watch the entire process. He also caught a big fish.
"Two days later I was listening on the radio telephone when a charter
boatman out of Wellfleet got onto a big tuna. One of the draggers asked him
what the fish hit. The man described one of my baits, perfectly. It seems that
he was a very close friend of my ex-customer."
With his emphasis
on the effectiveness of the multiple skip baits, Mayo is being unfair to
himself. The man and his knowledge are far more important than any one method
of taking fish. As much as it is given any man to know the habits of big tuna,
Charlie Mayo knows what tides and what currents to work and what ledges and
shoals they inhabit for miles around; he knows where they are most likely to be
with a fresh sou'wester sending a frothy chop against Chantey's bow; he knows
where they run when the wind dies and the bay turns from gray to green to an
iridescent blue. He has developed an ecology of the tuna, its relations with
whales and sharks and birds.
and petrels mean nothing, I have decided," he says, "but a particular
combination of shearwaters and terns means big fish. I look for sharks lying on
the surface. It's normal to assume that tuna are the prey of sharks, when
actually the relationship is almost the other way around. A giant tuna has only
one real enemy, the killer whale; he is much too fast and powerful for a shark.
Frequently you will find a big blue shark being taunted by tuna, who seem to
delight in making passes at his tail. Under certain conditions I also look for
tuna alongside finback and humpback whales. The whale is smart enough to
capitalize on the confusion that occurs when tuna attack a school of bait fish.
It is almost as if he were using the tuna to herd his prey."
With all his
skill, however, Charlie Mayo has never been able to catch a tuna weighing more
than 800 pounds, certainly nothing close to the world rod-and-reel record, a
977-pounder hauled in by Commander Duncan Hodgson of Montreal in St. Ann Bay,
Nova Scotia, on a September day in 1950. He has caught a number of tuna
weighing more than 700 pounds and once caught three 600-pounders in one day.
But always the monster fish eludes him. "I almost had him once,"
Charlie says, "a fish that might have weighed 1,200 pounds."
It happened two
summers ago. "I was watching one of the multiples, when suddenly the whole
string disappeared," Charlie says. "There was no strike; it was more
like some huge fish had opened its mouth to create a vacuum and suck the baits
in. That's probably what happened. The fish didn't run like a tuna. He went
straight down. Then he came back up. 'Probably a big mako,' I thought. Before
he reached the surface, he turned and went down again. Then he came up once
more—and this time he came out of the water. Lord, what a fish. The biggest
tuna I've ever seen.
"He was well
over 10 feet long, and the section just ahead of his tail was a series of
abnormally big knobs, like the fingers of an arthritic old man. John
Worthington later told me that the 1,000-pounder caught in their nets back in
the '30s had this same deformity or growth on its tail. Anyway, he was huge. He
had to weigh well over 1,000 pounds. We had him on for 35 minutes, and he
surfaced three times. The last time I knew we were going to lose him. He had
the 15-foot leader and most of the double line wrapped around him, and it was
just a matter of time before he broke off.
feel too bad about it, strangely enough. Where there is one fish that size,
there must be others. And maybe he'll come back some day—if he hasn't died of
Because he hopes
to catch a fish this size before he quits and because, like most charter
boatmen, he frequently fishes beginners, Mayo has never been a noisy advocate
of light tackle. He carries light equipment on the boat and once used it
extensively on school fish, but seldom anymore. He has learned with experience.
One day a New York housewife named Louise Schwartz was aboard with a party of
friends. Charlie located a school of 150-pounders and Mrs. Schwartz was
prevailed upon to take her turn in the chair. No sooner was she seated than a
big tuna came in and gobbled up the bait.
him for half an hour," Charlie remembers, "and then she said she'd had
enough, that someone else could bring him in. Well, naturally, we discourage
that sort of thing. "If you don't want him, I'll cut him off,' I told her.
You know women; this stiffened her backbone and she stayed with him. She fought
him for 9� hours on that light tackle and a couple of times had him up close
enough for us to get a good look. That fish would have been a world record for
women; we all agreed that it weighed more than 900 pounds, and a plane that was
flying over, watching us, thought so too. Finally, just when the leader was
almost to the boat, he broke off.