The pint-size Jersey sea skiff limping to her slip was a floating wreck. Her cockpit was a grotesque shambles, her engine hatch was shattered. The cabin door hung by a single hinge. Alongside the fish box lay the long slender corpse of a mako shark, its streamlining marred by a series of club imprints.
The skiff's mate gave us a strained smile. Skipper Frank Mundus and I were standing on the flying bridge of the Cricket II in the next berth. Mundus stared at the gory mess as she came in and said, "I tried to tell them about makos."
It had started as a mackerel trip. They were drifting offshore, dropping globs of chum?ground fish meal?to form an oil slick which would attract fish. The trouble came with a black triangular fin far back in the chum. Presently a mako shark followed the chum line to the boat.
The skiff's skipper had the bright idea of swiveling two heavy tuna rods into a single shark leader. With the shark disposed of, they could return to the mackerel. The fish grabbed the hooked offering and came to a halt, stopped by the combination of heavy reel drags and 72-pound-test lines. That mako was unable to roll, run or submerge. "Reel him in!" shouted the skipper. The mako obliged by arriving on its own.
The shark cartwheeled skyward in a slow, turning somersault at least 10 feet in the air. The leap ended inside the cockpit, where the wild fish smashed against the engine box. Slashing about with its four sets of teeth, the shark bounced across the deck, missing the skipper but uprooting two fighting chairs with hammering tail blows. The cabin door presented a passing target and was demolished. Topside, from the comparative safety of the flying bridge, the anglers gaped in stunned disbelief. Finally they came below in desperation and attempted to subdue the beast.
Gaff handles and a boat hook were ineffective against the leathery hide. They only penetrated enough to draw blood and infuriate the shark which finally died of air?not violence.
This experience is hardly typical of an average shark-fishing junket but it illustrates the unbelievable power and stamina of the mako shark. It also reveals why Frank Mundus calls his specialty monster fishing. Soft-spoken Mundus operates a charter boat out of Montauk, at the southeastern tip of Long Island and has boated more than 100 sharks on his Cricket II this season. He has pioneered catching makos on light gear. Two of his anglers chalked up light-tackle world records on spinning tackle. All of them used lines no heavier than 45-pound test. Skipper Mundus looks with scorn on such sissy rigs as fighting chairs, foot braces and the proverbial tuna harness.
The object of all the excitement, the mako, is a species of mackerel shark whose movements are shrouded in mystery. It is thought that makos follow the mackerel in their migrations, yet these sharks seem to be absent in early spring when the mackerel schools begin to hit the Long Island coast. The best fishing for makos off Montauk Point begins in August and builds to a peak in October. Subsequently the sharks again disappear, perhaps to deep water outside the range of fishing craft.
Of the makos caught in the New York area, eight out of 10 are males. The same percentage holds true of the blue shark, another common resident hereabouts. But where and when they breed is known only to the sharks. Two large specimens have been landed carrying young, one at Cat cay off the Bahamas and another near Brielle, N.J. Ten young were in each litter, perfectly formed miniatures weighing about two and one half pounds apiece. Scientists at Bingham Oceanographic Laboratory at Yale contributed the information that makos hatch from an egg, undergoing further development inside the mother's body before finally being born alive.
The young sharks are bad tempered, vicious and self-sustaining from birth. Walter Wood of Montauk once hooked one from the charter boat, Capt. Sonny. The little fellow was no more than three feet long. The fish flashed behind an outrigger and took a squid fully half as long as itself.