At the rate fishing records are now broken, in the L next year there should be around four dozen record-size fish pulled from the salt waters of the world. Many of these record fish will be mounted as trophies; some will be measured and dissected by biologists, some will be cleaned by wives who hate fish and some may be fed to cats. The biggest fish of 1956 will probably be a shark large enough to feed a kingdom of cats, and it will probably be caught by Mr. or Mrs. Robert Dyer of Sydney, Australia.
Bob and Dolly Dyer of Sydney each holds seven world records and they now rank as the foremost fishing family in the world. It is doubtful whether any non-Australian will ever better many of the Dyers' records. They are shark specialists, holding between them 12 of the 19 world records for man-eating tiger and white sharks, and just on a fair day when they set no records, the Dyers' catch is apt to range from little 400-pounders to one-ton busters with mouths the size of sewers. The fact that their waters are the sharkiest in the world does not, however, fill the Dyers or any Australian entirely with sporting glee. Almost every year the large sharks also catch a few Australians.
Other than tigers and whites, there are few species of sharks anywhere on which the charge of man-eater can be hung with certainty. In Australian waters, however, three local species—the black whaler, the bronze whaler and the grey nurse—have likewise grimly proved to be killers. When the Dyers throw a slick of blubber oil and whale blood behind their boat to draw in record-size tigers and whites, these local man-eaters also gather. One moment the sea is deep, blue and quiet, then suddenly it comes alive with grey nurses and tiger sharks, whites and whaler sharks—10 and 20 at a time. This hodgepodge mob of sharks makes for an exciting, confusing and rather distinctive sport.
Though they fish only off the Australian coast, the Dyers' fishing in other respects is a joint Australian-American enterprise. One of their two shipmates is a former Rugby player, Ashleigh Todkill; the other is an ex-Baltimorean, Chuck Walker, who used to run hooch from the Bahamas to Miami. The Dyers' 42-foot teak boat is Australian-built, but its name is Tennessee because Bob Dyer was born in east Tennessee, caught his first catfish in the Stones River and was first heard outside the hills as a vaudeville entertainer wailing The Death of Floyd Collins and other bits of hillbilly corn. Dyer went to Australia to see how the corn would do down under. The Australians loved it or, anyway, him. In the 1940s, while rising to his present eminence as moderator of three weekly radio shows, Dyer met and married his Australian wife Dolly. For the past four years they have spent most of their free time hunting large sharks.
There are some anglers who claim no shark should be classed with the other deep-sea beauties as a game fish. Bob Dyer usually dismisses such anti-sharkers with a few acid words and a benign smile. "Every man to his taste," he snorts. "It's tough and shrewd. I like it, and if Ernest Hemingway would come fish with me, he would like it too."
Sharks are indeed a low order of fish, come down from primeval times without evolving much. Big sharks have great strength and appetites, but not enough brains to bear half the malice which adventure writers are forever seeing in their eyes. A shark's eyes actually are most often fixed in a piglike stare, and even at that are not much good. Sharks rely on good senses of smell, but oddly, after a shark has a good noseful, the dim eyes at times seem to take over, the shark stops whatever thinking it may have been doing, grows bolder and tries to eat anything. In one shark stomach fishermen found a packet of shark repellent, and in another, a dozen sting ray barbs. In big sharks, Bob Dyer and other Australians have found wild birds, a variety of dogs (including a Newfoundland), kangaroos, horseshoes, an 18-pound Navy shell, three bottles of beer, a gasoline tin, the contents of a lady's purse and bicycle parts. One busy day a white shark ate away part of Bob Dyer's anchor line.
Such feeding defies logic, but biologists, anglers and spear fishermen are in fair agreement on some basic points. Though no one should bet a leg on it, a single shark may only shop around a swimmer, pick up loose food and leave. As the number of sharks increases, each gets bolder and less discriminating. A mob of sharks behaves like a bargain-counter crowd, snapping up anything.
When sharks are mobbing the Tennessee, the Dyers can literally drop the bait in the toothy mouth of the shark they want. From this point the contest would be reduced to the usual one of man against fish, if only the rest of the shark mob would go away. The unwanted sharks become real spoilers, and at the peak of action, just who is after what fish and just what each person is doing can change in an instant.
One moment Bob Dyer is playing a tiger while Dolly is in the galley stirring up lunch. In the next moment a 150-pound tiger that will make a nice three-thread record for Dolly shows up. Dolly, who possesses a rather delicate beauty which does not fit the splashing frenzy of shark fishing, then plays a bait out to the tiger from the cabin top. Next thing she knows, a 500-pound whaler shark slams against the port side and snatches a dangling chunk of whale meat, while on the starboard side Bob Dyer is trying to tug another gobbet away from another raider. Ash Todkill, who previously was over the side, standing on a carcass cutting out the liver to attract even larger sharks, is forced back into the cockpit because a tiger attacking the carcass accidentally hooks itself on a gaff. Mate Chuck Walker is on the port side tying down the flailing tail of a shark that is showering the cockpit with water. A guest aboard steps unwittingly into the slosh of water and blubber and swoops across the deck like a drunk on one roller skate. A large tiger rushes for the small shark Dolly is playing. "Well, fancy this," says Dolly, like a lady finding a fly in her tea, "a big tiger is trying to eat my tiger."
The action wanes, and the sharks slip away. The cockpit looks and smells somewhat like an abattoir. After such action the Dyers may set a record or they may not, for sharking is as freakish as any fishing. Bob Dyer once had a 3,000-pound white shark nearby to gaff. This would have broken the all-tackle record by over 400 pounds. But the great monster did what it is not supposed to do. Like a mako, it came clear from the water, wound up the trace and cut the line. Two years ago Dolly Dyer boated a tiger of about 1,400 pounds, and this would have been the biggest tiger ever taken by man or woman. Dolly spent two hours pummeling the noses of sharks who came in the night to eat her tiger. Ten hours later at the weighing dock the tiger gave birth to 40 little tigers, and the weight loss cost Dolly a record. That certainly is one trick no smarter egg-laying game fish could ever pull.