interview by Robert Banfelder
photos by Sergio Goes
Last August, I met a living legend: shark fisherman Frank Mundus, who was visiting Long Island from his home in Na‘alehu, Hawai‘i, to promote his recent biography, Fifty Years a Hooker. To those involved in blue water fishing, Frank’s name is synonymous with big, big sharks. Aboard his now-famous vessel, Cricket II, he hooked the largest great white caught on rod and reel—3,427 pounds—in the waters off Montauk. (Sadly, the International Game and Fish Association did not award Frank the rod and reel record for that fantastic fish on a technicality: There was a dead whale floating nearby, which the IGFA considered chum. Chumming violates IGFA regulations.) Frank also harpooned the largest great white shark ever caught (4,500 pounds). Now 82, he’s recognized, although not at first, as the inspiration for the fictional character Captain Quint in Peter Benchley’s book and later Spielberg’s movie, Jaws. Much has been written about Frank and his epic battles with the world’s scariest fish, but few know about the woman behind the legend, Jenny Mundus, who deserves as much credit for landing and taming an irascible, stubborn old salt like Frank as Frank deserves credit for landing the world’s biggest sharks.
Robert: Jenny, what is it like to be married to a living legend?
Jeanette: Frank will just have to get used to it. Only kidding, Bob. Being married to a living legend sure beats being married to a dead one! I suppose in many ways, Frank and I are in complete contrast to one another. He is a fish-eating, leathery, octogenarian sea dog, and I am a forty-something, nonleathery, animal-loving, vegetarian landlubber. When he’s not fishing, Frank keeps himself busy on our 20-acre sheep farm here on the Big Island; however, I am the more accomplished sheep wrestler as I don’t want Frank to be beaten to a pulp by any of our 160-pound rams during their monthly worming sessions. When we’re home on the farm, Frank’s actually more of an arborist than an Ahab, inspecting, watering and fertilizing his fruit trees. It’s only during the run-up to the fishing season that I’m reminded of his legendary status. That’s when he gets requests for newspaper, TV and radio interviews, and the fan mail starts pouring in. Other than that, I don’t experience much of Frank’s legendary status.
How did a forty-something, nonleathery, animal-loving, vegetarian landlubber wind up with a fish-eating, leathery, octogenarian sea dog in Hawai‘i?
It all began back in the spring of 1988, when Frank was a fish-eating, slightly less leathery, sexagenarian sea dog in Montauk, NY, and I was a twenty-something, vegetarian landlubber in England. One day, I wrote Frank a letter, picking his brain about sharks and asking him if his 3,427-pound great white shark had been accepted as an IGFA record. I have been fascinated about sharks since childhood: what motivates their attacks on humans, and how much can we ever know about these fish? Anyhow, I did not expect a reply, and I was amazed when Frank wrote me back. We became pen pals, and that fall he invited me over on a vacation to go out on a couple of charter trips with him and see sharks close up. Frank and I found that we had a lot in common. And since he would be a fish out of water across the pond in England, we decided to stay in America after our marriage. Otherwise, the 2,000-plus-mile daily commute could become a “reel” drag. Consequently, Frank had to relinquish his dreams of British citizenship and knighthood from the Queen.
How would you describe Frank’s personality?
I think that Frank’s personality could best be described as a composite of Long John Silver (salty, pirate-like yet heroic, and on occasion slightly duplicitous, hard-working and a good cook), The Honeymooners’ Ralph Kramden (humorous, irascible and stubborn) and Archie Bunker (a nonracist version of Archie, with a ballistic temper and malapropistic tendencies).
During Frank’s career, were you concerned that he might wind up as shark bait?
No. Frank’s too coarse and salty for a shark’s sensitive palate! During the first season he went fishing after our marriage, I did mention to him that this worrying thought had crossed my mind. However, Frank explained to me that only in Hollywood movies does a great white shark jump into a boat and sink it. Although, many years ago, he did have a 100-pound, 4-foot-long, hooked mako shark leap 15 feet into the air—aiming toward Frank at a 45-degree angle on the flying bridge. It hit the guy-wire that holds up the mast, slid down the wire and landed on the chum stool before it bounced overboard!
Did Frank’s disappointment with regard to the IGFA ruling affect you personally?
I wasn’t living with him at the time when this happened. I was still in England and wrote to Frank asking him if the IGFA had ratified the record. He wrote back to me, explaining why it had not been recognized as a record fish. I was sad for him, but along with many other people, I believe that his 3,427-pound great white shark is still the largest fish in the world ever caught on rod and reel.
Is Frank disappointed in not initially being recognized as the inspiration for the Captain Quint in Jaws?
It doesn’t seem to bother Frank much. In fact, many people now realize that Frank’s background and personality helped inspire the novel and screenplay. If you type in “Peter Benchley” at Wikipedia, you’ll see a couple of references to Frank being recognized as the fisherman on whom Peter Benchley based Quint. Frank also has a tape of a 1996 Roy Scheider interview in the Hamptons, in which Mr. Scheider says, “He’s [Frank Mundus] the inspirational character for Quint in Jaws.”