Tales of a Hooker and her Madam

In this exclusive excerpt from his new book, Tales of a Hooker and Her Madam, the author describes the crew’s trip to Peru with Jerry and Deborah Dunaway aboard The Madam, the most famous mothership fishing operation of all time.

The Hooker and Her Madam
The Hooker and Her Madam© Scott Kerrigan / aquapaparazzi.com

It was March when Jerry got a call from Jose Rada, a guard for the president of Peru, asking if we would go to Cabo Blanco and fish as a guest of the government. They wanted us to test the waters where Alfred Glassell had caught his 1,560-pound black marlin and also do a TV show so they could promote tourism in that area. The TV show would be like the show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous that was airing in the United States at the time. The government would provide us with all the fuel we needed and more.

I don't know how Jerry did it, but he revised our schedule and contacted all of our charters and got them to change their travel arrangements, including flights, lodging, etc. We loaded The Hooker into the dry dock and hauled the two pieces up on the back deck of The Madam. This was the first time we hauled the boat by ourselves, unsupervised by the boatyard that had built and designed it, and we were really short-handed. There was a little surge, and that made it tough, as everything was a tight fit and each piece was too big to move by hand or even with two people pulling on it. It took us about four hours to retrieve the boat, but we did manage to do it without hurting anyone or damaging anything.

"He saw it on the radar and then with the binoculars. My cabin was right behind the wheelhouse, and he banged on my door and said hijackers were approaching us."

The next day was April 7, 1987, and we were on our way to Peru. I was also counting the miles to go to Chile, as that was where the really big swordfish lived; also, it was on my bucket list. We were about 40 miles offshore of Ecuador, and about a half-hour before daylight, John [Cochrane, ship’s engineer,] was on watch in the wheelhouse by himself, and he saw a boat heading toward us at a decent rate of speed. He saw it on the radar and then with the binoculars. My cabin was right behind the wheelhouse, and he banged on my door and said hijackers were approaching us. I ran out the door, and John already had his .45-caliber pistol in his hand and was going out the side bridge door to get out on the deck. I told John to cool it, as it was probably some fishermen.

It’s nearly impossible to hijack a boat from a little panga. As they got closer, we could see that there were three guys in the boat, which had a single Yamaha motor. They came alongside and asked us if we would go around their poly­propylene longline, which was floating on the surface. They were mahi fishing, and they were concerned that if we crossed their line we would tangle it up, make a mess out of it and eventually break it off. We asked them if they needed anything and threw them some bread and jugs of water. We only had to go a couple of miles to the west to go around their longline. Meanwhile, John still had his pistol behind his back, ready to shoot something.

Of course, when we arrived in port at Talara, Jerry and Deborah were there to meet us, along with a contingent of prominent guests and government officials to clear us through customs and immigrations. All of them wanted to see this floating mansion. After clearing customs and immigrations, we unloaded The Hooker in the port, as it was necessary to have that calm water to launch and retrieve her. With The Hooker in the water, we retrieved the dry dock and put it up on the back deck for the trip to Cabo Blanco. We had no idea how long we would be here and what the anchorage was off Cabo Blanco, so we were ­prepared to move anywhere at a moment's notice.

The Hooker and Her Madam
In his new tell-all book, Capt. Skip Smith describes the larger-than-life ­adventures he and his team experienced. It's a ­must-read for all serious offshore anglers. To read about the rest of Capt. Skip Smith's adventures aboard The Madam and The Hooker, pick up the complete book, Tales of a Hooker and Her Madam, available through amazon.com.Capt. Skip Smith

The first day of fishing consisted of taking the TV show’s camera crew, along with all of the old captains and mates from the old days who had fished with people like Alfred Glassell, E. K. Harry and more. The three old local captains all came up on the bridge as we were headed out, and I asked them where I should go. All three pointed in three different directions, so I went straight out and started to work my way to the southwest into the cold wind.

We fished our way to an oil rig off the point of Cabo Blanco. The rig was really dirty with oil, and dirty water consistently flew off the rig. There were small yellowfin tuna and bonito popping up all around the rig, so it looked really good. We trolled around that area, and all three captains never left the bridge, staring into the ocean looking for a tailing black marlin. I was in the tower, and the wind coming off the water made it a very cold day for me, even though I had on blue jeans, two shirts and a jacket, while everyone in the cockpit was in shorts and T-shirts. I knew that once we got done trying to fish the old-fashioned way and got the filming done, I would return to the oil rig to live-bait; there had to be some marlin there ­eating some of that bait!

We got all of the filming done and had guests on board for the first three days, and we didn’t catch or even see a marlin. Were we here too early, or was this place really fished out as we had heard over the past few weeks? According to rumors, the Russians had fished all the bait and sardines out years ago, and the fish just quit coming. I ran back to the oil rig and caught tuna for bait and for sushi. We live-baited and never got a bite. I trolled 20 miles offshore, staring my eyeballs out, and still I saw nothing.

I had seen a bank on the chart called Mancora Bank. It was about 50 miles offshore back toward Ecuador, and we decided to run out there to see if we could find it. Without any GPS, I had to do a time-and-distance run. It was pretty easy to find, however, because as soon as we got near the bank, we started seeing tailing striped marlin. We caught one on 30-pound, and then we started throwing the 4-pound rod, trying to catch Jerry a world record. We hooked a real nice one and fought it for an hour and a half, only to lose it to the leader slipping though the mate’s gloves, and then we hooked another marlin and, after a half‑hour, we got the leader and missed the marlin numerous times with the gaff. The hook pulled, and the marlin swam off. Jerry was pretty dejected, and we called it a day, as the wind was ­picking up and we had a long run home back into this wind.

The Hooker and Her Madam
The 16-pound-test blue marlin record caught by Jerry Dunaway (top left, holding rod) aboard The Hooker. This was one of 37 world records posted by the crew over the years.Courtesy of IGFA / IGFA.ORG

I knew we would be going back to this bank, as you can only sight-fish for black marlin and catch nothing for so many days. It wasn’t until our seventh day of fishing that we saw our first black marlin tailing down-sea, right in marlin alley, where the locals had told me they used to fish and catch them in the old days. We pitched a bait out and slid it in front of the fish, and we were hooked up. Jerry was in the chair, and we needed this fish to put on the dock to prove that the marlin were still here, as we had been instructed by the government to bring it in for pictures and for the TV show so it could be used to promote Cabo Blanco again. Any further fish would be released if they were not a potential world record.

“The fish weighed 500 pounds — not a monster, but a respectable one. The locals were ready with their knives, and the fish was filleted and gone in minutes; they really did appreciate the food.”

We caught the fish and kept fishing. It wasn't too long afterward that we spotted another marlin tailing. We tried baiting that fish, but it would not eat a bait. Still, it wasn't too bad — two fish seen in one day, and we caught one of them. We headed back to The Madam and weighed the marlin in at the pier in front of a large crowd of locals from the town nearby. The fish weighed 500 pounds — not a monster, but a respectable one. The locals were ready with their knives, and the fish was filleted and gone in minutes; they really did appreciate the food.

We saw two tailers the next day in the same area, and both were small fish, around 300 pounds each. We went a few more days without seeing a fish, so we went back out to Mancora Bank to chase some stripeys and hoped we could find a big black ­marlin out there.

Jerry had my parents fly in to replace John and Ann Marie for a few days. My dad would be the engineer and my mom would be the cook. As part of the deal with the government, they would be flying the crew (two at a time, as we needed someone on the boat at all times) to Lima and then on to Machu Picchu. My parents had already met the next charter, Bill and Connie Lyons, the previous year, so it was a good time to give John and Ann Marie a few days off. With Bill and Connie and their friend on board, it was decided that we would pull lures for big marlin around the bank.

The Hooker and Her Madam
Skip Smith and Jerry Dunaway pull aboard a 672-pound blue marlin caught on 20-pound.Courtesy of Capt. Skip Smith

It didn’t take long to hook up, and to a marlin about 400 pounds. We were expecting a black marlin, but we were confused because it didn’t jump like one. It was too big to be a striped marlin. Then it hit us: There were blue marlin here too! Bill Lyons always had the best attitude, and all he wanted to do was fish for big marlin. He did not care if we didn’t catch anything; he always had a great time just doing it. So we would fish the bank one day and then fish black marlin alley the next day. We did not catch any big marlin, but we did manage to catch a few striped marlin.

John and Ann Marie arrived when Bill and Connie were ­flying out, so it was an easy drop-off and pickup, as we had to drive 50 miles down the coast to Tumbes, where the airport was. It is located right on the border of Peru and Ecuador. On the ride home, John told us about their trip. The beginning sounded great — they were picked up in a Mercedes limo in Lima and taken to a really nice hotel. The next day, the limo picked them up and took them to the airport. They flew to Cusco and checked into their hotel. They visited churches that were filled with gold, and they got to pet llamas and walked around the old city. The next day, they took the train to Machu Picchu and got to visit and walk around this really unique piece of history. The next day, they were on a flight back to Lima and the Mercedes limo ride to the hotel.

They were just getting settled in their room after dinner their last night of their mini vacation when they heard and felt a blast as the window shook violently in their room. They didn’t know if it was an earthquake or a bomb. John looked out his window and said it looked like a bomb had gone off. There was glass and debris all over the street. He wasn’t sure if it was in the hotel across the street or down below in the lobby of their hotel. John called the front desk, and they told him that a bomb had gone off in the hotel across the street. John and Ann Marie were up on the 10th floor and watched as the police took over the street and the ambulances arrived.

At this time, there was a very active ­terrorist group called the Shining Path (a communist party), and it was known for its assassinations of key political figures and kidnapping or killing of Americans and other tourists for attention and money. John and Ann Marie were thinking twice about getting into that Mercedes limo that would come pick them up the next morning, as now they felt like they would attract the attention of these terrorists.

Needless to say, John and Ann Marie were glad to be back on board The Madam. I was glad that my mom and dad were flying back home without stopping in Lima, as they did not have the time off to go on that trip. But the bad news was that Trevor and I were scheduled to go on the same trip in two days.

The Hooker and Her Madam
Peter B. Wright, Chuck Sims, Jerry Dunaway, Kunta Smith and Skip Smith with a 420-pound blue that won the 1981 Poco Bueno.Courtesy of Capt. Skip Smith

Jerry had rented a car for his time there, and he was ­driving back to the airport in Tumbes with Deborah, Trevor and me in the car. We came across a bunch of rocks in the road, like they were trying to block the cars from going any farther. Jerry swerved around the rocks, and I told Jerry that they had to be there for a reason. He said something about some kids probably put them out there. As we all looked forward, there was a bridge crossing a stream, but we were about 40 feet over the ground. There, in the middle of the bridge, was a huge gap in the road, where the bridge had parted. Jerry hit the brakes, and we all held our breath as we skidded to a stop just short of the hole. I could see those “kids” running toward us, apparently thinking they might be collecting some treasures in between the body parts. Jerry turned the car around and went back to the rocks. There was a trail heading off the highway and down under the bridge where we crossed the little stream and made our way back up the other side and back onto the highway. We all then flew from Tumbes to Lima.

We (the entire crew) had given all of our passports to an official to get our visas updated and to get our visas for Ecuador, so when Trevor and I went to fly out to Lima and Cusco, we had no passports to travel with. We were hoping that nobody would stop us during the trip, as all we had were our Florida driver’s licenses. We made the flight from Tumbes to Lima, and now we understood what John had said about the Mercedes limo ride. We stuck out in that limo like a roach on a wedding cake as we drove through that city.

“They searched our bags and found a Playboy magazine in Trevor’s bag. We quickly offered them the magazine. They secured the magazine and waived us through. Now we were out of bribing materials and had a long way to go; we hoped we wouldn’t be stopped again.”

We arrived at our hotel and could see the plywood over the windows in the hotel across the street, just as John had said. The next morning, it was off to the airport to fly to Cusco. We got through the check-in and were walking down the corridor through a security checkpoint when the police or army guards asked us for our passports. We tried to explain to them that they were at the Peru immigration office waiting for some visas to be granted. They searched our bags and found a Playboy magazine in Trevor’s bag. We quickly offered them the magazine. They secured the magazine and waived us through. Now we were out of bribing materials and had a long way to go; we hoped we wouldn’t be stopped again. When we arrived in Cusco, we did as John and Ann Marie had suggested and went to the gold-filled church (it was really awesome to see) and then to see the llamas. Trevor took a liking to one of them and continued to pet and feed the llama. As I went to take a picture of Trevor and his llama, the llama sneezed grass all over Trevor. We then found out that they do this quite often to ­everyone. So beware of these “nice” animals!

The train ride to Machu Picchu was uneventful, but I watched for the Shining Path terrorists at every turn. Machu Picchu turned out to be one of the best places I have ever visited in my life and is definitely one of the wonders of the world. Trevor and I had a great time and even bought dinner for a couple of nice English girls who were back­packing all through South America. We knew it was a no for the night when the girls told us after dinner that they hadn't showered in weeks and were headed back to their tent. Our trip back through Lima was uneventful, but we were ­nervous as we were paraded through town in that big black Mercedes limo. We were glad to be back on The Madam and looked forward to fishing some more.

Our next charter arrived the same day we got back; Jerry had booked us a split charter. He actually found two couples to split the expenses on this long-distance trip, and they didn’t even know each other. Booking split charters on the dock in Fort Lauderdale was tough enough, but to do it on a mothership in Peru? Jerry never ceased to amaze me. We decided to run out to Mancora Bank to start the trip off with some fish. We caught five striped marlin and missed quite a few. We must have seen 50 or more tailing and feeding on the surface. By the time we quit fishing for the long ride home, the wind had kicked up to 20 to 25 knots out of the southwest, and it took us three hours to get home.

The Hooker and Her Madam
Skip Smith steers the chair for Dunaway as he fights a blue marlin, and Kunta Smith awaits the leader.Courtesy of Capt. Skip Smith

One of the people in the charter was an older man. On the way home that day, we were running into a head sea, and we were halfway home when Trevor yelled up to me to stop the boat because we had a problem down below. I turned the boat down-sea and left the boat in gear so we could handle the problem with the least amount of seas bothering us. When I stepped into the salon, all I could smell was poop, and then I saw that the old man was covered in poop. We helped him out to the cockpit, washed him down with the freshwater hose and gave him some clean clothes to put on. Next, we took the hose and some soap with the scrub brush down below into the head. There was poop splattered and smeared all over the head.

I had a shirt wrapped around my face to keep from gagging and puking. Ten minutes later we had the head clean, and Trevor was in the hallway and galley wiping his handprints off the walls and countertops. We never did find out what happened, and I do not think it was worth following up on. I do not think that those people ever fished together ever again either. I told everyone that day that if anyone has to use the head, they should tell the mate, and I would gladly turn the boat down-sea and take a break.

With the wind blowing 20 to 25 knots, we decided to stay close to shore and fish the black marlin alley. We ran to the oil rig and live-baited for a while.

I saw a marlin tailing near the rig and got the live bait in front of the fish; the fish went on by the bait. We dragged the live bait in front of the marlin so many times that we killed the bait, as we had to skip the bait at 5 to 8 knots to catch up to the marlin. Trevor then threw out a rigged mackerel and got no bite; then he threw a mullet and still no bite.

We had gone about 3 miles, and the marlin was headed right toward the mackerel boats, which all had harpoons. If the fish stayed on this course, one of those boats would harpoon it, and since we couldn’t catch it, I decided to run right up on the fish and make her go down deep so she could make it through the fleet to live another day. Once I got close, the fish spooked, and down she went. I watched the fleet for a while and did not see anyone make any sudden moves, so I figured she must have stayed down there.

The Hooker and Her Madam
The Hooker and the Madam en routeCourtesy of Capt. Skip Smith

The wind blew for a few more days, and we stayed close to shore and caught some tuna around the oil rigs. We then decided to give it another go to Mancora Bank, as Chuck Sims, Jerry’s old partner, flew in and we knew he liked constant action. We caught a few stripeys that first day, and the wind blew up to 25 knots again late in the day. We had those 6- to 8-foot head seas all the way home. Chuck did not like that part, so we fished close in and only caught a few tuna around the oil rig, and did not see any more marlin tailing down the alley. Chuck had had enough and decided to fly home early, so we had a couple of days off. We were all taking it easy when a small boat pulled up alongside and several people in navy suits and guard uniforms came aboard. The captain of the port in his official uniform told us that the TV show that had been filmed about us had aired the night before. He said he had received a phone call from someone claiming to be with the Shining Path, who told the port captain that we would all be dead by the next morning.

With spotty fishing and a death threat, we told the port captain that we would load The Hooker right now and would go to Talara to fuel and get our papers to go to Manta, Ecuador, as soon as we could. Now I had to call Jerry and tell him that we were moving his boats without his permission. Jerry understood and gave us his blessing. Meanwhile, Jerry was on the phone, moving the few charters we had left to go and fish Manta instead. We had already planned to fish there on our way back, just not so soon.

The wind blew for a few more days, and we stayed close to shore and caught some tuna around the oil rigs. We then decided to give it another go to Mancora Bank, as Chuck Sims, Jerry’s old partner, flew in and we knew he liked constant action. We caught a few stripeys that first day, and the wind blew up to 25 knots again late in the day. We had those 6- to 8-foot head seas all the way home. Chuck did not like that part, so we fished close in and only caught a few tuna around the oil rig, and did not see any more marlin tailing down the alley. Chuck had had enough and decided to fly home early, so we had a couple of days off. We were all taking it easy when a small boat pulled up alongside and several people in navy suits and guard uniforms came aboard. The captain of the port in his official uniform told us that the TV show that had been filmed about us had aired the night before. He said he had received a phone call from someone claiming to be with the Shining Path, who told the port captain that we would all be dead by the next morning.

With spotty fishing and a death threat, we told the port captain that we would load The Hooker right now and would go to Talara to fuel and get our papers to go to Manta, Ecuador, as soon as we could. Now I had to call Jerry and tell him that we were moving his boats without his permission. Jerry understood and gave us his blessing. Meanwhile, Jerry was on the phone, moving the few charters we had left to go and fish Manta instead. We had already planned to fish there on our way back, just not so soon.

The Hooker and Her Madam
Left to right: Scott Levin, Greg Mercurio, Skip Smith and Jerry Dunaway celebrate Dunaway’s first grander black marlin.Courtesy of IGFA / IGFA.ORG

When the bow of the dry dock was ready, we had to disconnect the stabilizing arms and then pull the dry dock with lines to get her lined up to pull up on the back deck. We would then have to attach the end of the cables that are attached to the two drums to the front of the dry dock. These snatch hooks also have pulleys in them and weigh about 40 pounds each. We had to hang off the transom in order to attach them to a moving target. We finally got the dry dock hooked up, and then we had a hard time even getting it started in the slot, as it was designed with zero tolerances. The reason we had designed it that way was that we were afraid of the water moving the system once it was up on the back deck. With the decks awash, water pressure can tear things up easily.

Once we got the dry dock in position, we pulled her up, and meanwhile we were pumping the water out of the back of the dry dock. There was way too much weight, and we had to be patient and feel the tension on the cables as we tried to pull the rig up the back deck with all of that water still in the dry dock. The controls for the dry dock were up on the second deck, where it was ­possible to see everything.

We finally got The Hooker up on the back deck and had her secured at dark. We would end up with two 6-inch-wide straps across the bow and one 6-inch-wide strap across the stern over the covering boards. They were all attached to a small winch that tightened them down as much as needed. The dry dock was also secured with six turnbuckles on each side. There was no way it would move, ever. (And it never did!)

I still do not know how we managed to even haul the boat out in those conditions, but even more importantly, nobody got injured! We pulled the anchor and headed for Talara, still looking over our shoulders for the terrorists. We arrived at daylight, and Jose Rada was there to greet us. He was a big man, and he showed us where he had been shot before and told us he had shot quite a few bad guys. But he took a liking to us and had people moving and shaking everywhere. Jose also wanted to ride with us to Africa and said he would meet us in Venezuela next year. He planned on keeping in touch with Jerry for our schedule.

I figured I’d believe it when I saw it.

He got us our fuel and handed us our papers, and we were on our way to Manta by dark. The Shining Path had missed their chance — or we had made them miss it.

The Hooker and Her Madam
Left to right: Skip Smith, Jerry Dunaway and Kunta Smith hold up flags symbolizing the first-ever Atlantic super grand slam for a male angler. They pulled off that feat in 1982.Courtesy of Capt. Skip Smith