A Fish Story (pt. 3)

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A Fish Story (pt. 3)


This is part 3 of 4, from an article series written by Lorrin Thurston, on his recent trip to Palmyra. This colorful account describes a wrestling match between a young local, Teddy Dranga, and a large Tuna they hoped to have for dinner.

Thurston owned the Honolulu Advertiser at the time, and had a vested interest in the commercial success of Palmyra, so a number of articles like this were run to promote interest in the atoll.


Lorrin A Thurston




Honolulu Advertiser




Public Domain



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Describing how Ted Dranga, Bare-handed, gathered to his naked breast and hugged to death a 30-pound ulua - the gamest fighting fish that swims

Kingman’s Reef and Palmyra Island Series by Lorrin A. Thurston

One of the outstanding features of Palmyra Island is the great variety of species and the astonishing numbers of fish found there.

We arrived at the anchorage, some two miles off shore, too late to land that night. During the evening one of the party amused himself with a hook and line. The water was some 30 feet deep, and in in approximately half an hour he landed 25 fish of 15 species.

During the next few weeks we found that in the deep lagoons scattered about on the main central platform of the island; in the narrow channels which seperate the numerous “sub-islands,” and on the central platform itself, which is “awash” at low tide or bare, and two to four feet under water at high tide, the same conditions prevailed.

Mullet in “Swarms” and “Clouds!”

As to mullet - the same mullet that is the fish delicacy of Hawaii - except that they are somewhat lighter in color, - the word “school” does not adequately designate them!

They are in “swarms” - in “clouds,” as they sweep across the shallows and crowd the inlets and shores of the miniature islands!

Mullet are naturally a timid fish, by reason of the fact that in the various stages of the growth they form a principal source of food supply to almost every fish that swims.

Notwithstanding this, and the constitutional nervousness growing out of the necessity for being constantly on the qui vive for danger, as the price of life, they appeared to have no fear of a man if he stood still, or moved slowly and quietly.

A school of mullet on the move, covering a quarter of an acre or so, would simply divide and pass around a man in water not over two feet deep, as unconcernedly as though he were a post or a coral head.

A single fling of a “throw net” usually provided two or three times as many mullet as our party of four could utilize.

The “ulua” - the most active fighter of the game fish of Hawaii as well as of the Palmyra region, was our favorite food fish, being equally palatable whether broiled, fried, baked or served as chowder!

Dranga’s Mechanical Fishing Device

The ulua were constantly patrolling the narrow channels between the islands in search of prey. Young Theodore Dranga, who was our prize fisherman, conceived the brilliant labor saving scheme that, instead of enduring the fatigue of sitting in the boat, holding a line, he would string a rope across the 300-foot channel which sepatated the island on which we were camped from the next island, on which rope he would tie several lines attached to baited hooks, which would dangle in the channel. No sooner conceived than executed - the rope was suspended across the channel and three baited lines suspended from it, trailing in the water beneath.

Three Sharks Bagged

Three successvie violent commotions under the line indicated the successful working of the scheme; but the aftermath was disappointing, for in each case the catch proved to be a shark - a “baby shark” to be sure, not over four feet long, but still involving a struggle to get him ashore and rescue the hook from his yawning jaws and snapping teeth, for even a four foot “baby shark” can put up a vigorous fight, and, as we later discovered, his baby teeth were not made for looks alone!

I was cleaning shells near our end of the suspended rope when I was aroused by an explosion of expletives from Dranga, who as he rushed by me like a streak, bellowed, “there’s another of those blankety blank sharks after my bait again!” The youth was attired only in “malo,” or breech cloth, and running full tilt across the beach, plunged into the water and sprinted hand over hand to drive off the shark and rescue his bait.

It was a matter of moments only until his vigorous strokes brought him to where a violent commotion in the water was churning it into foam and fountain-like spurts!

It developed that instead of a shark dallying with the bait this time, it was an ulua, which afterwards proved to be three feet long weighing about 30 pounds.

How Dranga Tackled a 30-pound Ulua Barehanded!

There was Dranga, barehanded, pretty nearly bare everything else for that matter - with our dinner flopping about in such violent plunges that there was danger of the hook tearing out and the fish escaping.

Dranga is a youth of resource, and without an instant’s hesitation his brawny left arm reached out, encircled the struggling fish and drew it, slimy and wriggling, to his bosom; while with his right hand he untied the fish line from the rope overhead.

Anyone who knows how slippery a live fish is, and what the fighting strength and resources of a fair sized ulua are, will appreciate what a job Dranga had on his hands! But he carried it through successfully! Having succeeded in untying the line, he clasped both arms about the mass of struggling fish meat, clasping it to his bare breast, and waded ashore, hugging it so tightly that when he reached me he had hugged all the fight out of the ulua which dropped gasping and exhausted to the ground.

While the ulua was being dressed for dinner, the fact that it contained a mass of eggs revealed that it was a female fish. After that one of the stock gags of the camp, at Dranga’s expense, was that he had hugged to death the only lady we had met at Palmyra.

The next installment of this series will tell about the mix-up between Dranga and a “baby shark” over another ulua, and who won!



Lorrin A Thurston, “A Fish Story (pt. 3),” Palmyra Archive, accessed August 12, 2020, http://www.palmyraarchive.org/items/show/226.