When a man lands a big fish, the tale is told of fight and peril, exhaustion and triumph. The beast is weighed, the record inscribed, the photo taken, bragging rights secured. And that is where the story usually ends.
There's Dan Dillon, back at the Indian River Marina near Bethany Beach, standing behind the biggest bluefin tuna ever caught off the coast of Delaware -- 873 pounds, 9 feet 7 inches long, more than six feet in girth. What a picture.
Now here is Claire Dillon. She's Dan's wife. She stays down at the shore until Wednesday, after Dan goes back to work, and when she gets home to Herndon, the entire house smells of raw fish. She follows her nose. She opens the refrigerator.
"He had put a couple of bags of tuna in the refrigerator to thaw, and being the total man," Claire says, "he sticks them in there, right on the shelf, and this fish blood has leaked out, all over the bottom of the refrigerator, and down over the drain, and all over the floor under the refrigerator."
She tells herself to laugh as she moves the refrigerator away from the wall to clean up the blood, and thinks: "Here we go with all the fish." Dan lights lots of scented candles.
So you catch a trophy of a fish, get lots of publicity, and then what?
A power saw is involved. "And monster knives," says Dan, 39, who watched on the dock last Saturday while three men took three hours to butcher the massive fish. When the job was done, there was more than 500 pounds -- dozens of huge plastic bags of tuna, cut into steaks the size of dinner plates.
Giant bluefin tuna, whose fatty bellies are prized for buttery toro sushi, are the Powerballs of commercial fishing. They can fetch a fisherman $6 to $20 a pound. Because the tuna is the most muscular fish in the water, with a small body cavity, 80 percent of it is edible. If the Dillons could have flown that baby straight to Japan, where the fish is most prized, they might have netted $12,800. But the charter boat captain who took Dillon and three friends out to fish for shark doesn't have a federal permit to sell bluefin, nor do most charter operators in the mid-Atlantic.
Since Dillon couldn't sell it, he would have to eat it.
"It's pretty amazing when you think about the challenge of getting rid of all that fish," says Dan.
The tuna was divided evenly among Dillon, his friends and the captain and mate, and still Dillon had two very larger coolers filled with 100 pounds of fish. He went back to his parents' beach house on Fenwick Island, and the whole extended family of 20 ate grilled tuna that night. He gave some away. He put more in his folks' freezer.
"I'm one of eight kids, so I said to my siblings, 'Here's a bag of fish -- have fun,' " Dan says. "I love fish, but you can't eat tuna morning, noon and night."
Back home in Herndon, there was still so much tuna it filled the family freezer and the freezer in their second refrigerator.
Says Claire, 38, who has been married to Dan for 14 years: "Another male thing -- 'Let's have a party and invite every single person we've ever met!' "
Tonight's the big tuna grill at their house. They're expecting more than 100 people.
Yesterday, Claire was deep in fish logistics. She had cleared out the refrigerator and moved all the tuna onto shelves to thaw, gone to Costco and bought plates and cutlery, potato salad and other side dishes, and hamburgers and hot dogs for anybody already sick of tuna. (The Dillon girls, 7 and 9, will eat it; the boy, 11, mostly likes Cocoa Puffs.)
"Oh, and huge aluminum pans," says Claire, to hold the three sauces and rubs she's making -- blackened, teriyaki and a tomato-based barbecue -- and the 40 or 50 pounds of tuna they still have left.
"I was supposed to go out with a girlfriend," Claire says, "and I had to tell her, 'I have to stay home and marinate fish tonight.' "
The bluefin tuna is the strongest fighter in the ocean, capable of swimming as fast as 50 miles per hour, diving to the bottom of the ocean and taking its hunter overboard. All the big game fish magazines say so.
No one prepares a man, or his wife, for the fight that sucker can still put up from the freezer.
Dan and Claire Dillon bag tuna in the kitchen of their Herndon home with help from neighbor Barbara Conzone, right.