The one that almost got away

This is kind of long and about freediving/spearfishing. It may not be particularly interesting to many of you but I felt like writing it up. TLDR at the bottom of the post:

My buddy had plans to dive an area kind of far away from me and while I could’ve spent time with the girl having a more lazy weekend, I went to bed early (despite my buddies wanting to hang and drink beer) and got my ass up in the early morning to drive to my buddy’s place. Ate a healthy ass breakfast he made, then got our gear sorted/loaded, and drove up the coast where we met with a completely new diver who was very eager to have his first spearfishing dive. The dude had thrown down and bought all the gear necessary (including some extras) and had been asking around the community to see if someone would take him, so I thought I’d help him out.

The conditions were excellent. No wind, very clear visibility, and warm (for here) water. I talked to him about the dive trying to mentally prepare him and taught him how to properly gear up and get in the water. Despite having some significant trouble with my new mask (compounded by not shaving cleanly enough) I decided to grin and bear it instead of going to get my old mask so that I didn’t have to leave the new guy in the water with only my buddy (who is not as experienced as I am and a bit overeager at times). Got the new guy acclimated and showed him all around the varying terrain and taught him as much as I could.

He was a good student and took in almost everything save for a couple things that didn’t stick so I got him to start shooting his speargun at some smaller fish in a shallow enough area that he could get to them easily. He missed a number of times and I watched him from some distance. I kicked over to him after he looked like he was struggling getting his gun back together. He told me how he’d shot a fish, but that it had torn off the shaft/line and had disappeared. I told him not to be discouraged and now he’d shot a fish (which most people don’t do on their first hunt, he just needs to aim a little better as a shot too high or low will make this happen nearly every time.

I continued diving with him, but at one point when he ended up on the other side of some kelp I decided to shoot one of the larger fish within my sight (a smaller species, but a larger example of that species) so that I could bring it over to him as an example of what a (hopefully) better shot is and to have him learn how to remove it from the shaft and string it. As I stalked a small school of my desired fish I selected the largest as it separated from the pack and started swimming away from me at a good pace. I kicked hard to follow it and just as my shot was lined up and I was about to squeeze the trigger I noticed a small fish (just beyond my target fish) with it’s outline against the surface with an unmistakeable section of torn flesh.

Instinctually I kicked away from my original target and set my sights on the wounded fish. It would die anyway if I didn’t finish it off, and the story of his first shot fish wouldn’t be one of complete failure. As I got closer to the fish it started picking up it’s pace and the carbon dioxide buildup in my lungs signalled my body that the deadline to surface was rapidly approaching. As I took aim and used a little extra effort in my last three kicks to close the gap (the larger muscles in my legs sucking the last of the oxygen in my lungs) there was no mistaking that this was the same fish the new diver had lost.

The fish was facing directly away from me so I had no shot. I had to surface and it was now or never. An opportunity like this wouldn’t return. At the last moment the fish turned EVER so slightly to one side. I squeezed the trigger and immediately started my short ascent without seeing exactly where I’d hit the fish, but knowing from the constant pull of my line that my shaft had penetrated solidly. I cleared my snorkel on the surface expelling the CO2 in my lungs and inhaling sweet fresh air followed by a few more breaths before dipping my mask back in the water and pulling the shaft up by the line.

The resistance was constant, the small fish wasn’t fighting and was curved to one side. I got the fish closer to me and could tell it was either stunned or stoned (dead). As I pulled the shaft and fish up to me I could see why it was curved to one side and that it was most definitely dead. The shaft had entered slightly above the spine but had exited evenly between the fish’s eyes traveling directly through it’s brain. It must not have felt a thing, clean kill. I called the new diver over to show him the fish. He got really excited and said “that’s the fish! That’s the one I lost! How’d you find it? Wow what a shot!” and I laughed and laughed and laughed at his excitement and wonder. A deep, hearty, healthy laugh.

I showed him the technique for removing the shaft while holding the fish without getting stabbed by the spines, but made him do the actual shaft removal (it took a while). Then I passed my stringer through it’s gills and left it hanging from behind me and encouraged him to keep diving as he’d eventually stone a fish like that and then much larger as he improved. We dove until he got tired. He continued to try to get other fish but didn’t succeed. I continued to have a rough time with my new mask leaking/fogging, but towards the end of the dive I spotted a bass that definitely looked over the legal size minimum and proceeded to pursue it.

This type of bass is notoriously skittish, often times you get no more than one glance at them before they spook into the depths. The bass flitted into and out of the ample cover between the kelp and the various rock structure/overhangs/holes. We went slowly in a wide circle around one spire at least 3 times and I made a number of dives trying unsuccessfully to line up a shot before having to surface to get some air. I had to constantly be kicking on the surface, stalking the bass from the surface as it moved in and out of various hiding spots on the bottom, so I couldn’t ever really catch my breath. My heart was pounding but I was willing to try my best to not let this bass escape.

My mask was fogging/leaking and I knew at any moment the bass might bolt far away out of my sight and I’d never find his new hiding spot so I dove one more time with just enough breath to reach the latest hiding spot and take a shot despite the rocks surrounding the bass. I descended to the spot quickly as the bass had settled in a fairly shallow location and as I got near he casually started swimming out the other end of the hole. He spotted me and turned just enough for me to close the gap, squint through the fogging mask, and fire. The shaft struck towards the back of it’s head, traveled through the body, above the spine and out it’s mouth but the catch didn’t release. I kicked to the surface caught my breath and slowly brought him up, got the catch released (so he couldn’t wriggle off the shaft) as he violently tried to escape, and released my knife from it’s holster around my ankle and drove it through the bass’ brain, it’s life leaving as it’s body writhed/stiffened like it’d been hit by a lightning bolt.

Later I finished our dive as the new guy felt cramping coming on and I realized I’d been in the water for the better part of 3 hours. Exhilarating and exhausting.

As we parted ways I offered the new diver the fish he’d originally wounded and he told me “no it’s your fish, you killed it” but I insisted he take it so he could bring it home to his girl instead of empty handed. Besides, I considered it his as he spotted it, found it, and shot it with next to no experience. It just got free and I happened upon it by chance and then was fortunate to be able to end it’s suffering and recapture it for the new diver. He’s been very grateful and I plan to take him up on his offer of dinner and beer on our next meeting.

I still chuckle that I happened upon that fish again just writing this and I will chuckle more tonight as the tasty bass fills my belly. Now, to address that mask…


TLDR: Took an eager guy out spearfishing for the first time.  Taught him as much as I could remember while team-diving with him.  He missed a few fish but struck one.  That fish broke free as he shot too near the edge of it’s body and the shaft/line ripped out as the fish struggled.  Later I happened upon the fish by total luck and managed to sink a shaft through it’s brain.  Showed him to his complete amazement.  Later shot a nice bass to eat for dinner and gifted the smaller fish to the new diver as I consider it his.  He was very grateful.  Dove for 3 hours, great, great experience.

~ by aneroidocean on 01/06/2015.

4 Responses to “The one that almost got away”

  1. Sounds like great fun, I’d like to try spearing sometime.

  2. Thought of your story while reading this article. Pretty intense stuff.

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