Humble Spearfishing Beginnings

27 May

This was an old essay I did a while ago, if you’ve read it too bad because IDGAF.  A lot of gear has changed since then as did my boat which I sold a few years ago before buying a bigger one.  Spearfishing has ruined my life ;).

Humble beginnings.

It’s been a while and I can’t remember when it exactly all started but I do remember how it started. Back then I was selling fishing tackle at one of the local tackle shops in Gardena where I grew up. I was still on scuba because the idea of freediving seemed as far away as the moon. I had heard about freediving but had no interest in it, I could barely hold my breath for a minute static back then.
It all started because we were on a trip to the sea of cortez and my then boss had brought along his three prong. We fished in the bay off shore right in front of the house and caught and released tons of spotted bay bass. And in the heat of the summer he showed us how to spear mullet. You pull the rubber back, grab the polespear and aim and let go. Bing! I hit more rocks than I did fish. When I finally got those prongs into a mullet I was pretty pleased, we had fried mullet that evening.

A few years passed and I was talking to one of my buddies about getting a speargun. We really didn’t know much about spearfishing back then but he recommended the JBL explorer 22 and that was the xmas gift I requested from my then girlfriend. The gun came wrapped for xmas and I tore off the wrapping paper like an excited kid receiving his first bb gun. I could imagine myself shooting those mullet the next time I went out! You would think that would have made me start out spearfishing right away, but I still had not really gotten into the whole idea of freediving and I was still heavily into rod and reel fishing.

Several years later one of my buddies had gotten the freediving bug and was what I considered a bonefide freediver. He had long fins, a 100cm rabitech speargun and a low volume mask. He also had purchased a 13’ Boston Whaler boat and would get some nice kelp bass. Once in a while he even got smaller white seabass. My first trip was on his boat with scuba gear and my JBL. We hit one of the breakwaters and on the way out I still remember bumping into Rick Rhodes (his daughter Kimberly won several gold medals in the olympics with the shotgun) because he told us there were gigantic halibut in a certain spot out there. Rick used to co own a biological collecting company and he was in the water all the time. That day I was the only one who could get down that deep because I had the tank and dropped down. The water was murky and cold and as I crept close. BOOOM a gigantic explosion in the sand blew up in front of me. Then I’d move to another spot. BOOOM. That happened about three or four times, I never even got close enough to the fish to make them out. I was so lame that I didn’t even get any kelp bass because I couldn’t get close enough to them. I started to spear some perch. My buddy laughed at me and said leave those poor fish alone. I tried making fish tacos out of them and they sucked ass so I never shot any again. By the way I still wasn’t hooked.

A year passed and my buddy again invited me out, he said he knew a spot where there was a reef that had a lot of fish and the visibility had been good. But I had to freedive because he didn’t want to scare away any of the white seabass that might have been around. I agreed and we loaded up his whaler and headed out, it was a painful ride. We hit the reef and the first thing I did the whole roll over backwards into the water just like they did on Sea Hunt. My buddy scowled and said I’d scare away all the fish doing that.

I looked like a mismatched underwater clown. I had on a colorful 7mm scuba wetsuit, scubapro jetfins, a black hood, and big 7mm dive gloves and a blue framed mask. And of course I lugged my JBL around. I’d shotgun clear my snorkel and noisily splash underwater.

It was an entirely different world down there. Big schools of perch would come up to greet me (they were safe after my failed fish taco experiments), garibaldi steadily guarded their nests, and I could make out kelp bass and some sheephead guarding the reef. I raised my gun and BANG the spear noisly clanked out and tagged a sheephead. It was about four pounds and by far the biggest thing I ever shot. I didn’t even had a stringer and had to swim all the way back to the boat and throw it over into the gunny sack. Then somehow I lost the tip to my speargun.

I was pretty bummed, here I was on my first real freediving trip and I didn’t have any speartip. My buddy came over because I was treading water to see what was up. I told him and he grabbed my gun and shaft and handed me his rabitech. We argued about it because I didn’t want to take his gun and in the meantime he managed to drop the shaft and it went thru the slide ring down to the bottom.

Well that was that, we couldn’t find the shaft so he handed me his gun and headed back to the boat. The rabitech had a single 20 mm band and I placed that gun on my hip and tried to load it. And tried. And tried. Dammit I couldn’t even get close! So I headed back to the boat and my buddy showed me how you have to chest load it, he loaded it for me one time and I headed out.

I dropped down to about 20 feet which was my maximum depth that I could dive down at that time. I lined up on a nice sheephead and pffft the shaft shot out and nailed that fish from about 15 feet away. I was amazed at how quiet that gun was. I swam the fish back to the boat and asked my buddy if I could try it one more time. He agreed and I struggled to load that gun and finally got it to the first notch, made a drop and promptly nailed a 8lb sheephead. Yep you guessed it, I was finally hooked. I told my buddy that I was going to get into freediving but I’d probably stay with my gear I had now and he laughed at me. Shit he was right.

I bought a rabitech 110 and my buddy took me out a few more times and each time I tried to learn as much as I could. Or maybe I should say that I had to “unlearn” everything I had previously learned about scuba diving. With freediving I learned you had to be as quiet as possible, especially for white seabass. My buddy recommended an online site and I logged in there every free moment I had.

My JBL gathered dust as I took that rabitech out every chance I got. I was hitting the local areas anytime I could find decent condtions, one time I did 14 or 15 days straight. I never saw any white seabass my first year but the following year I made up for it by taking my first lobster freediving. The second year I began to improve and become more quiet. They say it’s your first white seabass you’ll never forget but for me it was my second. The first one was a scrawny 29” one that I took just below the surface and it never really took any line. But the second one I had to stalk. It was one of those days where the water was fairly clear, calm and almost looked black from the surface. I calmed myself down and flooded my snorkel and wound my way to the bottom of the kelp forest. Seniorita circled my head like a crown, opaleye nervously approached me and then darted away. And far out in the distance I could make out a shape about three feet long sink away in the shadows. I had to close the gap and let that arrow fly, I wasn’t even sure I hit it until it started peeling off line and then after I dropped the gun and followed it I had my first real white seabass.

A lot of time has passed since then and a lot of gear has passed thru my hands as well. I learned that spearfishing is a pretty damn expensive sport, I was and am constantly buying guns, reels, wetsuits, fins. Through the internet I’ve met guys who I consider icons and legends, some are record holders, some can drop down to 120 feet on a single breath, and some even swim with white sharks. I’ve hooked up and speared with a lot of guys that started out like me and share my passion.   I got to see the fish print of Bill Ernst’s record white seabass (the thing looked like a freaking dinosaur). I’ve talked to gun manufacturers and own guns such as hammerhead, rabitech, poseidonsub, spear-diver, and wong spearguns. I bought an old boat off someone I knew and spent almost every single week spearfishing locally. I’ve shot a few decent sized white seabass, yellowtail, kelp bass and even dorado. I get to swim with black sea bass, schools of yellowtail and even schools of white seabass. Every year I learn something different, every year I meet different people and every year I get a little better at spearfishing. My goal is to be able to hit that magical hundred foot mark within the next few years and to get an underwater breathold of over 2 minutes with a gun in my hand.

I am pretty fortunate for all the opportunities that my spearfishing friends have brought to me. Spearfishing has pretty much changed my life as I am sure it has for a lot of you. You guys should think about that when winter comes and we start razzing each other (always humorous to read). And especially you new guys should really think about what you say and post and how you talk to the others on the board, especially guys you don’t really know. Because some of these guys know more than you can even scratch the surface on and later on and you never know when you might need their help on rigging your slip tip or figuring out how far to lead a tuna.

As for me I can’t wait to get rid of this freaking bronchitus and get back into the water where I belong. I’ve got a new gps/fishmeter coming in as well as new navigation lights for lobsters season. Last week I spent the weekend replacing the hubs/bearings on my trailer and added new rims/tires and trying to make it as bulletproof as I can for the upcoming year. I bought two new guns, two new wetsuits and I’m just hoping that the yellowtail really havn’t left the island because I can’t wait to line up that stone shot one more time…

These are all old pix, most were of my first fish or first big fish.

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2 Responses to “Humble Spearfishing Beginnings”

  1. Chris May 27, 2011 at 7:49 am #

    Chris, keep it up! It’s a lot of fun check out my blog if you want any ideas let me know. The hardest thing is just to keep putting up information. A simple blurb about your day a work or at the island is great. Good luck Chris.

    • oakpwr May 27, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

      Thanks Chris! I’ll check out your blog as soon as I get home from puerto, have a great weekend!

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