Archive | June, 2011

On a hunch

29 Jun

I’m still working on wedding and the philippine blog, this will have to do.  From my log on October 2010

On a Hunch

It doesn’t take a genius to tell you that the last few days have been absolutely miserable.  110 plus degrees with no wind, I’d return from work and sit home listlessly while watching my dogs pant helplessly while they searched for a cooler spot in the yard and it was then I made my decision.  Screw this crap, I’m taking the day off tomorrow and heading out to the islands.

A few phone calls later and two of my coworkers  anxiously agreed to head out with me armed with their rod and reels.  As for me, I prepped out two of my new guns, the 59” so cal tracker and the 63”wong ono as well as my old favorite, the rabitech 120 stealth carbon.  I predicted fish were going to have to die the next morning, at least I  sure hoped that was going to ring true.  I was on a hunch, the high outdoor temperature and low wind conditions should have warmed up the water, if the bait held out I figured I might have a shot at some late season yellowtail or at the least a lot of tasty calico bass.

Several hours later and we were gliding across a flat channel with a 3’ swell bump.  There was hardly any wind and I could’ve pinned the throttle on the Honda 130, but instead kept it at a nice 24 mph cruise to save gas.  We were hoping to see some of the blue whales that have been around lately but had to settle for a superpod of common dolphins. It’s always a pleasure to see them racing in front of the boat as they greet us before tearing off into the wide open ocean.  I always view it as a good omen and hoped for at least a fun dive.

From the looks of the first spot near twin rocks it wasn’t going to ring true.  Visibility was poor, maybe 10 feet and green, probably the worst visibility I’ve had at Catalina in a long time and much worse than the 25 foot that I had a week or so ago.  There was bait scattered and my buddies caught a lot of small calicos and some bonita but I didn’t even squeeze off a shot.  After a while I disgustedly gave up and hauled back on the boat, fired up my boat and headed towards the east end where I figured the water might be warm and clear.  At any rate the 66 degree water was a welcome blessing from the intense heat on the mainland!

I was wrong on both counts.  East end quarry had 15 foot vis, and church rock was probably worse, the water was also about two degrees cooler.  I spotted a few skittish bonita and a mega school of barracuda that split when I dipped down on them.  Tired of the shitty visibility and the lack of bait, I once again hauled my ass out of the water and fired up my whaler and headed west.

As we skimmed across the water I noticed a blue band cutting thru the green water somewhere mid island.  Maybe it was that giant rock that looks like a ship from the distance, or perhaps it was that rock covered with an acre of millions of years of bird shit. Or maybe it was someplace entirely different, the shock of blue warm water cleared my memory like a shot of heroin to the veins, I can’t be sure :).  All I know is I was suddenly in fish paradise.

I spent a little bit of time on the outside with the wood guns but there was little current and the bait seemed bored.  Ah maybe it’s too late in the season, I told myself.  I decided to hunt on the reef so I loaded up the single 20 mm band of my mighty rabitech and dropped over the side.  There was bait swarming around me of every type, I saw greenback mackerel, spanish mackerel, smelt and even sardines flittering about.  In ten minutes I was making some drops around 40 feet.  Here the sheephead wound thru the kelp with a watchful eye while making circles around me, garibaldi boldly thumped their throats while nervous kelp bass drifted into deeper water.  I cleared my snorkel and silently made a drop behind a thick batch of kelp and drifted towards a group of them, as one of the bigger one’s turned I noticed one of the biggest barracuda I’ve seen in a while flitter in and then turn quickly away.  I extended the railgun and quickly pulled the trigger, the flopper shaft rang true and I saw the fish spiraling around as I kept tension on the line and pulled it to the surface.  My parents love broiled and smoked barracuda and I knew this was going to be a treat as I put the fish on my stringer.  I kicked over a bit and made another drop behind some kelp and saw a nice kelp bass that I figured to be about two pounds.  Zip, thunk.  That was it, the bass rolled over stoned.  Wow that was easy!  And it was a bonus, the fish ended up going 5 pounds, the shot was farther than I though.  In short time I strung up four bass averaging about 4 pounds or so each, plenty of fish for the fish tacos that I planned for later.  At any rate my stringer was getting heavy so I kicked back to the boat, and I gutted them before throwing them over the stern.

I was going to eat lunch and one of my buddies said that he had hooked something that burned out line and never stopped.  I figured that seemed unusual for a bonita, although it could’ve been a big bass.  Time to try out the new gun!  Gil Gacula from speardiver made me a custom 59″ so cal tracker gun.  I had him do a beautiful green camo paint job on it and I had been itching to put it to use.

I grabbed my tracker and loaded up the four bands just in case and headed out to the edge of kelp again.

By the way the kelp was bending I figured the current had increased.  Now bait was headed towards the front of the bed and I followed them out.  I kicked on the surface and saw the bait scatter about and made a quick drop, in a few seconds a gigantic school of bonita swam up from the depths and towards the surface, I lined up the shot and poof, sent the shaft thru the fishes gills.  Yum, fresh Hawaiian poke tomorrow night!  Once again the fish was bigger than I originally though and I slid my stringer thru the gills of a fat 5 pounder.  I saw a few bass and couldn’t resist making a drop and nailing a small one to add to my stringer as well.  The day was going so good that I could have gotten a limit but I had plenty of fish for dinner and then some.

It was one of those times where you totally forget about everything else in your life.  Your job, your troubles, the heat, everything melted with that blue water.  I saw with the bait, watched bonita tear thru the school and roll their eyes at me, watched bass dart quickly up and grab a quick meal before darting back down again.  Cormorants swam about and then a few fat sea lions started coming in and taunting me while eyeing my fish, they even barred their teeth and made fake rushes towards me but I held my ground and rushed them back.  I hoped whitey would visit them later, but hopefully after I was on my way back home!  As I began working the bait a bit deeper out of no where I saw a bigger fish slide into the school.  At first I was unsure if I was looking at a white seabass or yellowtail, when it first appeared it was just a hazy white shape.  As I slowly extended my gun and dropped closer I could see it was a nice yellowtail, maybe 12-15 pound rats that I’d see during the summer.  I braced the gun and lined up a shot on the stripe, click, thunk, 60 inches of stainless shaft and one of mori’s famous slip tips hurled its way thru the fish.  The shot was solid and I grabbed the floatline on my way back up.  As I was on the surface the fish just sat there, I was thinking, hell ya I stoned it!  I clipped my gun onto the floatline and began hauling in the fish.  That was a mistake.

The fish woke up and quickly and made a mad dash for the deep kelp.  With it my brand new shaft, tip, and GUN!  Holy shit, I figured the shot was solid so I pulled hard on the floatline but the fish pulled harder and I found myself being pulled unwillingly underwater.   Normally I’d let go and wait until the bastard tied up, but I thought the sea lions would grab that fish and head out to open water, if I lost that floatline then I’d lose all of my gear including the gun dammit.  I shot gunned the water out of my snorkel, took a raspy breath and kicked my carbon fins as hard as I could in a tug of war.  The fish kept pulling and just as I was going to have to give it some more line it started to tire, I gained enough line to get my gun back and unclipped it and threw the bands over my shoulder, now safe I could fight it leisurely.  After a while I saw the fish making circles and finally was able to dive down and grab it by the gills and dispatch it with my knife.  When I put my hands in it, I was astonished that it was way bigger than I thought, I brought it to the surface and my buddies yelled out that it was a nice one.  I brought it back to the boat and pushed it over the stern, we took some pictures and I got a weight of 30 pounds on the digital, double what I originally thought.  That blue water sure can be deceiving! I saw one more big yellowtail but this one proved to be smarter and with a flick of its tail told me to kiss its ass as it took off, it didn’t matter, I  had a nice fish already in the fish bag and had the time of my life today.

We made it back before dark on a fairly flat crossing, it would be 10 pm by the time the boat was washed down and I got it back into my backyard and I had prepped the fish and eaten some dinner.  It was a great day and I got to spend the day with some buddies, escape the heat and even shoot a few nice fish, what more can you ask for?  On the menu tonight, bonita poke, grilled kelp bass collars seasoned in italian dressing and Lawry’s salt and yellowtail sashimi!

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The First Yellowtail

24 Jun

From a old log, July 28, 2006…

Wow the water is warm!” That’s the first thing i thought when I hit the water. When I checked my watch it said 74 degrees, which also was what the gauge on my boat said. Hmm I’m getting ahead of myself again, let me step back in time…….

After a mere week of boat ownership I dropped another few hundred on safety equipment, insurance, towing, and other necessities. It’s amazing how fast it adds up, no wonder people are happy when they sell their boats. The day I got everything done and got the insurance paid for I called up my buddy. “Dude the swell is flat on thursday, we’re going”.  I didn’t know it at the time but this would be my graduation day in a few ways.

So thursday came and my boss let me have the day off.   I backed up the boat down the launch ramp and dropped off my truck and hustled down the dock.  We sat there making a very important decision, it was my very first time taking the boat out.  It was also my first time spearing on a boat period!  On this day we had planned to take the boat to the breakwall or maybe along the coast in case shit happened.  I looked at my buddy and said “well what do you think?”.  He said, “I’m game for anything”.

The next thing you know we fire up “c-level” and bail out towards Catalina island. I picked that day really carefully, the swell models said it was going to be flat (no waves pounding the boat) and the wind models said no severe wind. My spearo friends said they were getting yellowtail and dorado on floating kelp paddies and some had seen yellowtail at Catalina island. It was a no brainer, the next thing I knew I was gripping the wheel of my new boat and we shot out towards the island. the fog was heavy, thank god for g.p.s!  We were new to the island at that time and found a spot that we thought was famous.  What we found out later was that we were a long way off from our supposed spot and were actually at a new spot!

If you’ve never been to Catalina when the conditions are right, it’s just like Hawaii. The water was super clear. So clear on the way out it appears a deep purple.  Once we dropped anchor we could see all kinds of fish milling about, garibaldi, wrasse, halfmoon perch, mackerel, kelp bass. It’s like my aquarium but in the real world. We hastily pull on our wetsuits, throw on the weight belts and masks and quietly slip in. That’s about when I found out how warm it was, just like Hawaii. I pull the mighty single 20mm band of my Rabitech speargun back and load it to the first notch on the spear shaft.

My buddy yells out, “bonita!”. Bonita are silvery fish from the tuna family they have stripes running down their sides. I’ve caught quite a few but have never shot any nor seen them underwater so I quickly flood my snorkel and sink down. Everything is so clear and I see thousands of baitfish school around me.

I see some larger kelp bass so I slip deeper and then suddenly look away. In front of me approaching rapidly is a yellowtail.I was hoping to at least see one of them but never thought it would happen so quickly! Caught by surprise I stare at it and as it slips away I try to stalk it like a white sea bass. The fish speeds up and I fire the silver missile. Thunk! I shot a bit high and see a tiny spot of blood and then the fish takes off, but I didn’t see the spear go thru. as I break to the surface and gasp for air i tell my buddy “I shot a yellowtail!” Immediately I grin and start pulling in the line waiting for the fish to take up the slack.

And in the meantime my spear comes spiraling back towards me. Dammit! The spear pulled out because the barbed part didn’t penetrate to the other side! Right away I learned two very important things. 1. When you are hunting in clear bluewater the fish are farther away than you realize. 2. You have to load the spear to the second notch you dummy because you are going to need all the distance you can get.

I’m disappointed but I sink down again and see the school of bonita approach. The small silvery tuna come within ten feet and I pick one out and fire the shaft. Thunk! the line rips off my reel and I shoot to the surface and begin to haul it in. The fish runs circles around me and tires and I dispatch it quickly. Mmm fresh sashimi! I put the fish on my stringer and then drop down again, and repeat the procedure a few times until I have enough bonita to feed some of the staff at work. I sink down again and sure enough a yellowtail makes its approach.

Yellowtail are really curious fish. Unlike the white sea bass that gets scared at every damn thing in the world, yellowtail are sometimes attracted to noises.  They come close and dare you to shoot him because he knows he’s fast and can outswim you. But there are a few tricks I’ve learned from my buddies and one of them is to plunk your bands like you were playing a guitar. Seems odd but I tried it because this fish was turning away.

Plunk plunk plunk.I feel like a retarded banjo player. But sure enough the yellowtail turns quickly and looks at me again. I squeeze the trigger and the fish twitches one time and I haul him in. YELLOWTAIL! Its a small eight pounder but at least I got one! My buddy looks over at it. “Dude you are starting to piss me off”. He hasn’t shot a yellowtail or bonita yet and returns to the boat empty handed

We take the boat to a lot of different sites and each time I see different things. Gigantic bat rays fly thru the water. Huge kelp bass to about eight pounds sink away and I stalk them but don’t shoot at them. Schools of 40-50 barracuda mill about us. Rivers of bonita swim in and out. It was simply amazing, I could be there forever. At each site we see a few yellowtail but some of them stay out in the distance. I drop down to fifteen feet and watch some perch and out of no where another yellowtail approaches. My pulse quickens because this one is a lot bigger. It has beautiful green and yellow markings, he comes closer to check me out but not close enough for me to pull the trigger. As he swims away in desperation I start plunking the bands again. Plunk. plunk. And then it happens, he turns sideways and comes a bit closer.

My finger touches the trigger for a millisecond and I see the shaft exit the fish. I quickly swim towards the surface and my reel is screaming. I grab the line and begin to haul up the fish hand over hand. This isn’t a baby yellowtail, its bigger than the last by double at least and more than likely triple! The fish runs hard and pulls me under several times until I think i might drown and consider dropping my weight belt. But I take another big lungful of air and finally reach the shaft. The fish is so strong that he whips the spear around and I start worrying that he might stab me with it so I sit on him underwater while I try to dispatch him. Finally he gives the death quiver andI pull him to the surface.

Holy shit he’s huge. My buddy comes over to see what the commotion is all about and promptly calls me a dick. “You shot another one? you’re a dick!” he laughs. He’s never shot a yellowtail either so we head back to the first spot. I’m really tired but I drop down and eventually spear my third and head back to the boat. My legs are burning, the current had picked up so bad that I was kicking all the time just to stay in one place. But a grin splits my face from side to side. WHAT A DAY! I’m getting worried because darkness is approaching and then I see my buddy returning. He redeemed himself and also shot a nice one so we triumphantly headed home.

Our count for the day? Four yellowtail, three bonita, two calico bass, two barracuda and a big sargo. Man I tell you, that was one hell of a trip, what a way to break in the boat! As I fell asleep I hoped that when I woke up it wouldn’t all be a dream. But in the morning the pain in my legs let me know it was all real. I can’t wait to make it to the island again.

Looking back, so why do I consider this a graduation day? Well a couple of reasonsI guess. First off I graduated from shore diving to boat diving, and I also made the maiden voyage on c-level. I also graduated from reef hunting to bluewater hunting.  It would also be my downfall because after that, nothing could measure up to hunting yellowtail and to this day it remains my most favorite fish to hunt.  I’ve learned quite a bit about yellowtail since that time.  I know where to look for them, what currents are most favorable.  I made flashers to draw them in and generally use longer guns for them.  I switched from reels to floatlines after getting spooled by bigger ones.  And I always carry one of my big floats, “wupass” or “bee-otch” to keep boats from running me over (it doesn’t always work).  Pretty much I’m still learning, someday I’m going to be hunting tuna and then it will be a learning experience all over again…

Philippine Islands: Boracay Snorkeling/Island Hopping

21 Jun

Philippine Islands: Boracay Snorkeling/Island Hopping June 21, 2011

Warning! Due to the requests and constant nagging of my friends, this blog is picture heavy so you might have to let it load the pictures first!!!
When we arrived in Boracay and checked into our beach front westernized hotel room (yaay you can flush toilet paper down the toilet and you don’t have to squat over a bowl and dump water down with a big tupperware to flush it!!) we hit the beach and were bombarded by peddlers. “Sir, Maam you want to go snorkel? ATV? Glass bottom boat?”. This happens about every ten or so feet in Boracay by the way but you get used to it after a while. We wandered around the white sand beach and ended up at a small booth where the people weren’t harassing us. It was called Allan B. Funtour. The lady (Ms. Rose) was really polite and wasn’t pushy like the peddlers by our hotel. I was already skeptical because I had read about the tour operators beforehand and people claimed they were deceitful about up front costs. The stated cost was 700 pesos/head but we bargained her down to 650 pesos (about $14.83) per person, that included lunch but not the 20 peso fee for entry to the snorkeling reserve or the 200 peso island entry fee, both of these extra fees were told to us up front. We told her we’d check the weather (it had been thunderstorming the last few days) and then call her back. Since the Philippines is considered the text capital of the world (I shit you not, everyone does business by text here, texts cost .02 cents each! If you visit here you want to get a extra phone with a simcard and local number) we texted her during dinner and she promptly responded that we’d be picked up at 9:30 the next morning.

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After our simple breakfast (most of the nicer hotels here offer free breakfast with your room) R3Tmn.tiffPMk1K.tiff

we gathered our gear and headed down to our outdoor lobby. In short time Ray (Ms. Roses husband) came by and led us to the area where the boats leave.

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We signed the manifest and headed out to meet the boat.

Most of the boats in the Philippines are…well…umm… how can I put this delicately? They are pieces of crap. Don’t let this deter you, then run really well and the captains are excellent at docking/piloting them. They aren’t like boats in the US, and I’m sure they’d never pass the coast guard inspection in California but they are sea worthy. They look a lot like a big canoe with a giant diesel engine under it and two outriggers made out of bamboo. To get on them you walk on a six inch wide piece of timber but the guides there stabilize it and you’ll have no problem getting on the boat, not even the lameo out of shape tourists fell in the water.

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We sat on benches and the captain fired up the boat and took us to our first snorkeling spot, a place near Crocodile Island (there are no crocodiles there, don’t be a wimp). There is a ranger there that paddles to each boat and collects the 20 peso fee from you and then he paddles to the next boat. While you are anchored there (actually they don’t anchor they tie up to buoys so they don’t destroy the reef) guys will paddle up in even smaller canoes with fresh buko juice (that’s coconut juice in the shell)

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that you can buy if you didn’t bring anything to drink (bring water, probably a quart or so because you will pee a lot when you snorkel, I know I do). While everyone was slowly putting on their gear I slipped on my fins and pulled my mask on and slipped in from the back of the boat. By the way I brought my own mask, snorkel, and fins but the boat will provide you with a mask and snorkel. If you are a decent snorkeler (most tourists are not) and are comfortable in the water you are going to want fins so bring your own if you have them.

The water was warm, about 84 degrees or so and fairly clear. You don’t have to worry about it being deep because it’s a whopping ten feet deep or so at most of the spots here and there are tons of fish around. Most of them are small, damsel type fish but if you take your time and check out the deeper areas there was a ton of other life around. My wife isn’t as adventurous as I am and she was content just floating on top with her mask on and I’d tow her around to the more abundant reefs. Most of the visitors cling onto ropes near the boat but the further you go away the more stuff you are going to see, just make sure you listen carefully for other boats and are aware of your surroundings.

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I found some deeper reefs and kicked down and made drops to the bottom and cautiously peeked under the reefs (you don’t want to touch or step on coral because you’ll kill it, not only that but one time I brushed against some fire coral in the Caribbean and quickly figured out how it got it’s name). I saw tubesnouts doing some dance where hundreds of them were upside down and drifted in unison. There was a variety of different types of beautiful starfish (purple ones too!) RNlaN.tiff

and even some variety of bright lime green basket stars INiAL.tiff

in the reef. It was sad that much of the reef was dead, in most of the areas I’ve visited so far I’d say a good 95% of the reefs have been dynamited or hit with cyanide (a destructive way to collect tropical fish is to use cyanide or bleach) and you’ll come across acres of dead coral heads, bleached out by the sun. Much of this reef was dead too but not as bad as others and it’s definitely coming back. I’m not going to lie to you and say it’s like the great barrier reef but there are plenty of areas that glowed purple, green, blues etc with life and someday if they keep taking care of this reef it’s going to be absolutely breathtaking.

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I made drop after drop and saw different types of fish on every reef. We saw a lot of live anemones making gigantic carpets about three feet wide and amongst them were species of clownfish diving into their tentacles. CbKFu.tiff

The bigger clownfish would rush me to try to scare me away while the smaller ones would eye me and then dive back into the safety of the anemone tentacles.

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I saw angelfish, lizardfish, damsels, tangs, baby grouper, filefish, triggerfish, and many other fish that I can’t even identify (just because I’m a marine biologist doesn’t mean that I know everything about the ocean you dufus).

L6IQA.tiff F54aJ.tiffWYJab.tiff  I was hoping to see some sea turtles or cuttlefish but didn’t spot any. All too soon the captain blew his whistle and I reluctantly returned to the boat. You get about 45 minutes at each snorkeling spot which is plenty for the general tourist, but on most of my freedives at home I’m in the water 8-10 hours so it seemed way too short to me!

Our next destination was a private island that had two caves in it.

IgMay.tiff It costs 200 pesos (about $4.50) to enter the main part of the island. If you don’t want to pay that fee you can just relax at the beach but the boat is beached there for 1.5 hours. I’ve heard different things about whether or not it was worth it but I’ll settle the claims right now. It’s most definitely worth it, even to an uncultured ignoramus like myself :)!

You first walk down a path that leads to several towers you can take pictures from. At first I was thinking “shit is this it? My money paid for this crap?” But I took some pictures of the breathtaking views and then saw the signs pointing to the first of the two caves.

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You have to walk down a kind of spiral cement staircase to get to them.

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Let me give you a spoiler alert if you are huge. If you are huge, say 300 pounds this tour isn’t for you. It’s a tight squeeze down that ladder! But when you get to the base of it, the cave is absolutely beautiful.gfd4B.tiff<n3OgN.tiff   There are several island staff there to take pictures for you with your camera. You can also swim in the crystal clear water at the base of the cave which leads to outside. I had brought my fins and mask with me and the guides asked me my swimming ability and I assured them I was comfortable in the water so they let me swim out of the cave. You have to be careful because even in the clear water if you aren’t watching your head it’s easy to get trapped under the undercuts or give yourself a nasty cut! EqUnP.tiff

Outside there were a lot of live coral reefs and some fish, cvErZ.tiff

just kicking in the crystal clear water was fun.

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We spent a lot of time in there and then did a short hike to the next cave

Cave 2 was a bit different. You had to walk down a well paved trail down a cliff that led to a bamboo bridge. This picture is upside down even though I corrected it, for some reason the ecto program is reading it wrong.LsV3M.tiff

From there you grab a rope and walk thru the water (it’s not deep, maybe four to five feet)

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thru the mouth of the cave and it leads to a small sandy beach (this is all INSIDE the cave)

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with a four foot hole in the wall. This is some sort of lava chute that has been worn smooth over the years with the water running through it, you climb on your hands and knees or duck down and walk thru it for about fifty feet and it drops you into the next cave. Since I have the tender feet like a baby (dude I told my wife I need to start running in the street barefoot again like when I was a kid) I winced since I left my slippers on the bridge. It was mighty painful as I walked/crawled thru crushed coral to get to the opening of the next cave.

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It was also worth it, the lava there is all smooth and drops you into another deep pool that you can swim in. There was even an area shaped like a lounge chair that we took pictures in!

 Vl167.tiff We swam and took so many pictures there that the guides had to come and get us to take us to the next spot.

The next spot was for lunch. Once again skeptical because of the bad reviews I had read I was thinking I was going to be hungry. On contrary! It is a bbq buffet style lunch. They had grilled/steamed veggies, cut cucumbers, bbqed shrimp, bbqed teriyaki beef, and bbqued chicken, bbqed fish, rice, watermelon and probably a few things I forgot. YgWvB.tiff

Plus all you can drink BOTTLED SODA (glass bottled soda is my favorite, if you haven’t had any it makes soda out of the fountain or can or bottle taste like soda from the sewer, glass soda is so much fresher and crisper). We ate like kings and chatted and I fed some of the leftovers to the stray dogs in the area.

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Stray dogs are the worst part about the Philippines, (except maybe for having to use a toilet that isn’t westernized and is basically a bowl that leads to a hole in the ground). I always feel bad for the stray dogs and I feed them whatever leftovers I can. Don’t bother giving me your philosophy because if you’ve read any of my other blogs you know by now IDGAF and you should STFU while you are ahead. Lunch took about an hour or so and then we made our way back to the boat. Along the way we watched the local kids showing off and doing backflips in the water off the outriggers on our boats, it was pretty entertaining!

Our next stop was yet a different reef around the island. It was deeper here in some spots and had less fish but it definitely had the most live coral I’ve seen yet. All kinds of coral were coming back here along with the usual suspect fish. The highlight for me wasn’t even the fish though, it was making deeper drops to about 25 feet and taking pictures of all the colors!

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I saw some baby giant clams but was disappointed that I couldn’t find any bigger ones.

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I saw live brain coral, all kinds of other corals in so many colors I couldn’t describe them all.

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Once again it was all too soon when the whistle blew and once again I found myself the last one climbing back onto the boat.

Our last spot was supposed to be at puka shell beach but it had been so windy and rough on the front side that they dropped us off in a very secluded cove.

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We hopped down the gangplank and went onto the white sand beach. The water here was very clear but I had left my mask and snorkel on the boat because Lea and I just wanted to enjoy our time in the water and beach. YhK4w.tiff

This seemed to be one of Lea’s favorite spots because she just kicked back on the beach and had an area that was entirely her own.

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I swam for a bit and then walked the shell line, there were some puka shells (those are generally shells with holes in them, puka is Hawaiian slang for “hole”) around as well as other pieces of coral. But what really interested me was a six inch piece of cuttebone I found!!

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Cuttlebone is the inside “pen” of a cuttlefish, it gives it some buoyancy and rigidity and you only see it well after the squidlike animal has died. I found several pieces and right away was disappointed that I had left my mask and snorkel on the boat because I figured that the cuttlefish had been mating nearby in the grass beds and I might have had a chance to see them alive or maybe at least their eggs (like most cephalopods, cutttlefish, squid, and octopus are short lived and die shortly after egg laying). Unfortunately it was time to go and we boarded the boat for the last time and headed back to the port. Our six hours went by like it was six minutes!

This is just a side note about our adventure. I am no way sponsored by the Allan B. Funtour Island Hopping excursion but I felt I should give them props for their hard work and because I had read a few bad reviews about them. When we were asking questions about the tour they were very upfront and honest about any extra charges and what to expect. The whole thing only cost us 870 pesos (about 20$ us) and that’s with all the permits and fees and the whole trip lasted six hours! Lunch alone was worth 10$ and their staff really went out of the way to help people out. Some folks online complained about having to pay the 200 pesos ($4.50) to visit the island but to me that was to pay for the extra staff on the island who were helping us out and taking pictures and answering our lameo questions. I was very impressed with their operation and if you should go with them think about leaving a small tip in the tip box on the boat. The three staff working the boat also were very very helpful and many times they asked us if we wanted them to take pictures of us when we were doing activities. The average salary of most of these guys is under 8$ a day and they were busting their ass wayyyyy more than anyone in the states would have, giving them an extra dollar or two isn’t going to break you :). I’d highly recommend them and should we ever visit this particular island again we’ll contact them.

The Perfect Wedding, Part 1

18 Jun

The Perfect Wedding Part 1

Well that’s not actually true, I just called it perfect because I wanted to fool you into reading this whole long essay :).  If it were actually perfect it would end with someone giving us a billion dollars.  And a unicorn that farted gold dust.  Actually come to think about it, this whole thing is pretty much a lie because I’m going to talk about the engagement first.

I know this is a break from all my action/adventure freediving stories but I wanted to have something for my kids to read (yep fools, someday hopefully me and Lea will have kids, if they are boys you already know the terror you will face.  If they are girls I’ll sell them off to science for stem cell research or something.  I’m kidding. Maybe.)

So let me restart this story.

The Perfect Engagement

Well that’s actually not all true either, because if it were perfect we’d have won a billion dollars.  Or a unicorn that… Well anyways you get the idea.

When it comes to relationships,  I’m a freaking expert.  My friends always come to me for relationship advice because I can foresee a lot of things that happen in a relationship.  You know why? Mainly because I’ve dated enough wrong people to know a right one.  One really really wise man once gave me the following advice. “You will never ever find someone who is 100% of what you are truly looking for.  So when you meet someone who is 80% you’d better marry them.  Because think about all the losers who you have met/dated who aren’t even 10% of what you are looking for”.  This is very very true, you will have a fantasy person in your life and more than likely they probably look like a supermodel but aren’t shallow or stupid.  If you tell me that’s not what you prefer I’ll straight out call you a liar, that is unless you are blind AND rich.  Because put it this way, lets say you had two girls/guys who were EXACTLY THE SAME, super nice, super rich, great personality, not dumb, etc except one was a troll who lived under a bridge and the other was someone absolutely stunning.  Are you going to tell me you are going to choose the bridgekeeper?  Puhleeeze.  I rest my case counselor.

At any rate I’ve dated enough to know what I was looking for.  I’ll give you my secret list (you should have your own unless you are married already, no I’m not shitting you).  My girl had to be polite, very sweet, very cute, in shape/athletic, come from a good family, have a career or at least a job and goals, not throw a bitchfit when she got mad or didn’t get her way and let me go spearfishing.  Most importantly she had to understand my three c’s of a relationship (that’s communication, commitment, and compromise, yes I made that up myself and if you ever quote it you’d better put me down as a footnote).  That’s pretty much it.  I also tell people you will know if the person is right for you within six months.  Because that’s about how long they can hide their bad qualities, after that the real person shows up.

When I met Lea I was super cautious before we started seriously dating.  She complained later that I didn’t kiss her for a while and that was because I was wary of her.  She seemed too nice, too sweet, and had all the qualities I was looking for.  So it was a big surprise  to everyone when we got engaged about a year later.  It was no surprise to me because I knew I was going to ask her to marry me after four months, the hard part was hoping she’d say yes because I’m pretty much nowhere near ANYONE’S 100 percent list, lol.

My very good friends tom and caroline had gotten engaged a little before we did and tom had bought the ring online.  I was super sketchy about doing that because I figured my money would end up in some south african scheme since online bankers are always asking me to deposit the prince of Nigerias money in my account.  Like I’m going to fall for that AGAIN.

I had been saving up for the ring for quite a while, of course it meant I had to eat flour and water for breakfast, lunch and dinner and sell my unborn kids into slavery but it was all worth it.  At any rate I checked the online place out and it was fully legit, if you want to know where it was pm me and I’ll tell you, but since they aren’t sponsoring me they ain’t getting free advertising!!!  It was really cool because they catalog every one of their stones with a full gem report etc and you can build the ring anyway you want.  I knew Lea wanted a simple solitaire design so I chose a beautiful solitaire that had only one very small inclusion and a nice size.  I chose a platinum band with some small diamonds on the band, the ring was very elegant and classy, I really liked what I had chosen and hoped she would like it as well.  I didn’t know her ring size but her friend Sara had just gotten engaged a bit before and I knew Lea had tried on the ring so I went into stalker mode and figured out Sara’s email address and asked her the approximate ring size.  Sara promised to keep it a secret (she did) and the ring was ordered.  I took time off the day it was to be delivered (they deliver fed ex next day delivery with signature) and it came within a few minutes of what they estimated, once again I was really really impressed with their operation.

I signed for it and ran inside, with shaking hands I opened the ring box and took a breath.  The ring was absolutely stunning and I loved it.

Part two was trying to figure out when the time was going to be right.  I had to wait for a month or so because I wanted it to be a complete surprise.  Lea was finishing up a particularly hard section of her CPA exams so I told her I was going to take her out after one of the exams to reward her for her hard work.

I chose a restaurant in Palos Verdes that overlooks the ocean and made reservations for a window table.  You don’t know how nervous I was, carrying that ring in my breast pocket of my jacket was nerve-wracking.  I kept touching the box to make sure it was still there, I’d excuse myself to go to the restroom and open the box to make sure it was still in there, it was like I turned into some compulsive rainman overnight.  When we finally got seated we had a window view and the timing was perfect, as we finished dinner we had a beautiful sunset.

After dinner I told her I wanted to take her to one of my favorite dive spots, I fired up my car and worked our way down the windy road to the parking lot.  As we got out of the car I pulled out a bag that contained a two boxes.  Lea asked what was in the boxes and I simply muttered, “a surprise”.

We walked to a cliff overlooking the water and found a nice spot to sit down.  I opened the bag and pulled out a box, it had mementos of different things that we had done during our dating period.  A movie stub from our first movie, ticket stubs from the cirque and wicked, plane flight stubs from vacations, as we pulled out each item we talked about it and how much fun we had.

When we were done I pulled out the final box.  Lea unwrapped it and to her surprise it was a bear, one of the beanie baby bears named “hope”.  I told her the story.  A long time ago I had to put my dog down, her name was midnight and it was something that was very very difficult for me, something that I cannot even talk about today.  During that same period an aunt who was close to me also passed, it was probably the toughest year of my life.  Those events taught me that life is way to short to not do what you want to do.  Not too long after I came across this bear and bought it, knowing that whoever I married would get the bear, I put it away in the back of my closet until that week.  When I told Lea the story, I had her read the name of the bear aloud.  I told her that I hoped she understood.  And that I hoped things between us would never change.  And I dropped to one knee and told her more than anything I hoped she would marry me.  I asked her to marry me and opened the ring box from my jacket.

She looked down at that sparkly piece of carbon and said “HONEY!”  And she just kept looking at the ring as I removed it and placed it on her finger.  She was so distracted she never answered me so I had to ask her again.  And she replied “Oh honey, yes, yes of course yes!”  We sat there and chatted and just enjoyed the moment, it was also a full moon that night and that just added to the magic.  I’ll always say that I’m the guy who is always in the right place in the right time and for some reason I’m very lucky, because when things come together they come together exactly right.  This was one of those occasions, it was absolutely perfect in our eyes…

The Restaurant where we had dinnerThe restaurant we had dinner at

Right at sunset, she has no idea what she is in for...

The Ring I put together for her

Moments after she said "yes"...

The biggest fish in the world

15 Jun

from a old journal from baja

I’ve just gotten back from a eleven plus hour drive thru the scortching desert and stop and go traffic. As I scratch this clumbisly out my keyboard keeps making errors due to my lameless and lack of really caring but I sit here with a smile on my face.

It started about six days ago, as usual my alarm clock goes off like some incessant baby crying for its mother. I roll out of bed and gather my things, however this isnt for my normal spearfishing trip or my usual routine for work. I’m heading down to baja with two friends from work. We load up all our gear in my friends truck and stand doubtfully watching some of it teetering almost to the edge of falling off. We tie things off the best we can and head out towards baja.It’s a very long drive down dusty roads with potholes the size of manhole covers and open pits that can trap even the biggest four wheel drive trucks. We stop off for some of the best fish tacos in the world at my favorite haunt in San Quintin, fill up for gas one more time and then eleven or so hours later end up at one of my favorite vacation spots in the world. Bahia de Los Angeles, the Bay of L.A. Situated about midway in the sea of cortez, this is one of the neatest places you will ever go. You can’t fly a commercial plane there because there is no runway or air tower. It’s a town lost in time, no hot water, electricity only until ten pm and then the town generator goes off, they don’t even get regular mail because none of the houses have house numbers! We hastily unload our stuff and then jump into the ocean to wash out our dusty mouths with warm salt water.

There are a lot of colorful fish in the area. The water is warm, about eighty four on the surface but I dive below and see sting rays scatter about and lots of spotted bay bass turning to check us out. Bullseye pufferfish spin around in circles and follow us around like begging dogs. Tiny reef fish come right up to us and challenge us to pass their territory. Unlike the freezing ass cold water of winter when I’m hunting white seabass I’m surrounded by warm tropical water, so warm that I often dive down to twenty feet just to feel the cool water beneath it. So much to see, but hunger beckons us so we head back to the house. The house is just a simple place with one kitchen and a main room. The best part is that it’s a stone throw from the beach.

There are no big beds inside but it doesnt matter, we sleep outside on the patio surrounded by the most stars you will ever encounter. There is so much to do, one day we go clamming and get a half a bucketful of tasty clams that we later steam in white wine and garlic. We came across a bunch of fiddler crabs there, the males wave their large claw to attract females!

Another time we go check out the sea turtle farm where they do research on large sea turtles. But my favorite? Fishing of course.

Two times we rent pangas and head out to fish for yellowtail. The fish are smaller this time, about ten to twelve pounds, much smaller than the ones I’ve been spearing the last few weeks. I thought my shoulder was up to it after surgery but after burning the iron (metal lures reeled up SUPER FAST) my shoulder started to throb and an hour later and I could barely turn the handle. I hated to admit it but I’m not fully ready, which was evident by the three yellowtail that I lost during that time. Disgusted I hooked on a large makeral and immediately caught one fish, then another on the iron. My buddy smoked me, he got eight the first day and eleven the second, it was quite humbling to say the least.  Here’s a picture of a big one that I beat him out with a year later, this fish went well over 40 lbs.  If you’ve never had fresh yellowtail it’s fantastic.

We saw some fantastic things on the water, one day some blue and minke whales came right up to our boat, you could hear them blowing the air out and sucking the air in! Another day I tried freediving and saw a school of beautiful blue needlefish darting to and fro. But the best day was one I will never forget.

We had heard rumors that there were whale sharks in the bay. In case you don’t know, whale sharks are pretty harmless but they can get to lengths of 60 feet reportedly! I had a small fourteen footer slide up to my panga years ago when I was fishing but had not seen them since. They are an incredible dark blue coloration with yellow spots and a huge mouth. They feed on plankton and are considered the largest fish in the world. We stood up on the bow of the boat and I had my doubts, wind blew small whitecaps that covered the normally quiet bay. The water was a peasoup green and I figured with the wind we couldnt see anything. Fifteen minutes went by, then thirty. I started getting tired of looking and then Justin saw it first.

“What’s that?” he pointed out. Me and my friend looked, it appeared to be a large hammerhead shark sunning itself on the surface. But it moved very slowly and we headed towards it. We saw the tail and the dorsal fin first. And then the huge mouth. WHALE SHARK! we all shouted. The captain slid his panga quietly next to it and we reached out and rubbed its skin. It wasn’t course like I thought it would be, more of a leatherly feel like a big stingray almost but rougher. But who cares, we got to pet a whale shark!!! We watched it moving about and moving its gigantic mouth sucking in the small plankton. It didn’t even seem to mind so I asked the driver if I could swim with it. He nodded yes and I disappeared with a quick flip of my fins. I swam under it and watched the remora sucker fish moving about its body. I watched its gigantic gills opening and closing and its huge tail swinging side to side. It was a small one, barely seventeen feet long but I was so excited I didn’t even think of any dangerous sharks that might be swimming around it so thank god there were none. All I could think about was that I was swimming amoungst one of the biggest fish in the sea.

We hung out with that giant for about half an hour, never growing tired of seeing it move about. I shot pictures and video and then slowly it began to sink away and we bid it goodbye.

I’ve been going to the sea of cortez for many trips, about twelve times is my best guess. I always see different things and this was one of the most incredible I’ve ever experienced. There’s one thing you can lay money on. I’ll be back there again someday…

Pitch Black

13 Jun

from november 2007 log, this was on the old c-level, my previous 16.5′ boston whaler montauk…

Pitch Black

It’s been a really weird past few weeks. One week I was on a high were I made a funny hat that had live seastars and jellyfish in it and won gag gifts for hat week at my aquarium (first place two days in a row, bitches!), another carving up a pumpkin (first place in that too, bitches) and another slaying fish at catalina island.

Last night I experienced one of those rare moments that I will never forget.

Just having dropped five bills on annual boat maintainance (flipping OUCH) I’ve been anxious to get out in the water to test out my new anchor roller I made. It’s hard finding good divers to join me but one of my friends husbands was able to make it so we launched after work on friday. The swell was small but the wind chop made for a miserable bumpy, wet ride. The results of which put us way behind time and into the darkness of night.If you’ve ever been on a boat in complete darkness its scary. On a small boat like c-level it’s downright terrifying. There was no moon last night. Compound this with light fog and you have a really sketchy situation. Without any radar and only a handheld gps and compass readings it’s hard to navigate on bumpy seas. You have to feel each wave and try to work the throttle accordingly. I knew we were close to the island because of the readings on the gps, but I also knew we were behind a point of land I couldn’t see. And when I suddenly saw smelt jumping out of the water I knew I was really close, the spotlight lit up the rocks on the island and I backed off the throttle in the nick of time from grounding us on the island permantly.

It was eerie. With no moon and no lights around you couldn’t even see your hand in front of you without your dive light on. We were the only boat in this particular spot so I set the anchor and pulled on the rest of my dive gear, I would be freediving to collect some “bugs” (the nickname we give lobster). Water clarity was just okay, with vis from ten to fifteen or so feet. Smelt dart thru the beam of my light and I tracked a harbor seal swimming on the bottom looking for food. The first spot was so thick in kelp I scored one legal lobster and then headed back to the boat cuz I could see my dive buddy was having problems. Diving in the thick kelp during the day is much easier than at night, in the pitch black darkness it seems like every strand holds onto your body trying to keep you down. The kelp winds its way onto your snorkel, game bag, weight belt, flippers, anything and everything it can hold onto. We moved the boat to another spot that I knew of and on the first drop I saw lobsters everywhere. Most of them were undersized, but when I dropped into the twenty foot depth I saw some bigger ones. Sticking my head under caves I saw beady eyes and nervous antennae pointing themselves at me, a quick grab and the lobster is kicking all over the place trying to escape. These are pacific spiny lobsters so they don’t have claws like their maine counterparts, instead they have a mass of pointy sharp spines that will tear up your best dive gloves. Most of them are so big I don’t even have to measure, they are well over the legal size. I forgot about the darkness around me, I forget about my problems, and I stop worrying about the boat drifting away and leaving me stranded in the middle of the night. It’s still hard work, twice I almost get stuck in caves where I’m cramming my body into to try to grab at big lobster. My snorkel catches on the roof of one and holds me down until I quickly kick backwards and shoot upwards for a gulp of air. One deep reef covered with red algae comes alive as I shine the light on it and I count no less than six lobster in one spot, all about a quarter of an inch short of the legal size. Dammit! After an hours work, I score five legal ones and then head back to the boat where my buddy has already pulled himself out because of ear clearing problems. New to freediving he hasnt gotten any lobster at all so I gave him two. I can tell he’s cold and he says he’s done for the night so I pull myself out and take compass bearings to get us back home.

The ride home was almost like a dream, it was completely flat. One look behind c-level and it looked like we were on some jet rocketship, you could see a bright glow from the spray of the engine. The glow is caused by tiny plankton giving off light, its absolutely incredible to watch. I turn of all the lights on the boat and hit it almost full throttle, it’s pitch black, im in the middle of the ocean and cant see anything. Suddenly I see a bright glow shoot forward next to the boat and in front, I back down the engine and yell out a surprise. I totally did not know what was happening and then I figured it out, DOLPHINS AT NIGHT! They would make this crazy glow in the dark water, like a torpedo and shooting right for the boat, then in front of it and then behind it. I never got tired of watching them as they escorted us home. Finally we saw the faint glow of the city lights and knew we were close, time to fire up the lights and head in. I got home really late, I still had to wash down the boat, gas it up, and back it down the driveway to my house. I stumbled into the house and into the shower and into bed by two am. I slept till six am and then took the dogs out and slept again till eleven thirty. As I drift off to sleep I count lobsters hiding under ledges.

And the result? I cooked up some lobster tonight and made a thai beef salad from scratch, my own recipe! It’s going to be a better week.

Right now I’m getting ready for bed and everytime I close my eyes I still see those glowing images of dolphins crossing the bow of my boat…

Persistance

11 Jun

From two summers ago…

It was four pm and we still hadn’t seen any of the bigger fish dammit. My buddy Mike had shot his first yellow ever and it sat in the cooler. I’d say it was alone but at least I had nailed a small bonita (I love bonita sashimi when it is bled correctly), a barracuda for my parents, and two kelp bass for my coworkers. But I had failed to get any yellowtail, even though I had seen a couple in the morning.

The scene had been haunting me all freaking morning and afternoon. I kept telling myself that I blew it. We had pulled up onto one of my favorite spots on catalina island, it was a fantastic crossing with flat conditions and no chop, in less than a hour we checking out some spots. Within five minutes of making my first drops I saw a nice yellowtail in the fifteen pound class. Or maybe I should say it saw me first because it was moving quickly away. I tried every single trick I knew but that damn fish wouldn’t turn and it was too far away to get a solid shot and I didn’t want to chance tearing it off. Poof, it took off with a flick of it’s tail and I would replay that scene all day long. I argued with myself whether or not I should have taken that shot. Because I had no yellowtail in the cooler of course I thought I should have.Conditions were stellar, 40 foot visibility made the kelp beds look just like a gigantic aquarium. Blue water, garabaldi, opaleye, halfmoon and lots of calico bass peered out from the canopy. But the best part was this location was LOADED with bait. All kinds of bait, you name it. Sardines, spanish mackerel, greenback mackerel, smelt all schooled together nervously. It looked absolutely perfect but the fish were spotty, we saw a few but they didn’t want anything to do with us. I had a feeling it was going to go wide open in a few hours though so we decided to stick it out.I followed some gigantic black seabass around, checked out the kelp beds and heard some loud croaking in the channel but couldn’t find any wsb. My back was killing me after spending eight solid hours in the water. I climbed onto the deck of the boat and took the weightbelt off and laid down. A half an hour and I’m back in the game, mainly because Mike tells me he saw a school of yellows breeze by him.

As I glanced at my watch and noted it was about four pm. It’s now pretty choppy out and the visibility has dropped a bit. The bait gets even more nervous and suddenly all of the bait quickly schooled up so I dipped my fins and made a drop down to fifteen feet. It took five seconds to change my day. Out of no where a wall of yellowtail appeared, their greenish/blue backs and yellow stripes gleamed dimly in the light. If I had to guess I’d bet my gun that there was fifty to a hundred fish in that school. I gave a quick kick to close the gap and it was only a matter of choosing what fish I wanted as I swung the gun towards them and picked a fat one out of the bunch, all the while wishing I had fired up my digital camera.

Pfffft, the spear lept forward and a small spot of blood appeared in the water, the fish quivered slightly and began to sink. STONED! Holy shit that’s what I always hope for but somehow rarely achieve, I kick forward and grab the fish by the gills. It’s a decent one and I’m glad that I stoned it because it would’ve been a bitch otherwise. I gill and gut him and mike pokes his head over the rail of the boat. Nice Fish! I tell him to get back in the water and he slides in after cramming the fish into the cooler. I restring the gun and start making drops again. Another yellowtail, this time a single, comes in and begins checking out the bait. I give a couple of quick kicks and try to stay above the bait so he’s less likely to see me. It works and as he chases some fish I cut thru the school and click off a shot. Solid! Right thru the gills, this one runs and starts stripping the reel but he’s hurt so I take my time and work him in, all the time remembering the conversation I had with Mori a couple of weeks ago about letting the slack line go in the current so you don’t tangle up. I dispatch the fish and dump it into the cooler. I can’t even feel the pain in my back anymore because I just had that feeling, it just felt right. A few minutes later I’m back making drops and I see a bigger yellowtail coming thru. Once again I hide above the bait until he get’s close enough and then drop thru them, this one is smarter and tries to turn I close the gap and take a longer shot and it sticks. Dammit it’s not as clean a shot, went thru the shoulders and out the side and the fish is going ballistic. I put a little pressure on the reel because the fish is heading deep and it starts towing me all around. It finally ties up down deep and I breathe up for a bit and make a few drops before beginning to cut the fish out. I can’t grab the fish because the shooting line keeps pulling me back down as it is tangled in the kelp. He looks dead but I stick a knife into him anyways and then he wakes up and makes another run. Dammit!

If there ever was a case for having my floatline as a backup it was now, the fish pulled the entire speargun underwater and I quickly grabbed the floatline and pulled it back up until I could get my hands on that gun. I start working him towards the surface and dammit if he doesn’t tie up in the kelp again. As I’m trying to get my breath Mike drops right on top of him and grabs him for me. I brain the bastard and then head back towards the boat. I’m pretty beat, it’s been ten hours in the water and my legs are tired, and three fish is plenty for me so I pack it in. Thank god yellowtail are showing up so I don’t have to look for white seabass anymore :)!

As I begin to drift off to sleep, visions of fresh sashimi tomorrow play in my head, thankfully replacing the ones of my failure in the morning…