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…


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