Hat Trick: Noun. The achievement of a positive feat based on 3’s.
The notorious Hat Trick. Among my buddies it meant shooting 3 distinct species on the same day on a shore dive. You had to get a white seabass, yellowtail, and halibut. All on the same day mind you. With a bit of luck, it can be fairly easy to get one of the species on a given day. If you are really lucky you might get two. But I have never known anyone to get all 3 on a shore dive, this is probably due to the fact if they told us we would beat the shit out of them because we would be green with envy. If you are reading this waiting to see if I succeeded then I’ll save you the time and thus escape the beating. I failed and I’m as far away as reaching this goal as I’ve ever been…
It would however, be one of the most incredible weeks I’ve ever had. It started out earlier when I had bought a “new to me” Daryl Wong, 55″ carbon fiber hybrid speargun.
Daryl Wong 55″ Carbon Fiber Hybrid, rigged and waiting for first blood…
It was planned to be my shore dive gun for white seabass season next year and I wanted to put it through the ropes before summer ended. The gun is super light, accurate and durable and has been a proven killer. I anxiously watched conditions, it would be windy one day, big swell the next day mixed with bad visibility. It was absolutely agonizing but finally the weather turned. When it did I hastily loaded up my gear after work and headed to one of my favorite spots. Unfortunately the swell was still filling in, it was still a long shot. I shaded my eyes and peered out and watched the breaking waves. There was one spot that appeared to have better visibility than others so I figured I might have a chance, plus I made the excuse that I needed the exercise anyways. As I started kicking out I already noticed that the water temp had dropped and there was less bait around. When I got closer to the low parts of the reef the surging water started making me feel sick to my stomach. Great. I burped a bit to keep my stomach settled and checked a few spots, just as I figured they were empty and dirty so I made the longer trek towards the clearer water I had seen earlier.
Right away I knew I was in “the zone”. Smelt nervously darted this way and that way, big sargo cruised by and quickly vanished into the haze. The visibility was just okay, maybe a hazy 15 feet. I saw some bigger kelp bass and in my mind I could just imagine white seabass cruising thru the kelp channels. I just knew they would show, it would be one of the few times in my life that I was absolutely sure of it. I made a drop down to about twenty feet and worked my way around a reef, above me I caught a flash of silver. Sure enough a fat white seabass cruised by, unaware that I was even below it. The fish turned slightly to one side and offered me a angled shot, I could extend the gun but I knew I might spook it so instead I shot it with my wrist turned somewhat to the side and unbraced, something I would never do with any of my big guns because that’s a great way to get hurt by the recoil. Since this gun doesn’t kick I simply pulled the trigger and let the shaft fly. The shot pegged it square and suddenly my floatline was ripping through my hands. I gave the fish a bit of line until it tied up and then quickly followed it down, dispatched it and made another drop to unclip the shooting line. I couldn’t believe my good fortune, in my hands was a nice late season seabass, super fat with beautiful coloration.
A very fat, male White Seabass
A few days later I felt that longing to be in the ocean once again and so once again I headed down to one of my spots down south or perhaps it was north, the details escape me. All I remember is that I peered cautiously into the waves and saw blue water. Blue Water! I hastily grabbed my gear and headed out. It was one of those amazing days, there were fish everywhere! Of course they were mostly reef fish that I wouldn’t take, big schools of opaleye and the dreaded nasty zebra perch zipped back and forth in the swell. Giant kelpfish weaved themselves in and out of the yellow kelp blades. I pushed aside the feather boa kelp and ended upon a shallow reef. A few big sargo quickly turned and headed out but I gave a few false croaks and they turned to see what was going on. I could have easily stoned one but I was holding out for big halibut or maybe another late season white seabass.
I watched sheephead pecking at the hard bottom, big rubberlip perch swayed sideways in the kelp doing what I figured was some sort of mating dance. Small kelp bass boomed away. Sand bass lazily kicked their tails and swam into safer waters. I poked in and out of kelp, made deep and shallow drops to no avail. The fifty foot visibility was just too clear for white seabass today. I unloaded one of the bands on my Hybrid, I’d only need one band to shoot hiding halibut. But after an hour or so of scouring the bottom I came up empty handed. I reminded myself that days like this don’t come often and knew it still was a fantastic day and I headed back to the shore. As I was dropping into some shallow sand pockets I saw movement and quickly looked up. I still couldn’t believe it, not ten feet away a school of small yellowtail breezed by. I had to make a quick decision, load up the gun with the extra band or try to draw them in for a closer shot. I chose the latter and drummed on my bands, sure enough the school turned and came a bit closer, I extended the gun and BAM stoned the closest one near me.
It was a small fish, probably the smallest yellowtail I’ve ever shot yet I couldn’t believe my good fortune. It was my first shore dive yellowtail, I dispatched and gutted it quickly and headed towards shore. As I made my way back to the car I met another spearfisherman. His eyes widened as he glanced at the fish in my bag. ” Yellowtail? Here?” he asked. I smiled and nodded my head and trudged onward. On my way home I planned a nice dinner of yellowtail sashimi and yellowtail poke…
Yellowtail Poke: yellowtail, seaweed, brown sugar, etc mmmmmmmm
I made plans on returning to that area and a day or so later I found myself kicking outwards towards the kelp. Visibility was still fairly clear, so much so that the only white seabass I ran into were obvious shorts. Still I admired them as they snuck their way through the kelp with their black bars and bands helping them blend into the dark areas of the kelp. I never get tired of seeing them like that. I unloaded one of the bands on my Wong, in the back of my mind was the yellowtail from a day before and I hoped it would bring me luck. Of course no yellows showed but I ended up checking out some sand patches that looked like they might hold halibut anyways. Sure enough after a bit of exploring I made out the shape of a head and as I was debating whether or not it was legal, BOOM, the fish threw sand up in my face and dashed off. “Mother fu…”! It was clearly legal and I cursed myself for not being a bit more stealthy. I came across another face in the sand and saw the imprint of the tail, clearly a short but just in case I lightly poked it and it quickly darted away. Definitely a short, I was glad I didn’t pull the trigger on that one! As I worked my way to a dirtier part of the reef I glanced down and my eyes widened. There hidden in the sand was the clear outline of a very big mouth. I followed it backwards and saw a nice fat tail. Slowly I backed up a bit and extended the gun and shot the fish square in the back, it took off quickly and I followed and quickly dispatched it and strung it up on my belt. It wasn’t that long, but man was it FAT. The fish had shoulders on it and was filled with smelt.
One Fat Halibut
It was getting dark now and I felt very lucky, as I exited the calm water I took off my gear and sat down and watched the sunset. Some pelicans cruised by in flight formation and I reminded myself how fortunate I really was to experience the view and reflect. What a great week! Even though I had NOT completed the hat trick, I had at least had a fantastic week and I’ll still have that damn hat trick goal to fulfill sometime in the future. The halibut would become part of my wife’s favorite dish; Cajun encrusted maple syrup grilled halibut.
Cajun maple syrup halibut
That week would be one of the most memorable in my life, but it was only the beginning of what would end up being a great end to the summer. One of my friends had leaked out that he had seen some very large white seabass either near or far. I took his word and loaded up my boat, called a couple of my buddies and in no time we were streaming towards what we hoped was clear water. When we arrived at the bed there were a lot of other boats diving or fishing it so I picked a quiet spot on the up current end. The water had decent visibility so I chose my 59″ speardiver gun from my quiver. I made my drop and started working the kelp, this particular bed didn’t have a ton of bait but I located a nice pocket of smelt. There was a current pushing the kelp down and I made drop after drop swimming through the bed. I remember kicking down about twenty five feet and seeing a very large late season white seabass cruising through the kelp towards me. I have blown a lot of shots at this particular location, sometimes when the fish were so close I could practically touch them! I extended the gun towards the head of the fish because I wanted a solid shot as I started to squeeze the trigger the fish quickly did a 180 degree turn in less than a second and had bolted. The shot had already been deployed and I was sure I had missed it once again, however in seconds my red floatline was shooting through my hands. Fearing the shot was bad I gave this fish plenty of line, my home made floatline is 100′ long with a 10′ black bungee that stretches an additional 30′, anytime a fish gets to that bungee I put on the brakes and this fish was no exception. As I gently leaned back the fish finally tied up, I clipped off my gun and inflated my float to make sure I didn’t lose track of it and I quickly snaked down the line. Unfortunately the visibility had turned, it was now closer to 10 feet or less and the current was still ripping. One of my buddies saw my float and hurried over to check on me. I assured him I was okay and that he should continue hunting. The visibility was so shitty that it took me a while to locate my fish and when I finally did I was stunned to see the shot was right below the dorsal fin and barely holding, there was no better commercial for using a slip tip. I came to my senses and then did the “Psycho” shower scene on the fishes head and swam quickly upwards for a breath of air. It took me quite a long time to get down to the fish, even though it was only in 40′ of water, the bad vis, strong current and my spaz excited state made it a challenge to unclip the line and get it out of the kelp. I had to take long breaks in between dives to make sure I wouldn’t be in trouble, luck was with me and that fish weighed in at 48 pounds and super long and skinny. Not my biggest fish of the season but definitely my biggest late season seabass!
48 lbs. Not my biggest but one of the longest, especially very late in the season
I’ll end my story with this. I had a few days before I headed off on vacation. I already knew where I’d go, the sea beckoned me back to one of my favorite haunts, Catalina Island. I’m at this island almost once a week when the conditions are right. This time though the water had turned a bit cold and the visibility had gone down as well, we hunted for yellowtail but had found none. Towards the end of the day I fired up my boat and headed to an area that often held seabass and even though I didn’t find any I still had a memorable dive. As I made a drop around the thermocline I crept through the kelp and saw a gigantic head peering out of the kelp. It was too dark to be a white seabass and shaped too odd to be a black sea bass. As my eyes narrowed I knew I was looking at a jumbo kelp bass. I debated whether or not to shoot it (one time I knocked out a 10 lb calico with a shaft whip and revived it, true story and I might tell it later) and then I extended my 59″ gun and lined up the shot and in a second made the decision. The shot rang true and instantly stoned the fish, it simply rolled over with a slight quiver. I heaved it over the side of my boat and my buddy gasped, WTF that is a big calico! The fish weighed in at 8 pounds on two different scales and would end a fantastic run on some nice fish. My freezer is full and I reminded myself about that as I reluctantly backed my boat into my yard and I made mental notes of what maintenance I would have to complete before I could take her out again.
Thank god it’s almost lobster season, I’m getting pretty tired of eating fish anyways ;).
8 lb Kelp bass and the gun that slayed it