C-Level stealthily cut her way through the flat water and finally eased to a stop on top of a hidden reef. Around us were a variety of small fish dancing under the surface and a few sea birds clumsily dove over them, we both took a look over the side of the boat and smiled in satisfaction. The water was extraordinarily clear! My buddy Nelson quietly lowered the anchor and in no time we both slid into the warm, blue water.
I had only made a few kicks towards the bait and immediately stopped, around me was a picture I hope to never forget. There were big yellowtail all over the place! I looked ahead and saw three bruisers eyeing me, to the left were another two, and to my right four more that I guessed to be about twenty pounds. Usually we have to fight a decent current to see them like this but today the water was strangely still. I was mezmorized until I remembered that I had to take a breath of air. I surfaced and looked for Nelson to yell out that the fish were here but I couldn’t see him, dammit. I calmed myself on the surface, took another breath and dipped down. The yellowtail began to slink off so I pretended to lose interest and turned away slightly. The trick worked and the fish rushed back to where I was looking at and I extended my 59″ speardiver Gil gun and braced it for the shot. In less than a second my shooting line, shaft and floatline shot forward, only to harmlessly sink away, the slip tip fluttering away in the water. I “airballed” it. In the super clear water I had underestimated the distance which meant one other thing; these fish were bigger than I had thought, probably in the thirty pound range.
My custom 59″ Gil Gacula gun, I’ve shot more yellowtail and white seabass with this gun than you can shake a stick at!
I hastily swam back to my boat to switch to one of my longer cannons and saw that my buddy had his head poked in the kelp, hypnotized by the clear water and the myriads of fish. “Dude the big fish are over THERE”, I pointed and sent him on his way where he would later shoot his first California yellowtail. I kicked myself back onto my boat, grabbed my bigger 63″ Daryl Wong Ono and slipped back into the water. I bit hard on the snorkel as I loaded up the four bands and kicked back towards the fish, hoping all along that I hadn’t spooked them and scattered them into the abyss.
My 63″ Wong Ono, enclosed track 5/16″ shaft with Mori slip tip
A few minutes later and another yellowtail cruised by, the bright stripe hiding it’s eyes like a bandit’s mask. I made a few more kicks to close the gap strummed my bands to make it look at me and then took a long shot, this time the shaft leapt out of the gun and hit it squarely in the body. At first I thought I had stoned it (term for an instant kill from the shot) because the fish just sat in one place but as soon as I put a bit of pressure on the line it woke up and went absolutely nuts. My float line zipped through my hands and in a moment my float skipped over the water, finally tombstoning above the fish. The float danced in position for a moment and then disappeared, as it sank I saw the pressure compressing it and thought it was going to burst but luckily the fish lost some steam and the float again rose to the surface. The fish zipped back and forth and I was careful to not get tangled up in the line, eventually it tied up at about in the 50′ range. I breathed up and dropped down and saw that the fish was making mad circles around the kelp, over and over again like the hands of some crazy out of control clock. The big danger was the fish was still hot and if it wrapped me then…well then that wouldn’t be good would it? I madly kicked back to the boat and grabbed my 120cm rabitech railgun and loaded the mighty 20mm band and swam back. When I got there the first thing I saw was a big black sea bass swimming around my fish! This brought a flashback to a long time when I started spearing and a yellowtail tied me up at 50 feet. I couldn’t dive that deep back then, and as I contemplated my situation, a big black sea bass had swam right up to that fish and sucked it right off the shaft in one gulp!
This time though I had the edge and was more confident in my skills, I relaxed my body and when I was ready again dipped my fins. I slid down the water and approached the yellowtail which was still making big circles. I took careful aim and the spear found it’s spot, the fish quivered once and lay still. I kicked for the surface and composed myself, after a few minutes made the final drop and chased the big black sea bass away, unclipped my swivel and swam back to the surface with the fish in hand. It was mine, victory over the sea bass at last! That fish would go 29 pounds and would set the standard for the extraordinary season I was about to experience.
I could go on with countless stories about the fun I had with my buddies. There was a time when I got schooled by fifty or more big yellowtail. Or the one that didn’t see me coming as I dropped through the bait and delivered a stone shot. Or traveling to a far island on a hunch with my buddies and scoring three in a day, one so mean that it bent up my 5/16″ thick shaft. There was a unbelievable year where blue warm water brought yellowtail and even dorado from their southern waters into our area. I tried to hit some of my favorite islands pretty much every week, sometimes even twice a week! The fish would remain at a distance so I opted to sell off one of my guns for an even bigger gun, a 67″ Mori enclosed track tuna gun. I’m hoping this finally cures my addiction to spearguns but I pretty much said that after every gun I’ve purchased :).
67″ Mori Tuna gun. Perfectly balanced, 11/32″ vector marine shaft and mori slip tip, enclosed track and yes it works great on yellowtail…
Chasing yellowtail would lead to adventures that I daydream about every time I close my eyes. Basking in warm clear water, swimming with sea lions and harbor seals, doing drops down deep and beckoning yellows to come closer with my flashers. Swimming a few feet away from a green sea turtle. How about the time we dropped in on about 50 big black sea bass?
Ever see a squadron of 20 bat rays flying underwater in formation? Have a white shark swim a few feet from your boat? Grab a ride from a mola mola? Watch a school of barracuda work a bunch of sardines? Get stung in the face by unseen plankton? Okay maybe that one wasn’t so great! All of this happened within a few months, it has been an unbelievable summer. I swear almost every time I go out I get to experience different things. When we freedive we are as close to mimicing a natural underwater animal as possible and are fortunate to get to mix our lives with them for a few precious moments. On lucky days we have clear warm water. And on really lucky days I’ll get a nice fish that I can share with my family and friends and still have enough to make a delicious meal.
A chunk of yellowtail sashimi that has been block prepped. I usually gill and gut my fish as soon as they are dispatched, then I throw them on ice. The results are a grade of fish that is as good or better than a lot of sushi bars. Aged 3 days, the muscle in the tough fighting yellowtail is perfect for sashimi or Hawaiian poke.
Yellowtail sashimi, yellowtail Poke and some brown rice. One of my favorite home made meals.
I took a final trip to a distant island a few days ago. I worked various reefs and points looking for just one more yellowtail. I kicked in the current for about eight hours straight and had nary a sighting. With the water cooling off and the days getting shorter it looked like the yellowtail are finally going away. I thought about this tonight as I drove home with the beautiful fall sunset chasing me. I had a phenomenal summer of yellowtail hunting. And I have so much more to look forward to: lobster season has started, white seabass season is coming up soon. And if I’m really really lucky, maybe. Just maybe. Well maybe I’ll have a shot at one more yellowtail…
These images below were taken by my buddy Dam Nguyen. Dam has quickly established himself as a legendary freediver and what most of us would consider a professional underwater photographer. The difference between myself and Dam freediving are simple: I am lucky. Dam is good.
Here’s a little yellowtail video I put together, I’m still getting used to my gopro dammit.