Sharks and Big Wahoo – A Spearfishing Trip

Big Wahoo

A typical catch for Jeremy.

Spearfishing big wahoo is still one of the most challenging things I do.  They’re the fastest fish in the ocean, have soft flesh, are beloved by sharks, and make blinding runs after shot.  Landing a monster takes the right gear, a bunch of patience, and some tactics you can only learn with experience.  I’ve made several multi-day trips into some of the best big wahoo hunting area on earth, but every time I’m humbled.

It was a good trip – solid divers, an epic spot, and (finally) a weather window we could head out (over 100 miles) into the Gulf.  Sharks and big wahoo are the norm here and we love it.

Almost everyone had been to the spot, and we had a captain who could regularly put us on big wahoo (check him out here).  There was a new guy, but he seemed solid enough for a run out there – as long as he didn’t freak out when he saw the sharks.  None of us would blame him if he did, we saw hundreds of sharks and big wahoo and usually had a couple of close calls on every run.  It’s not an exaggeration either – hell, a good friend of ours can’t land a wahoo without it being at least partially consumed by sharks (that’s him in both pics).  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

big wahoo

Jeremy feeding the sharks again.

Getting it Together

The plan started about a month in advance with plane tickets purchased from Hawaii and California to Houston.  Everyone arrived at IAH at the same time and we loaded up enough gear to outfit a small spearing army.  I’ve always wondered what other people at the airport thought as they heard us explaining to airline employees what was in our 7ft long, 100lb bag.  Even worse – if you accidentally let slip it’s a “speargun” or that it’s “spearfishing gear.”

Back to the story – we were going spearfishing and our target was big wahoo.  Our friends were here and we were stoked.  Excited talking, catching up, and rough jokes took all of 3 seconds to erupt – we knew we were going to have a crazy trip.  Nobody ever sleeps the night before (except for our captain) and everyone’s up early (again – except for our captain).   So we’re up, everyone get’s their fishing licenses and we head to the marina – cold, tired, but buzzed with excitement.

Big Wahoo
Prepping the boat.

We load a ton of extra fuel, some tanks (in case a fish gets tied up deep), too much processed food, some beer to trade for shrimp – and we’re off.  The trip runs about 6 or 7 hours one way, if we have a good sea and no mechanical issues.  I try to sleep but smashing through the waves and the constant smell of gasoline (from the fuel on the deck) keeps me awake.  We usually arrive sometime in the afternoon and start getting ready to enter the frigid water.  After a couple of passes we find the fish on radar and the first group makes the jump.

The air is so damn cold that none of us want to wet down our wetsuits to get them on, or take off the 3 layers of outer clothing necessary to don said wetsuits.  It’s in the 40’s (not all that cold to some), but there’s wind and we have to get wet to get in the wetsuit.  Without fail, out come the jokes about cold weather and naked dudes, not original – but consistent.  Then we untangle our gear – floatlines, spears, and giant spearguns are strewn all over the deck like some giant’s sewing kit.
Big Wahoo Gear

Too much gear.

Somewhere in the Gulf…

It’s hard to get the currents right – it usually takes a couple of runs to put us on the fish, but we get there. Somebody sees both sharks and big wahoo immediately.  A diver misses a big wahoo pretty quickly, not judging distance correctly and taking a shot that’s out of range.   The new guy is yelling about giant amberjack and we all secretly hope he doesn’t shoot one – it’ll take a few of us to help him get the fish in. Not that we have anything against amberjack (or new guys), but we’re here for wahoo.  And if you’re looking for a recipe for disaster, you don’t have to look much further than a green spearfisherman, a 100lb amberjack, and a bunch of deep-water sharks.

Then it happens;  someone finally sneaks up on a big wahoo and lands a shot.  And when someone has a fish on, you know it right away.  Everyone yells and at least two divers take off after the float skidding across the water (one diver for the wahoo, another to keep the sharks at bay).  There’s a noticeable tension too – it only takes a moment for the sharks to congregate on the fish.  Now it’s a fight to see who lands the fish – the sharks or us.
Big Wahoo Spearfishing

A float skidding across the water – a good sign.

This trip we landed about 2/3 of the wahoo we shot, only giving away 1/3 of our catch to the tax-man (sharks). No problem, we’ve had way worse odds.  Hell, trip before last we were landing only about 1/3 of the wahoo we shot – the tax man was especially unforgiving.  That’s when things get a little dicey too, after the sharks get the first fish they learn quickly.  And after the finish the fish, they’re in a frenzy and you’re the only thing left in the water.

We finish up the day with a couple of big wahoo, all of our limbs, and an amberjack – the new guy couldn’t resist.

Big Amberjack

Damien with the Amberjack we hoped he wouldn’t shoot.

Nights Aboard

That night we head toward the nearest rig, tie up, and put the fuel on deck into the boat.  God it sucks.  It’s cold, we’re exhausted, and we’re hungry – the last thing we want to do before settling in for the night is get covered in fuel.  But it gets done.  Sleep sometimes comes easy – not always though.

There’s the constant tension of being thrown into the rig and waking up stranded in the middle of the Gulf among the wreckage that was your boat. Sometimes it rains, sometimes the smell of fuel lingers, and sometimes the seas pick up and you spend the majority of the night levitating ~ 2 feet off the deck. We sleep (kinda) and then it’s light outside.

offshore sunrise

The sun is a blessing and a curse. It means it’s time to get up and go get underwater (sweet!), but it means we have to leave the (relative) comfort of our beds and put on our wet, freezing wetsuits (major bummer). We finally get moving and stuff our faces with processed, sugar covered, “breakfast food” on the way back to the spot.  There’s no coffee so some of the guys are chugging energy drinks – I’m tempted but I’m also pretty sure that stuff is toxic.

Getting Wet for Big Wahoo

We’re on the spot and now we’re trying to convince ourselves that we should get in the water.  Finally the lure of big wahoo makes someone take the plunge.

Big Wahoo Spearfishing

Putting off getting in.

Freezing.  The water makes it into my wetsuit and I taste salt, I’m awake now and I’m excited about this again. The blue is calming, exciting, and I really feel at home there.  Damn I miss this, I’d do anything to be able to do this more often.  Sharks pass but there’s only mild curiosity.  A couple of small ones make a pass but a quick poke with the speargun changes their mind.  Funny how chickenshit they end up being after the first aggressive pass.

Getting in the Swing

The flashers are dropped and we’re into full hunting mode.

This is the part I love; for the next few hours nothing else matters – not my job, my bills, my dog… Nothing.

My head’s on a constant swivel, and remind myself to turn around completely every now and then.  I’m watching the other divers.  I breath in quickly, but I exhale and make it last until I count to ten.  My heart rate begins to slow and I can see that we’re drifting over the spot, rainbow runners and ocean triggerfish come to meet me at the surface.

Three purge breaths and I’m down – of course we should be alternating divers but there’s only so many dives as we drift over the spot, and our dives are typically 30-40 feet – too easy.

Fish On!

Suddenly they’re here – we have 100ft of visibility but they sneak up on us.  Like a grey ghost, they materialize out of the blue – torpedo shaped and curiously eying us.  Somehow they always surprise me when they do that. 50ft away and there’s a wall of them – all big wahoo, some in the 90-100lb range.  The closest ones glide past and I angle toward them; kicking slowly, reminding myself not point until I’m ready to shoot, and keep closing the gap.  40ft, then 35ft – and my target starts to turn and increases the gap.  I’m almost a minute into the dive and I know contractions are right around the corner.  I see the other divers angling toward the wall of big wahoo and I have a choice:  leave the fish for them or forget my rule (don’t chase fish) and chase them in hopes of closing the gap. I chose the latter and, to my surprise, he let’s me close the gap.  30ft is my max range, and I’m there.

My lungs are screaming and the contractions have started.  I need to close the gap – just a couple more feet.  One more kick… aim… the recoil disrupts my line of sight.  I manage to see steel sticking out of the fish as he screams out of sight.  And on my way up my float line tightens and my float starts moving through the water. Hit.  Damn that was awesome.

big hammerhead shark

The taxman.

The sharks and the school of big wahoo follow myself and a friend as we chase the float; I’m hoping  he can land a shot on another big wahoo while I’m chasing mine.  The chase was short, the shot held, and now my friend takes a dive to check the shot and fend off sharks while I pull the fish to the surface.  In my experience, wahoo make one blistering run and give up – this one was no exception. At the surface we’re greeted by a hungry (big) hammerhead and another of the divers.  The divers circle me, spearguns facing out while the boat hauls ass to get the fish out of the water.

boating a big wahoo

Loading a small wahoo.

With a fish this size and with this amount of chop, getting the fish into the boat can be a challenge – of course, it’s a challenge I’m happy to face any day of the week.  With the big wahoo onboard, it’s time to take over for the guys on the boat and give them a shot at a world record.

We hunted for the rest of the day and then the until noon the following day.  When we finally started the 6 hour ride back in, we’d boated multiple big wahoo (each), tuna, amberjack, and rainbow runner (which we ate on the boat in ceviche). Everyone is tired and happy.  We’re finally bundled back up for the ride home and we all have something to bring home for sushi, ceviche, or the grill.  More than that, we all have an experience we’ll never forget and stories we’ll tell for the rest of our lives.

When I get back I send some pictures of our catch and let people know that I’ll be bringing them fish.  That’s one of the things I enjoy about these trips – I get to provide family and friends with the best fish, fresher than they could ever buy it.

I hope you enjoyed this, it’s one of many, many spearfishing and freediving stories I have.  I’ll occasionally post these, in addition to notes and progress on my trip preparation.

Nathan's big wahoo

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