Dumping My Belt
This is a story that ended up nice with a big fish and great memories. But it also could have been a tragedy and painful memories for family or friends.
The important thing to remember is the "mantra" I always say and tell all my dive buddies. In over 40 years of diving I haven't found a fish worth dying for.
July 4th was a typical beautiful Kaneohe day. The winds were variable and seas flat. The tide was perfect with a slight current but nothing to worry about. Even better due to the lack of pressure.
It is also right on the point of the island and catches all the swells but today was perfect conditions.
After setting the anchor and making sure everyone was on the same page of where to go and when to come back, some of the group went in towards the cliffs face and others in the big bowl in the reef behind the boat. I set off for my favorite spot just outside in the deep where the structure has big reliefs and sand channels. My favorite fish to hunt called "MU" lives out there and I've been tormenting a school of them out there for years. There are a few that I'm sure are near or close in size to the record MU I shot last year. But they didn't get big by being dumb. In fact many divers say they are about the smartest fish around.
Since the range has been active just about every day, the fish were pretty tame. I found the school at the deep sand channel and on the first dive to my favorite crack that I hide in, the school literally came rushing in to see what I was doing. In the dark shadows inside the deep crack I can hide and see them come in. First the smaller ones and then the bigger ones. I wasn't as warmed up as I wanted to be but enough that when the first big Mu started to come in, I was able to hold out and get a nice shot on it. Man, it felt good to get a big 10 pounder on the first dive and first shot!.
I wend back down and twice I was able to get the school to come in. But each time the bigger ones stayed farther out and came in slower. The 2nd fish was about 7 lbs and then the last one 6 pounds. By then the school had wised up and started to move out. Sometimes just by following them and then finding a new hiding spot, will enable me to pick off another one. So I swam along with the school as they headed to deeper water. While looking for another spot to hide, I saw some movement along a deep wall in the sand channel. It was an Ulua. Couldn't tell how big since it was on the bottom and about 60 ft down. I could tell it was a thick one. I swam above and tried to follow it as it went from ledge to ledge. It finally came up to big rock just off the deep ledge. But it didn't come out the other side. I waited and didn't see anything. I might have given me the slip but then I saw a tail at the edge of the rock. There was a small over hang and it was hiding out under it in the same pocket. A quick breath up to get my heart rate down and I slowly glided down to the rock on the blind side. When I got to the bottom I took a peek around and came face to face with the ulua. It wasn't frightened and just slowly turned to go the other way. I had mentally told myself that if a good stone shot doesn't present itself I won't take it. I normally use a slip tip and cable when checking ulua houses but this was a fish dive with only a barbed shaft and 300 lb mono
It wasn't a far shot. I just lined up behind the eye like I've done countless time and pulled. The Ulua just opened its mouth and dropped to the sand! I let go of the gun and grabbed the shaft and started the slow swim up to the surface with this brute. I had a lot of reserve air to travel the long way up but at about 30 ft from the surface he started to shake and then like a boxer coming out of a knock out started to try and swim. I couldn't hold on so just slowly let the line out of my hand and figured when the gun get to me I'll just hold the gun and let the line off the reel.
Of course Murphy's law comes into play. As the gun gets to me, just as I grab the gun, my fish stringer with three big MU proceeds to do a wrap around the shooting line and then the gun. As I'm being pulled down by the fish and trying to un-twirl my stringer I thought ok, I have 5 seconds to get this sorted out. 5 sec went by and I'm being twirled around by a fish and said no fish is worth dying for. I pulled the Marseilles belt and unbuckled. holding the belt in my handl, I still thought I could pull the gun, weight belt and fish up but quickly decided better to drop and figure it out later. Down went my belt tangled with my gun and the big ulua to the bottom 60 ft down. It landed on a big flat spot at the edge of a shelf with the Ulua spinning in a death circle above it like a balloon. It took me about 5 minutes to get rested and figure out something. As the fish started to get weak, it was now bouncing on the bottom. But now was hanging over the edge bouncing around. The mono could get cut from the weight of the fish on the sharp coral. I took a long time to breath up and then is was an effort to kick down to 50 ft where I could relax and drop down to the edge. I grabbed the line, untangled it and headed back up with the fish. It was a pain now with the fish on my shaft and my weight belt and gun hanging down 25 ft bellow. I hit the surface and now the Ulua decides to wake up. So I grab the shaft on both side of its head and hung on. I couldn't kill it with my knife in my belt and now it was beating the shit out of me. I could see the boat about a 100 yards away so did the slow swim over. In the trek back, two of my fish came off and now there was a nice fat shark eating one of them on the bottom. Felt like hours before I got to the boat. And then I couldn't let go to grab the swim step since the Ulua would start kicking and I had to hold on with two hands. The kicking must have caused the shaft to move and cut an artery because it started to bleed like crazy. Finally it was weak enough for me to let go one hand and grab the swim step. Once at the boat I was able to roll onto the swim step and pull the fish up. Then haul up my belt and gun. That was it. Game over. I waited for the guys to get back and I told them about dumping the belt. First time and hopefully the last time I have to do that.
What did I learn? Always make sure you have enough reserve air to give you time think on the way up. Also try to think about Murphys law when dealing with something big. My biggest fear was always getting tangled in the shooting line when targeting tuna. Things happen so fast that prevention is better than reaction. And most of all don't be afraid to dump a belt. There was no time to even think about using a knife.
Dive safe... no fish is worth dying for.
Time in Hawai'i: