He’s getting more confident in the water, following effortlessly through the breakers and into the outer kelp beds, dive buoy in tow. I believe he’s losing his fear. To the uninitiated it’s a big, unfamiliar world, the mind constantly conjuring specters out of dark shapes and emptiness. Fish worth shooting were sparse today, though there were plenty of schools of baitfish circling and darting. Liquid silver clouds, morphing, dispersing, multiple organisms seeming to create a single larger one. I found a new area, thick kelp forests bordering a deep trench in the reef about a meter wide. I timed a dive with the surge and went rocketing through this miniature canyon, walls rising 15 to 20 feet on either side, short calicos fleeing as I glide through. It likely would’ve been a good place to look for octopus. The kelp is back and thick and healthy, finally reattached after winter storms and large waves. That there were no fish to shoot- I left the opaleye alone- this was fine with me. I passed on them, simply enjoying the sights with my son beside me. I feel the urge to spend more time out there without a speargun, simply blending amongst the life.
It calls me, underwater. A powerful refuge. Cold, silent, shaded…my daydreams constantly return me to the outer edges of a bending kelp bed, darkness overhead, pulling myself through by the stalks…
The current was strong, kelp laid sideways, particles flowing past the lens of my mask. It took considerable effort to stay in place, constantly kicking against a river. Visibility wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t exactly good, at least by islands standards, maxing out at roughly 25 feet.
I swam beside my son, a loaded speargun in his hands. Today would be his day. I never took a shot, instead guiding him, teaching him how to stalk fish.
I spot a very large fish on the bottom in ~25 feet of water, facing away from me. It doesn’t see or hear us yet. Abruptly snatching the gun from my son I surface and tell him to be as still and quite as he can. I dive and reach the fish in seconds. It turns slowly to face me as I approach shooting range. It’s a giant cabezon, the largest I’ve ever seen at possibly over four feet long, the large flat head almost a foot thick. As I raise my gun fearing it will bolt at any second, it just stares at me, giant lips in a perpetual frown. We make eye contact and I lower the gun and wish the old beast a good day. I unconsciously speak the word “truce”. We stare at each other for a few more seconds and I begin to ascend, its primordial eyes following me to the surface. My son watched the encounter and asks why I didn’t shoot.
“He was too amazing” is all I can reply.
It would’ve been the largest fish I’d ever shot. But not today. Today I was content simply meeting him.
The rest of our dives were marked by a similar tone; I was content simply watching my son hunt perch and watching the seals do their underwater dance. I snatched the gun to chase a sizable sheepshead and yet again, as I closed into shooting range, instead of letting a spear fly, something shifted and I was content just watching it swim and disappear into the kelp.
Perhaps the biggest and the best are not all they’re cracked up to be, perhaps shooting enough of the more abundant perch for a few dinners is sufficient. Perhaps I like the idea of the large, older beasts swimming our reefs too much to kill them.
On the ride home, my son asked me more about why I didn’t shoot the cabezon. It’s hard to articulate but I believe he understands. I do not want to raise a hunter that shoots anything and everything simply because he can.
“I find there is a distinct difference between the flesh of a wild animal and that of a domestic one. Wild animals seem to have a quality that is missing in domestic creatures. When we think of the conditions under which a chicken, for example, must live and grow then these differences become apparent. Chickens live in a dirty, crowded environment; they are fed processed foods filled with chemicals, they are filthy and weak. I think this kind of existence is bound to affect every fiber of that chicken’s being; it is spiritless and incomplete. The white sea bass is as wild as an animal can be; free and mobile, it roams the underwater wilderness at will. It is alive because it is strong and it must hunt for its food, eating other equally strong and wild creatures. The white sea bass is a clean, powerful and spirit-filled warrior living a life it was meant to live. This kind of existence must also affect every fiber of its being. I question why I should accept a life that is any less noble than that of a white sea bass.”
-Carlos Eyles, Last of the Blue Water Hunters