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.