Some of my most exhilarating times in the ocean chasing fish have revolved around one particular species of fish. That fish, the amberjack is quite an adventure for even the most experienced of spear-fishermen.
Early in the Spring of 2009, the long work days of my then normal schedule were beginning to wear me a bit thin. In response to this, I planned for a few days in advance as to how I could best maximize my water time while down in the keys on a regular trip to see my parents in the keys. I just had a feeling it was gonna be a great weekend of good vibes and casual ascents to the surface...
Just after work on Friday afternoon I rounded up my buddy Brian and headed down to the Florida Keys from where I was living at the time on Deerfield Beach, Florida. After a quick two and a half hour drive I was home again. When I arrived at my father home on the west end of Marathon, I was greeted by the most wonderful of smells as the low tide, tropical breezes and salt air mixed with glorious seduction. By the time we gathered our things inside my father's home and grabbed a bite to eat, both Brian and I were ready to get some rest as the anticipation of the following days events were too much to endure.
The next morning came fast and early. Before dawn we were meeting up with our fellow spearfishing friends, James form Key West and Jeremy from Marathon. We gathered all of our gear and cast off the dock just as the sun was peeking its head above the morning's horizon. In no time, the 400 horses on the stern of the boat had us screaming around the east side of the island. As I glanced around the deck that morning I saw four smiling faces ready to greet the day.
As we passed through Vaca cut and ran towards the reef, I could tell that there was significantly more chop on the ocean than we had initially anticipated. The nearshore waters were churned up and milky and I became slightly nervous that the conditions would not even permit us to attempt an expedition.
However, as we neared the shallow reefs a clear blue line clearly designated what was the inshore shallow water from the clean deeper ocean water. By the time we were anchored in 40ft of water, I estimated that the water visibility was 70 feet or more. We had some fun warming up in the shallow waters and then made our way towards our next spot, a steel hulled shipwreck in one hundred and fifteen feet. Frlm the surface you could clearly see the superstructure of the ship nearly 75 feet below.
I couldn't wait to get on my gear and get below the surface as I could just feel something good coming. My first drop put me in the middle of a large school of amberjacks. As they raced by I could clearly make out the bandit strike on their eyes and that distinctive jack nonchalance. As I swam past some of the smaller fish in the school I ended up just above a much larger and mature fish. I lined up my shot and waited for the perfect moment. With a shot from above and approximately 15 feet behind, I put my 65 inch Daryl Wong shaft through the middle of the fish's back just behind his head.
Everything after that happened so fast that before I could even see if the shaft had penetrated his entire body the reef donkey and his bucking had stripped nearly half of the line off my reel. Ascending as fast as possible, I hit the surface and invited the clean air deep into my lungs. While working the floatline to drag the fish back to the boat I watched a big Goliath Grouper approach my big amberjack, but luckily he receded back to the depths before too long. After a good swim against the current, I reached the boat, and began to bring the big amberjack closer. As I began this process, the scent of the fresh kill attracted the attention of the wrecks biggest predators. Holding on near the stern of the boat I could clearly see as a group of big bull sharks began circling my catch. Being cautious, I worked faster to get the fish in the boat, and in haste ended up bending the shaft of my spear. Once he was within reach, I knew that I had landed the fish with gear and fish intact. As I pulled the monster up and over the transom, I turned to see my friend Jeremy already in the boat with his first Amberjack. I could tell in that moment that he had become one more excited clan member amongst our great family of spearfishermen. He couldn't wipe the smile off his face.
When we returned to the dock, I could feel extreme gratitude all around myself. I was so thankful to have the chance to live such an awesome day. My fish wasn't weighed, because I figured it wasn't even close to a record, but a great catch nonetheless.