How's the Diving on the Big Island of Hawaii?
January 2003 - June 2003
An ongoing series of freediving journals by Rob White
May 19, 26 and June 2, 2003
I know I've gotten behind a bit on my weekend journals but I guess I have had nothing special happen lately or I'm jaded from an incredible year so far. Plenty has happened over the last three weekends but I think I can safely sum it up in one story. I'm anxiously awaiting this weekend due to the fact that Blue Water Hunting can be sparse at times, and I'm hungry.
When summer is in full swing the ocean erupts with life around here. Things that my photography associates tell me are "rare" or "difficult to get close to" I have seen often and very close up. However I'm not sure if being close up to some of these animals is a good thing or if I have more to lose than I think. Regardless, I'm there for a reason and risk is just part of the game.
Most people don't think of Dolphins as dangerous, and most are not, however there are some species that can show aggression certain times of the year during what I call the "feeding and breeding" time. Your mom may have told you never to pet a dog while it's eating because it can turn on you. The same applies to most or all in the animal world. Do you remember watching National Geographic when the African Lions feed? Most of us divers are familiar with the shark feeding frenzy. If you think they're bad you should watch me eat--wait, no you shouldn't.
Summer, more specifically Spring, brings the breeding part of the aggressive behavior. I've spent some time at Lulu's, a local bar and nightclub, and I've witnessed the same behavior in the male human species especially after a few rounds of "liquid courage." I guess that's where the term "land shark" came from. Anyway, I have been experimenting with different means of attracting game fish, which includes chumming and jumping in with the Porpoise schools which are known to swim with Ahi (Yellow Fin Tuna). Both of these methods have brought "different" behavior in the normally docile mammalian creatures. Many of which had babies with them.
Many of the larger males have charged at me while snapping their jaws possibly in attempt to let me know I'm challenging his position as the dominant male. Does anyone know how to speak Dolphin because I need to tell these guys not to worry, I'm not interested in your wahini. And the wahini's with babies have acted with the same aggressive behavior and I don't think they are just trying to talk to me Joan Ocean.
I also tried recently to film Pilot whales while on scuba. Might I suggest to you aspiring photographers and videographers that the bubbles created by scuba is very similar to a gesture created by male whales when they are showing dominance over another male, so don't do it. Challenging a male in Lulu's may be just as hazardous.
These last few weeks have been filled with great visuals including several species of Dolphins, Pilot Whales and of course the ever prevalent BAIT fish, but nothing worthy of my spear. As we like to say, "the worst day of fishing is better than any day at work."
Just another day in Hawaii.
May 12, 2003
|Success! Rob White with Ahi.|
Landing at "VV" buoy we noticed the current was flying. The first jump brought an abundance of baitfish including five-ish pound Ahi (Yellow Fin Tuna) and Aku (otherwise known as BAIT) as well as some Kamanu (Rainbow Runner) and Opelu (otherwise known as BAIT). I had decided the ultimate destination was "C" buoy due to the 100 pound Ahi seen the day before, so after one pass by "VV" without any large game fish I jumped back onto the boat and off we went. The Twin Vee zipped the two excitedly anxious water humans to "C" buoy in no time where I wasted no time jumping into the water almost before the boat came to a full stop.
The first toss of the frozen road-kill we brought along seem to elevate the entire ocean and soon thousands of baby (5 - 10 pound) Ahi, Aku and Opelu were bouncing off of my speargun, fins and even my body trying to be the first one to the road kill chum breakfast-of-champions. A second toss of chum brought in some 20 - 30 pound Ahi which I promptly slipped under the surface to line up a shot on one of these bionic speeding bullets. There was one Ahi that looked a bit bigger than the rest but with attempt after attempt he just seemed to know my range and stayed out of it. One more toss of chum was all it took for the baitfish and the "big one" to come right up to the surface. Dipping about ten feet under I waited for him to come to me by chance or curiosity and it paid off. My shot was true and the shaft passed through the Ahi. A pesky Oceanic White Tip gave chase to the Ahi so I fed him line and he easily outran the hungry shark looking for an easy meal. As the shark returned to the surface and swam away I slowly pulled the tiring Ahi for a securing bear hug.
Perhaps due to my unfamiliarity with spearing Ahi, or even seeing them in the wild, this fish in particular draws my admiration due to it's prolific nature and ability to survive in an environment of seemingly endless volume and size where its greatest defense is its speed, and its greatest demise is its quality of meat. This day has been no less than amazing and will forever be remembered.
Just another day in Hawaii.
May 11, 2003
So all the fishermen are raving about the fish they are catching including Ono's, Ahi and Marlin but as you can tell from my last story the ocean has not been very cooperative with my timing, diving on the weekends. One Marlin weighed in over 1,000 pounds last week and it was caught in the "Ono lane" in approx. 250 feet of water. Other boats are bragging about quantities of Ono catches numbering into the twenties, thirties and more as well as 100-pound Ahi and larger, but they were all caught by trolling which is a sin for the spearfisherman.
This week a gentleman named Gary Thompson, from one of the major L.A. spearfishing clubs, visited The Blue Water Hunter and shared many stories of late which inspired me to invite him on this weeks dive adventures.
We set out from Honokohau harbor about 7:00 am. on the shop "Twin-Vee" boat on a beautiful Sunday morning with high hopes and low winds. Powering on the "Simrad" I attempted to plot our course for the day, even though I hadn't read the manual and this is only the second time I've used this high-tech fish finder, chart plotter and GPS combo unit. Its beautiful color screen enabled me to at least locate a F.A.D. (Fish Attracting Device) however thinking it was a particular buoy named "VV" I was looking at on the screen it turned out to be "F" buoy. Oops, only a 15-mile difference, I was wondering why it was taking us so long to get to it.
Finally reaching "F" buoy I made the first jump to see what's around while Gary would hang loose on the boat and soak in some rays. Entering the crystal clear blue water is always energizing and tranquil especially when the majestic Oceanic White Tip Shark shows up on the scene. With a reputation of unpredictability and aggression toward divers, fins shaped for maneuverability and a muscular body capable of swimming fast enough to catch Ahi at full speed, the Oceanic White Tip is a fierce predator and should not be confused with the relatively dossal White Tip Reef shark. Without any game fish in sight I decide to trade my gun for my video camera and film the Oceanic.
Onto "VV" buoy, Gary jumps in dives right away to get a shot on a sizable Ono, estimated at 30 - 40 pounds, but the Ono had other ideas and continued on its journey. A few more passes yielded and abundance of bait but nothing sizeable. So we decided to try our luck at "C" buoy, which turned out to be a rewarding experience. "C" buoy has a reputation for holding Ahi and other game fish but personally I have never seen a pod of "Stino," or Toothed Dolphin, just hanging out at the buoy. The Stino is infamous for stealing a fishermen's catch right off the hook without getting snagged. This situation was unique in that the big charter boat, trolling fishermen came by "C" buoy, noticed the Stino and abruptly left for an alternate destination knowing they would waste their time.
A similar problem arose when we dropped our palu (chum/bait) and the Stino would come right up to us and eat it before the fish below had a chance to approach. The Stino is also a viable predator so none of the game fish would come anywhere near our palu while the Stino where around. Soon we noticed the Stino liked to stay up-current of the buoy and if we dropped the palu down-current of the buoy the Stino would leave it alone. This was a major revelation and we were able to bring up several large Ahi estimated at 100 pounds. I had been filming a mother and baby Stino Dolphin feeding on the palu so I had my camera in my hand when the 100-pound Ahi showed up.
My constant dilemma--whether to have my camera in hand or my speargun because is hard to eat videotape at the end of the day. However, I did get some good footage of the 100 pounders feeding on the chum. After that I traded the camera back for my gun to try and bring home some sashimi. I made two attempts to bring an Ahi within range and on the third attempt I had managed to gain their trust enough to take a shot. I knew I had a slim chance at landing one of these fish due to their high rate of speed and abrupt course change during the feeding frenzy but I pulled the trigger hoping for the best just as the Ahi simultaneously changed direction and air-balled the shot. Not a big surprise that I missed but my heart sank as I watched the Ahi swim for the depths. We attempted to offer more palu to the Ahi and bring them up for another opportunity but the Ahi became too smart and any attempt I made to dive under the surface scattered the small school of large Ahi to the deep, dark depths.
Without any fish but filled with gifted images from the Hawaiian waters, Gary and I headed home smiling from ear to ear in silent awe from the full day of events. Little did Gary know this day set a precedent and direction for the following day which I would venture out once again to experience what fate, chance and a little luck thrown in the mix had in store for me.
May 5, 2003
After a great Harley ride on Sunday with the gang (yes, I enjoy doing other things outside of diving) I was ready to go Jurassic and hunt down my own dinner. Calling my buddy Jeff Kinimaka on the Coconut-Wireless I summoned his presence to accompany me on this week's adventure. With Jeff's brand new #5 Metal Tech Riffe he scored from a local crack dealer, just kidding, he got it from us at The Blue Water Hunter, he wasn't really concerned about what to shoot, he just wanted to shoot something--you know the feeling when you get a new speargun.
After the usual morning antics we jumped in surprisingly clear water after a week of wind and waves. Heading out to the drop-off to look for some passing Onos we noted the current was almost nonexistent. Finding a good spot Jeff lowered a string of flashers we brought with us and began jigging. I swam up-current, whatever current there was, and began to chum the water with some pilou (nasty or stank) fish parts I have had in the freezer since man invented ice. Ironically I noticed the few baitfish that were around were now swimming away at a high rate of speed--could it have been the pilou palu (stank bait)???
After the remaining pilou palu was drifting into the abyss I asked Jeff if he'd like to head inside to have a look at the reef? He agreed, and as soon as I started inward I hear Jeff yell, "Rob--Ono!" I look behind and there he was in all his slender, glistening glory (the Ono, I mean, not Jeff) to our surprise came in to investigate the flashers and possibly to find out who was releasing the biohazard of palu into his domain.
Jeff remained jigging the flashers as I dove to offer an "unaggressive curiosity factor (I'm going to coin that phrase. Remember you heard it hear first.)." The Ono seemed indecisive if he should come in for a closer look or swim away; the smell of the pilou palu on my gloves may have kept the Ono away. This theory was tested on several more attempts where I dove down and the Ono would drift off just outside comfortable shooting range until the Ono finally turned and swam slowly away for good.
On the inside we came across a large Ulua that appeared to be hunting on the drop-off and unaware of our presence. However, the instant Jeff made an attempt to dive, the Ulua became a bullet and swam off as if someone had fired the start gun to an Olympic 50 yard sprint. The uneventful reef jaunt landed us back at the spot we first came across the Ono for a last ditch effort before heading in. After hanging around for a few minutes we headed in. But again, as previous adventures should have it, the ocean wasn't finished with us yet.
Swimming in from the blue, Jeff appeared to still be in hunting mode, where I was determined to get to the truck and eat some leftover pizza from last week. I was so hungry by that point I would have eaten the pilau palu if there was any left. All of the sudden I hear Jeff yell, "Rob--Rob!!!" I thought he had speared something big but when I swam to Jeff I saw the large dark figure of the unusually familiar shape of the Hammer Head shark. This loner species of Hammer Head has been know to give divers a hard time and Jeff was no exception. Jeff later explained the Hammer Head came up to him only a few feet away before Jeff realized it and poked the shark away with his spear gun. Coming around again Jeff contemplated spearing the Hammer Head but decided correctly to simply poke it away for a second time. Apparently the second jab was enough for the shark when I showed up and saw him on his way out. It was a beautiful sight for me to see this rarely seen, large, dark black Hammer but I'm sure Jeff would not concur due to the surprise factor. But it made for a memorable dive due to the fact we were getting out of the water without even pulling the trigger--even on Jeff's brand new #5 MT Riffe. Now that's conservation to the fullest.
April 20, 2003
One simple goal lead to a greater understanding of the ocean and humbled the excitable. When some of us that are excitable experience what may be only a moment in time, such as a "near death" experience or even a quiet minute of solitude watching the waves wash against the shore, we realize we are but a grain of salt on a beach of sand and understand even for that moment that we are all from the same beach and the true "meaning to life" is simply to enjoy it by sharing life's bounty with those willing to listen. Not of original thought but these words bring a message that will always bring meaning.
My good friend and diving mentor Bruce Ayau, shared much of his time and energy while in the Blue so that I may experience the ocean's bounty. Part of life is to learn and the rest is to teach. I am far from the role of a teacher but I'm more than willing to share what I have been taught to those that are willing to listen. I have been fortunate to watch several of my friends and diving comrades gain the ability and knowledge as I did through diving with Bruce.
"Today is your day," I explained to Jeff. "We are here overlooking the calm waters off the Kohala coast so that you can experience what it is like to purposely find, hunt, spear and hopefully land an Ulua." Inspired by hundreds of stories about the powerful Ulua, my friend Jeff Kinimaka has waited for this day for a long time. My last words to Jeff before entering the water were, "Concentrate on your goal, see it playing out and be humble in the victory."
Jeff's expression changed from that of a weekend warier wanting to blow off some steam from life's busy workweek, to that of a warier going into the battle of life and death and the concentration of an artist sculpting his newborn baby's face. He suited his watery armor in silence, far from his usual good humor and abundant laughter. While the mighty ball of fire a trillion miles away drew beads of sweat from his brow, he stood expressionless as if he could see his destiny before him. The turbulent water ahead stirred with excitement and doubt.
These are the precious moments of solitude where the window to the "meaning of life" becomes clearer. Regardless of fame and fortune, Jeff's goal is to better himself as a diver and challenge himself as a hunter always seeking larger and more formidable prey. Together, in silence, we enter our mother-oceans endless beauty and indifferent opportunity.
A light current swept endless visibility to the rough open-ocean surface swells. Ridding effortlessly down current we came across the first "Ulua house" but nobody was home. On our path to the next hole we noticed two O'milu (Blue Travli), which are good quality fish, but the relatively small size was undesirable. Simultaneously, as the two small O'milu swam off to continue their hunt, a much larger O'milu of desirable size came into view swimming calmly about sixty feet below, along a jagged ledge. Turning slowly, I met Jeff's large eyes staring back at me as if to ask me, "do you see that O'milu!?!" I pointed to Jeff than to the fish to which he acknowledged by nodding his head, "Yes, I see it and I'm going to get it!" Calmly, Jeff swam into position and dropped on the O'milu. With a seamless decent Jeff gained the curiosity of the fish and was able to place a perfect shot.
I congratulated Jeff on a perfectly executed effort and landing a rather large O'milu. Jeff's excitement was apparent when we started on the path of the second Ulua house and he was swimming the other way, obviously distracted by the event with the O'milu. I asked Jeff a sobering question, "Are you done for the day or do you want this next hole?" His reply, "Hell ya I want this next hole," brought Jeff's attention back to the moment and the concentration necessary for the upcoming deeper and more challenging Ulua house.
Right away we spotted two figures lingering on the edge of visibility well off the drop-off. Appearing to be two sharks side by side it became obvious these two huge Kaku (Barracuda) were at least six feet long, two feet in girth and eighty to ninety pounds. Due to the now strong current and our position I opted to drop my knife and try to draw them in toward us rather than struggle kicking out to them. Temporarily loosing sight of my knife on the bottom and several attempts to find it the only good it did, as far as the Kaku, was to draw one in close enough to get a good look at it but not close enough for a shot.
Arriving quickly to the next hole, I could see both the Ulua inside the cave and Jeff's position as he dove down. I noticed Jeff was passing the hole slightly, possibly due to a combination of the increased current and a late decent, bringing him directly in front of the opening to the cave and about thirty feet outside which is far from ideal positioning for a good shot. Although Jeff was much too far for a shot I could tell he had seen the Ulua and was lining up for an opportunity. Jeff had mentioned he had been working on his bottom time and it became apparent when he calmly closed the gap between him and the cave.
As it often happens to divers, due to the Ulua's large size, Jeff misjudged the distance of the fish, which caused his shot to penetrate only slightly and the shaft soon fell to the bottom as the Ulua flinched and swam away. The experience left Jeff with guilt and disbelief but he soon realized that it was just another valuable lesion that mother-ocean has to give and she gives us these lesions to keep us coming back for more. With a day full of great visuals and Jeff's "personal best" O'milu we gave thanks of appreciation for another great day in Hawaii.
April 6, 2003
Ok, so we all have that little kid inside of us that likes to be on T.V. but it sure does put the pressure on especially when you're supposed to perform in front of a worldwide audience. A crew from ESPN came over to do a hunting segment on the Big Island and they wanted to include spearfishing. But spearfishing is still a form of fishing, and fishing is fishing.
If you've read my previous adventures you've noted we have had many great adventures and plenty of fish for the dinner table. But fishing is fishing and no matter how great your equipment or your experience and no amount of money can catch a fish if it isn't there. Launching our 20 ft. Twin Vee loaded with diving and camera equipment we headed out to the FAD's to try the "safest" bet at finding fish. The first two FAD's were barren but on route to C-buoy we spotted some pilot whales on our direct path. I killed the motors, grabbed my video camera and jumped off the side. Within about five minutes a dozen huge black figures appeared in a row like titans on the battlefield. All we had to do was sit still and the Pilot's guided their huge missile like bodies within a few feet of us like we weren't even there.
Arriving at "C" buoy we jumped in only to find a wealth of baitfish but nothing to consider dinner. We headed back up north to dive the "Ono Lane." Shortly after reaching our Ono Lane location in vivid clarity we were greeted with a friendly pod of Spotted Dolphins whose playful curiosity danced, spun and gazed at the four alien ocean invaders. Listening to the call of the Humpback whales, and again no predatory fish, we decided to try a reef spot for the chance at another Ulua like the previous weekend. Locating the "Ulua House" I dove to find a 30-35 pound'er nervously darting back and forth trying to decide whether to leave the cave toward the camouflaged, speargun dawning diver who had recipes listing through his head, or the bubble blowing scuba diver armed with a video camera filming the action. In panicked desperation the Ulua decided the camera was less formidable than the speargun and darted out the opposite side of the cave from my perspective.
A carpet of Ta'ape (Blue Striped Snapper), framed by Mu and Opelu‚ Kala on the outskirts, shimmered from the crystal clear surface water eighty feet above creating an aquarium affect in the open ocean. Without warning a small group of ten to fifteen Spinner Dolphins glided by in a slow but frisky manner, many undulating underneath one another, than another group, than another. There must have been a hundred or more by the time we turned and headed back to the boat. Reaching the boat a few minutes latter, here come more Spinners, undulating underneath one another in an apparent mating ritual, again numbering into the hundreds. It kind of reminded me of Lulu's (a local bar / dance night club).
More on the ESPN showing later as we find out details.
March 30, 2003
Realizing my friend Tobin leaves to go back to work as an Air Force Combat Controller stationed in Okinawa, Japan tomorrow, I asked him for any last minute requests. Tobin's only request was to spear a "Large Ulua." Considering most divers have never seen an Ulua over 70 pounds this is a "Large" request.
To explain what spearing an Ulua on the Big Island of Hawaii is like goes like this-- Due to the abrupt off shore lava rock ledges there are many factors that enhance an Ulua's interest to patrol these ledges including a large variety of food and natural caves, known as "lava tubes," to rest in. Unlike Groupers the Ulua utilizes these caves only to rest between hunts and can become curious to a quiet freediver lying on the bottom. Typically the larger the Ulua, the deeper he "lives" so deep diving and good bottom time is a must. Once an Ulua is located, a diver must remain calm as the ominous black figure with contrasting pearl white teeth, whose attitude and reputation complement its girth, approaches you head on without fear.
The Ulua is reputed to be the strongest fighting fish in the world pound for pound. This prolific hunter uses its size and speed to break open entire coral heads to retrieve an Eel or Octopus for its next meal. What this means to a spearfisherman is the shot placement is of utmost importance due to the Ulua's willingness to thrash itself violently against any object to free itself from restraint.
Tobin has not had the opportunity to spear a large Ulua and like many people he wants to push himself to a new level. Diving with Tobin over the last few weeks has given me great insight to his "natural abilities" and how to capitalize on them. Of course all of us spearfisherman and women want to spear large fish but there needs to be a slow progression from small game, which enables a diver to hone his or her skills as a freediver and hunter, to large game that requires advanced knowledge of skills and techniques but also of gear rigging and shot placement. Tobin possesses enough of these skills to be taken to a "new level."
After a briefing we hit the water. The ocean was as calm as a lake, making the jagged lava entry a breeze but without a breath of wind on the water. The still water made for less than perfect visibility but good enough for what we wanted to do. The goal today was "To shoot a Large Ulua" and that's it.
We located the first "hole" after an easy ten minute swim cruzing along the ledge and feeling the deep drones and high pitched whistles of the migrating Humpback whales. I pointed to the hole at which beyond this line drawn by air meeting water I could not pass. It is at this moment where a silent passing of a boy to manhood prevails upon breaking the surface and gliding to ones ultimate destiny-- What did I just say? What I meant is, go get-um so we can slab him up for dinner.
It doesn't happen everyday that the first hole we check has a dozer in it but today it did. Tobin approached the cave quietly and met face-to-face with what we estimated to be a 90-100 pound Ulua. Now here is a "natural phenomenon" that happens to most divers when they are faced with a fish of this size for the first time and it just gets more hysterical each time. Even though a fish 90-100 pounds can be ten times larger than the average game fish for an average diver, an inexperienced diver will either completely miss the huge target or place a bad shot. My theory is the diver's wide-open mouth, caused by the surprise of such an enormous creature, creates enough drag to throw off the shot. It's kind of like a guy walking into a fire hydrant due to a loss of bodily functions when he sees a hot chick.
I made several attempts to get a back-up shot on the Ulua but I was too busy dodging the boulders he was flying with its tail. Just imagine a fish-out-of-water flopping around on the deck of a boat, but this fish is still in the water and it's almost 100 pounds of pissed off muscle and in a cave not much larger than the fish. Inevitably the Ulua broke the line after an intense five minute fight. Surprisingly the spear shaft was in pristine condition. Apparently the spear shaft penetrated completely through the belly area of the fish and during the fight the Ulua simply wrapped the line around a rock and snapped the 300 lb. mono. After the dust settled Tobin was able to locate the shaft and free-shaft for the rest of the day.
March 23, 2003
This weekend, Sunday, March 23, a couple of my dive partners--Tobin and Jeff from previous adventures--and myself embark on what turned out to be a day of mixed emotions. Another full day of diving and tugging along a ton of backup gear we gained further knowledge of our watery environment and the watercraft we share it with. The Onos were pretty nice also.
Donning my video camera rather than my gun required the other guys to pack a little heavier than they normally would, which will allow my freedom of movement during filming. Fighting a strong current, but enjoying great visibility, we kick off shore into the "Ono Lane." Finding a great school of bait on the way out we hung amidst the grazing Opelu trying to do our best impression of a floating log and wait to see if anything large would use our log-like talents for cover like pelagics do. I'm joking about the log imitation, kinda, but after a short recess we're hot on the bike peddling against the current into the deep.
With bait plentiful in a variety of species we were in calm hysteria trying to view 360 degrees on a vertical and horizontal plane at the same time and to try and determine if the constant shimmers of light are reflecting off of a baitfish or the approach of a game fish. A few minutes had past when I checked our landmarks to estimate the speed of the current. We had drifted approx. 400 to 500 yards in only a few minutes. Well, it looks like we'll be using the alternate exit location, I thought after a mental "oh wow."
Looking directly below I noticed an Ono boogieing in an "I don't have time for this" speed and direction. Armed with my camera and leading the three-pack of drafting divers I relied on my good looks to turn the Ono around and come back in my direction. Ten feet under the churning currents surface I looked like "Mr. Clean" standing on the shinny clean kitchen floor with his arms crossed, maybe with a little more hair though. My miming worked and the Ono turned back at the edge of visibility.
Hitting the surface I turned the camera on and caught a better breath as the Ono continued to swim in our general direction. Checking on the two bubble-trail-making turbines behind me I hoped one of them would be able to fight his way up current to get a shot. Dipping once again I documented yet another awe striking blip on the map of time as the Ono swam freely in front of my twenty first century digital cave-carving and painting tool.
I could see through the camera's viewfinder that the twitchy Ono was being stalked by someone above. Concentrating on framing and focus I waited for the imminent flying projectile to capture this small tribe of divers their dinner to no avail. Running low on air I headed for the surface pointing excitedly toward the 30 to 40ish pound Ono as it met up with a significantly larger Ono while hearing the sound of approaching boat motors. Simultaneously breaching the surface I met a fast moving boat zipping by within ten feet of my head completely unaware of the two divers with red floats and flag attached on the surface and myself below. I had enough time to yell, "HAY!" as they turned and passed with an open mouthed, disbelieving expression that told me all I needed to know--they had no idea we were there. I looked over to make sure Tobin and Jeff were ok as they both shook their heads in disbelief of another day dreaming weekend warrior boat.
The boaters, further unaware they had just ran between us divers and the Onos we had been filming and hunting, chased them away, never to appear for the rest of the day. Any day a diver sees an Ono is a good day, but the close call with the boat dissolved any chance at landing dinner and sends us back to the workshop to figure out a solution for boaters to take note of divers in the water and stay the legal distance of 100 yards, 360 degrees around a float and dive flag required by law. Pass the word to fellow divers and boaters. You may help save your own life.
March 16, 2003
It was Sunday, March 16 when my friends and fellow divers Tobin Berry (the on-leave Hawaiian Air Force Combat Controller), (Fireman) Garrett Nishihara and I slide into the cool morning liquid glass off the North Kohala costal waters. An easy two minute swim in the clear blue, windless and curentless water brings us atop the deep water ledge edge.
On the slope of the ledge circles a massive ball of Oplu as several huge Kahala (Amber Jack) and Omilu (Blue Trevally) weave their way through singling out their next meal. After a short meeting-of-the-masks we adjourn with a unanimous vote that the "visitor" Tobin "needs" to make the first shot of the day. Landing a fat 25lb. Kahala, we set off into the blue to try our luck after a great start to the morning visuals.
|Rob and Garrett|
About forty feet below I continue to slowly and quietly descend which gained the curiosity of the Ono and she turned to investigate. Showing her profile approx. ten feet away I utilized the opportunity to place the shot. After stringing the 40lb. Ono, and no others evident, we decided to try and locate the Opelu school we first encountered and check for any Uku (Deep Water Gray Snapper) hanging around.
Like a small squadron of jet fighters we glided in formation along the ledge looking for any sign of Ukus. Again within only a few minutes two large Uku swim cautiously toward a small cluster of Opelu hanging below us. A single attempt by Garrett and an easy twenty foot dive landed him a girthy fifteen pound Uku.
With one nice fish each on our stringers we headed toward the deep for one final effort at landing an(other) Ono. I had been distracted by some activity off to the side when I looked over to find Tobin reloading his gun. He had misjudged the size of a passing Ono and had fired too early on what Garrett confirmed was a significantly larger Ono than the one I had speared earlier in the day.
Satisfied with our day we headed in--but little did we know there was one more experience for Garrett and Tobin to be had. An 8-10ft. Tiger Shark sliced the surface water with its dorsal fin as it approached Tobin from behind. Garrett noticed the Tiger's presence and took an aggressive course to intercept the Tiger before it could reach Tobin. Tobin, noticing Garrett's approach, turned to find a melodically retreating Tiger shark at his 6 o'clock. Another potentially dangerous situation turned passive through Garrett's quick and calm reaction to defend a friend and fellow diver, rather than panic and swim away which would most likely aggravate the situation. These are the kind of dive partners I hope to always have, and strive to be.
March 3, 2003
Late March is considered "normal" for the Ono and Mahi to start showing up on the Big Island of Hawaii and for the migrating Humpback Wales to begin their journey to Alaska, so for several Ono to be speared in the 40-80 lb. range already in the first week in March is a good sign. Typically the Ono start from the southernmost part of the island and work their way up over a week or two. And again typically the beginning and the end of the "season" (yes, Ono can be found year-round in Hawaii) is where the "big boys" show up.
Speaking from my own adventures, this weekend of March 3, 2003 was an exceptional one. It's great to see two or three Onos cruising around but at one point while I was fighting an Ono that I had just speared ,I counted about ten to fifteen Onos and they were all 35 lbs. or more. Read on if I’ve got your attention now!
It goes like this...a beautiful sunny Monday morning off the Kona coast, I slide off the lava rocks into a clear, calm ocean. Within a few minutes some good sized Kahala (Amber Jack) decide I was something they are going to hang around the rest of the day. The light current and bait swimming around make it an easy day of hanging in the blue. I was in the water about an hour or less before a good sized Ono showed up with two of his pals. One of my favorite parts about blue water diving and hunting is the depth necessary to dive and spear these fish--Mahi = 5 ft. and Ono = 15 ft. I dove about ten feet and leveled off. The largest of the three came right at me and upward toward the surface. I picked the spot and fired.
The fight lasted a few minutes before I heard a strange dying animal kind of scream coming from my own snorkel as I watched the wounded fish swim away. Normally that would be the end of the day but in nocuous desperation I swam around whimpering like a wounded dog hit by a car. Good thing the ocean hid my tears. Clearing my mask I glanced just ahead and noticed a lone Ono right in front of me. I dipped down and fired right about when several ghostly images started to appear from the outer blue.
The fighting Ono attracted the attention of about 10 - 15 more Onos which all were about 35 lbs. and up. Playing the speared Ono carefully was essential after losing the first one, noting the extreme amount of power and strength these particular Onos displayed after being speared. Upon stringing the Ono I noticed how healthy it looked by this males girth. I also took note of a large image directly below but barely visible gliding the early morning murky depths. But as it rose to the surface for a breath, two Humpback Whale images became clear. One was directly above and slightly behind the other which gave the appearance of a huge prehistoric turtle due to the four huge white paddle-like limbs. Smiling, I'm shaking my head acknowledging how incredible diving can be here in Hawaii.
It's January and the average air temperature is 85°. Humpback Wales are here for the winter following the colder 75-80° Northern currents. The lone adult Ulua frequent the reef shallows as the Mahi Mahi and Ono rule the Blue Water.
Each year a growing number of mother and calf teams greet our Hawaii divers pleasantly interrupting the spearfishing adventures. Unnerving at first, the interaction between whales and divers is energizing and humbling as the school bus-size, yet graceful mammal flies by slicing the light rays of the deep blue with their angel like pectoral fins.
Sunday January 12, 2003 my dive partner Jeff and I had come across an Ulua house with a dozer inside. Jeff's tag line was too short so I dove and speared the estimated 100-120 lb Ulua, but missed the kill shot. Within two seconds the Ulua had sheared off my shaft, which now lay on the bottom of the cave this mammoth called home. Upon retrieving my broken shaft while the Ulua was staring right at me I headed upward to fight the next battle with a raging river called current. Within minutes a young mother and newborn Humpback swam a few feet from us. I think we surprised them as much as the whales surprised us. Again, only moments later I caught movement to my left and looked to find the rare Hawaiian Monk Seal. Securing our spearguns we played hide and seek, made sand angels on the bottom and even sniffed noses with the Monk. Tag #M34 watched us with its head out of the water until we dove away... Just another day in Hawaii...
The next day I went back with my video camera to no avail. Weather conditions were unfavorable and to dive the same spot as the day before wasn't possible. However, Hawaii is an island and if one side has less than ideal conditions the opposite side is usually calm and beautiful. Driving only 45 minutes on a dirt road I came across an area that was flat and calm. Armed with my camera and the sun about an hour from setting I had no idea what to expect in this "uncharted" territory.
At water's edge I was greeted by three green sea turtle grazing on limu. A few minutes swimming from shore a single 70-80 lb Ulua's curiosity caused it to follow me for a few minutes. A smaller pair of Ulua about 30-60lb showed up a few feet behind sniffing my fins. Next, a 40-50 lb Ono swam by paying no attention to me or the entourage that followed. The world seemed once again to stand still as a huge mother and newborn calf Humpback appeared, circled 360° then disappeared into a setting sun's hazy filter... Just another day in Hawaii...
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