There is a notion from Native American philosophy that the hunter should not force the kill, but rather allow the prey to present themselves. Once I embraced this philosophy, spearfishing became a lot more fun.
Shooting a fish poorly can result in a wounded fish that gets away. That’s not a great feeling. Our only obligation is to spend time underwater, at depth, observing; and see if our dinner wants to join us, or not.
On this day at Motu Runa, the eastern edge of Faaite, we were really motivated to make a BBQ bonfire on the beach, ideally with some delicious fish. However I was skeptical we’d find anything for dinner. This area is a vast sand field, without the usual coral bommies that we rely on to hunt our fish. Locals have many other techniques for catching fish — like using nets in the reef shallows, line fishing with specific bait, and other approaches that I haven’t practiced much. So we resorted to our usual technique, spearfishing.
We drove the Lambordinghy 3/4 mile until we found a small coral bommie. It was actually quite lovely, with some uncommonly seen (in Tuamotus) anemones. But the fish were all tiny as expected. There were several red soldier fish hiding in the rock crevices, which despite their small size (6-8inches) the locals love to eat. Paul and Kelly donned the Hawaiian Slings which are good for catching those fish: tight quarters amidst the rocks.
Then I saw the Blue Jack. They are extremely active fish, and although their curiosity can be their Achilles Heel (they will sometimes swim right up to you) it’s usually just a quick visit and they’re gone. This Blue Jack was good size (16 inches) and was hiding deep in the coral bommie. What unusual behavior, I thought.
I had the speargun, which isn’t ideal for shooting fish against the rocks, as the spear needs space to “set”. But I held onto the rock just 7 feet below the surface, staring deep into this rocky crevice, and waited to see if an ideal opportunity presented itself.
After several ups & downs, trying my body as still and calm as possible, the Blue Jack finally came out of its hiding hole. I took a good shot, which went right to the head stunning the fish. But my spear was way inside the rock cave, along with half my body, which was quite unnerving. In the tight quarters, I struggled to push the spear deeper into the fish to ensure he couldn’t escape, somewhere deep in the cave, but the silty sand ballooned into the water from the struggle and blocked visibility. The Blue Jack got away!
I hollered at Paul and told him what happened, who was swimming on the other side of the coral bommie. A few moments later I saw Paul struggling with something. “I had him pinned to the rock wall!” He said. But the Blue Jack had got away again…
We persevered and kept diving down, searching. There he was. Stunned and injured, he had finally given up. With an easy shot I had him secure and back at the surface, out of the water so the black tip reef sharks that began circling wouldn’t bother us.
The great irony was when I gutted the Blue Jack, I discovered why he was exhibiting such odd behavior. He had swallowed a really long needle fish, which didn’t fit in his stomach, and was partly visible next to the Blue Jack’s gills. This must have caused some discomfort, so perhaps the Blue Jack was trying to hide under that coral bommie for several days to digest the needle fish. His energy was sapped; that’s why he was ready to go.
We thanked the Blue Jack, and the needlefish that came before it, by using the words that our friend Four Arrows taught us from the Lakota tradition: “Temakuyasin”. This means, “we are all related”. By thanking the fish and acknowledging how we are all related in this cycle of life, we have a deeper connection to our food source. It wasn’t just dinner that night; the Blue Jack was truly a Gift. Thank you!