Blue Water Hunting and Freediving - Digital Version 1 - Page 221

white seabass
Society of America in the 1990s .
Because of his ability and integrity , Terry became my all-time best dive partner . While Terry gravitated more towards blue water hunting , I honed my skills on bottom fishing . During the 1975 World Spearfishing Championships in Peru , I set the enduring record of landing 251 fish in a single contest , often spearing two fish on a single dive .
Residing in Malibu , where I first learned to dive from shore , lets me revisit my teenage years . It ’ s remained a place away from the busy city , where I can participate in a healthy sport and supply my family with quality seafood . Using Yoga-like breathing coupled with the Zen-like feeling of weightlessness makes my descent into the water an almost religious experience . All my worries dissolve in this serene environment . Spearing while freediving is natural to me and seems like the only fair way to catch fish .
The week before my catch , I ’ d heard from my fellow Fathomiere club members that the local kelp beds had reforested and were serving up some nice white seabass . The day before my record catch , I paddled offshore to a large kelp stand . I carried my 66-inch barrel homemade gun to propel a 5 / 16-inch shaft , equipped with a single-flopper barb . Early into the day , a massive , inquisitive white seabass approached as I dove under the thick surface canopy . I slowly extended my homemade beauty while hiding undetected in the shadows . The white torpedo glided within five feet of my shaft . I sent the shaft through its shoulder and into its spine , immediately paralyzing the fish . It dropped like a stone . I pulled the motionless monster to the surface . Later , I confirmed it weighed 68.1 pounds – my personal best and a club record ! I happily filleted the fish , thinking of all the meals it would provide .
The next morning , I awoke to a gorgeous , low-surf , California day . Although I ’ d only seen one fish the day before , I was eager for another try . I paddled up to the same kelp patch and anchored my board . After loading my gun , I purged my suit of air , mindful that stray bubbles spook white seabass . On my first dive , I swam to the middle of the kelp patch , under the thickest section of floating canopy . I reckoned the area was perfect for hunting white seabass . The water visibility was 20 feet , and it was teeming with schools of mackerel ( a favorite white seabass snack ), winding through the underwater maze .
White seabass are members of the Croaker family . As the name suggests , they emit characteristically recognizable sounds by contracting muscles against their swim bladder like a drum . I find they croak when they are in a relaxed state , with sounds ranging from a loud , staccato “ Uump , Uump ” grunt , to a gentle purring .
During my first dive , a tell-tale purring sound signaled they were near . I elevated my fins high above my waist , using the weight of my legs to drive me under for a second , silent dive . Swimming up current , I recognized the exact kelp stalks where I landed my record the day before . At the limit of visibility , my straining eyes caught two unbelievably huge shapes , which materialized slowly under the increasing light near the edge of kelp cover .
Bill Ernst proudly displays his beauty . Photo by