Setting the Record Straight

It wasn’t long after landing in Tuamotu Island in French Polynesia that we were rattling along a bumpy road with banana plantations on one side and shimmering lagoon filled with moonlight on the other. I felt a sense of release from the world and was ready to immerse myself in the unknown once again.

After a quick gear check, we went to bed. As usual, I was too excited to sleep, so I snuck across the road and to the end of the jetty, staring out into the blue at the glass-like conditions and shining stars. All the stress of the outside world was gone. I sat thinking about the following day for ages before returning to my room weary-eyed and ready for bed.

Cruising out through the lagoon the first morning was incredible, watching the crystal blue water turn dark purple as we neared deeper water. Brandon was first into the water, and hearing him say “Wahoo coming in” before I had even slid into the water was enough to make me start laughing as I flopped over the side. The bubbles cleared and the endless blue shifted into focus. Sure enough, a shoal of Wahoo were making their way over to investigate.

Gerard is big on waiting to let fish get comfortable with you, allowing a better placed shot. I also believe this is the best way to hunt. Not only is it more relaxing, and fantastic to watch and learn more about these fish, there’s also less chance of missing your mark. I’m sure everyone shares the same frustration and remorse when watching a fish swim away injured rather than cleanly speared.

After waiting for a while, we were being circled by a shoal of Wahoo of around 20kg each. Brandon put a shaft into one and it sped off with his floats in tow. The fish flew along the surface before it dived, dragging his floats to 15m with nothing but a bubble trail left behind. Once he had the fish in his arms, I realised that my initial estimate of their size was way off and that we were surrounded by Wahoo of at least 35kg!

I was fascinated by the sheer number of Wahoo continually passing through, swimming in towards us to have a look and slowly moving off again. I dived on the next Wahoo, approaching it head on, slowly gliding down until it turned broad side right in front of me. I extended my Aimrite King Venom and lined up on the fish’s head so that my slip tip would engage in its gill plate. The shot landed exactly where I had aimed, and the Wahoo stopped and coughed before bursting off on an amazing run. I held on to my last float, knowing that my shot placement was good and wasn’t going to pull out.

By this time, we’d attracted a large school of sharks, so there was a good chance I’d lose my fish to the tax man. Halfway through the fight, there was a sound like a gunshot followed by a whistling. This turned out to be the valve of my 2 atmosphere exploding and dumping all its air mid fight… not ideal. Luckily the Wahoo tired quickly and the sharks left it alone long enough for me to grab and dispatch it. Swimming it back to the boat, I was in awe of the large Wahoo that were still slowly finning in the current around me. 

We chilled out for a while, just observing the Wahoo and waiting for the bigger ones to come in. I spotted a good sized Wahoo coming in, swimming parallel and about 10m below me. I glided straight down and slid a shaft vertically through the top of its head and out its jaw. I fully expected it to roll over, but it had other plans and sped off with me, and several sharks, in tow. After a short run, I brought the fish effortlessly to the surface and into the boat.

Simply amazed by the abundance of life in this untouched part of the world, I was more than happy to just float around watching everything for the rest of the day. The captain then asked us to shoot a couple more Wahoo before we returned home. I know it sounds crazy, having to be asked to shoot large Wahoo, but it really was just as rewarding to swim beside these creatures. I made one more dive on a nice Wahoo that crept into range. A fair bit more relaxed after two hours of drifting around, I squeezed the trigger and watched the Wahoo roll over motionless, the shaft entering behind the head and out beneath the eye. We called it a day and cruised back to shore.

The afternoon consisted of coffee, gear repair and some good old fashioned story telling. Between G’s lifetime in the water, Brandon’s adventures of giant Bluefin Tuna and rugged New Zealand diving, and my history of diving the east coast of Australia, we had no shortage of great stories. From giant fish and shark attacks to wild seas – we covered everything.

The next morning we were all up with high spirits once again. We arrived at our dive spot and ditched the floats over the side before throwing ourselves into the blue abyss.

We drifted around for 20 minutes watching the odd Wahoo pass by before a school turned up and made their way towards us. G made a dive to have a look but they stayed out of range. On his ascent, he signalled to me that one was at least a 50kg fish. I inhaled and dived down towards the massive creature. Everything about the fish, its immense size, presence and body language, all spelled attitude. I aimed for the brain and pulled the trigger. I realised that the fish was much further away than I had thought, as my spear connected through the bottom half of its gill plate. Seeing as the slip tip had engaged, there was nothing to do but see how it all played out.

My floats were already skipping towards the horizon by time I surfaced and I began to chase them, watching a few sharks heading off in the Wahoo’s direction. I arrived at my 2 atmosphere to find it stationary and the bungee slack. My heart sank, assuming that the fish had ripped off. I slowly began to retrieve my bungee, when I felt it take up weight again. I could see that the fish was tiring, with barely enough energy to evade the sharks that were continuously trying to take a chunk out of it. As the sharks were about to take their cut, the Wahoo gathered up the strength for another run, this time sounding and taking my first float with it. This final run was the Wahoo’s curtain call and he soon gave up the fight.

With the ever present sharks circling at 30m, it was crunch time. I started to haul the fish up at speed, knowing that it was going to be a shark’s dinner if I didn’t get it in my arms soon. There were a few hairy moments with the sharks going into their typical vertical freefall towards it, but for some reason they turned off at the last minute each time. Finally having the fish in my arms was the biggest relief ever.

I was in utter shock at the sheer size of the massive creature as I wrapped my legs around it and dispatched it. Its head was phenomenal, with a jaw that I could comfortably fit my head inside! It was truly incredible swimming this fish back to the boat while observing every feature and imperfection up close.

Edmond pulled the Wahoo into the boat with one hand (to say that Edmond is a strong guy is an understatement) and G jumped up onto the duck board to take a look. He turned to me and said, “We should go back to shore and weigh this fish, it could be a world record. We don’t want it to lose any weight if it is.”

So there we were flying back to shore with smiles all round and a Wahoo tail hanging out the back of the 800 litre fish box. It took two of us to lift the fish up onto the jetty and carry it the 100m back to shore. Luckily G had brought certified scales on this trip. Initially we strung the Wahoo with some cable we had lying around and heaved it onto the scales, only to have the cable snap. After a quick re-evaluation of the situation we found some thick rope and tried again. As we hoisted it up, we knew that 56kg was the number to beat. As the fish was lifted to height, everyone went silent, waiting to see the result.

A huge smile lit up Edmond’s face, followed by one of the few English words he knows: “Record!” I looked for myself and there it was: 62.6kg! YEWWWW!! I was speechless… a world record of such magnitude! 

We spent the next hour taking measurements and photos before I cut the jaws out and took a couple of hours off to relax. I found myself pacing up and down the jetty trying to figure out how to celebrate, as I had quit drinking two months prior so my ‘usual’ was not an option!

That afternoon we decided to dive up until sunset, hoping to find some big Doggies coming out of the deep. More than content with my catch already, I planned an afternoon of filming. We drifted along a reef plateau with the flasher, and our regular crew of twenty or thirty sharks finned into the current below us. We had a few 20kg Doggies and the odd Wahoo pass beneath us, but we left them to carry on about their business.

After about 2 hours of drifting, we hit a corner of the reef that just felt right for something big to swim in on. No more than 2 minutes later, the first decent Doggie made his way in to investigate. I dived down the flasher and met him at the bottom. He was a solid little Doggie, round like a barrel with the odd scar on his chin. He continued to fin into the current as I swam beside him filming and watching his every move as he stared back at me. After a few seconds, I noticed a speargun entering my vision from above. I looked up to see Brandon free falling straight on top of the Doggie to place a shaft through the top of its head.

With a thud from the spear and a crack of his tail, the fish flew towards the bottom in search of something to wreck the rigging on. Luckily this was hard shoal country with no large bommies, so it was only a matter of keeping the sharks at bay. The Doggie took Brandon’s floats under with ease a couple of times before giving up the ghost. Once the Doggie was in the boat we decided to drift for another 30 minutes in hope of finding a bigger fish. We didn’t manage to find any larger Doggies but the sharks put on a phenomenal show. The closer to dark it got, the more and more sharks turned up. By the time we got out of the water, it was almost solid sharks every direction you looked – something I certainly will never forget. Brandon’s Doggie weighed in at a healthy 43kg and we wrote day two off as a success

We were a little slow to rise on day three, but none the less we suited up and made our way to the boat. We steamed out to a location where we could drift and observe the Wahoo, and wait for some big boys to turn up. G reckoned there was a chance of finding some Wahoo close to 70kg.

We drifted for a couple hours with a couple Wahoo turning up every now and again. At one stage we had a school arrive and I could see a beast with them, swimming straight towards me. Unfortunately I was out of breath and couldn’t wait for them to approach, so I pointed it out to Brandon as I was surfacing. This monster of a fish was a bit too clever to risk coming into range and hung out wide from Brandon until he disappeared for good.

As the day was getting on, we decided to check one reef edge for Doggies before we headed back. We drifted onto it, and almost straight away I noticed two solid Dogtooth Tuna swimming in to look at the flasher. I dived towards the bigger of the 2 fish as he began to make his way deeper again. I continued to glide down on top of his back, and the closer I got the more was revealed. I first noticed his large tail flutes, then the amazing width across his back and head, and last of all the trademark scars across his face. This fish was prehistoric!

I knew I had to get a kill shot as this beast was not going to play fair. At 28m, I finally began to creep into range, still trying to get just a little bit closer. I aimed slightly upwards, hoping to put his lights out with a shot into his lateral line and out the opposite jaw… but just as I was ready to pull my trigger, I noticed his tail do two swiping motions like he was about to take off. Everything went into slow motion; I swear I could hear my heart beating as I extended my gun. I pulled the trigger before he could kick for the third time and watched my shaft land further down his back on the lateral line. Everything sped back up into real time as if someone had hit play again, and all hell broke loose.

My 100ft line roared past me in the blink of an eye, followed by my first float passing me at 15m. I watched my 100 ft bungee stretch out tight, and then my 2 atmosphere float fly 20m in the same direction. The float made its way back to the surface but I could see there was still weight on the bungee. I knew I hadn’t seen the last of this brute’s fight yet and 15 seconds later he took the float back to 20m before returning it to the surface again.

Luckily, the fish headed straight for deeper water where it had less chance of finding the bottom. The Doggie finally deciding that enough was enough and exploded off. I waved goodbye to all my gear as I watched it disappear past 60m. At this stage we could do nothing but swim in the rough direction he’d been going and hope that the floats re-surfaced.

After a couple minutes, we could see the 2 atmosphere slowly making its way back towards the surface. I caught up to the float and could just make out the Doggie 50m down. I started to pull him up slowly as I had not seen the slip tip engage. For every meter I pulled the fish closer, I seemed to pull myself half a metre underwater.

Once I had the Doggie at 15m I could see the slip tip was only engaged on the inside of his skin. His explosive fight must have slowly worked it back through his body. Although he was already bloated and had given up, I didn’t want to risk losing the fish after hearing stories from G about guys stoning huge fish, only to have the slip tip dislodge due to the weight, and watch the fish sink into the abyss.

I dived down with a second gun and, in awe of the giant, I said good night and put his lights out once and for all. I pulled him away from the two lingering sharks and into my arms. His size was staggering. I was only just able to touch my fingers around his belly. A true dinosaur of the deep.

The first sign that I’d possibly landed another world record, was when Edmond (the same bloke who dragged a 62kg Wahoo into the boat one handed) grabbed hold of the fish and tried to pull it over the side, but couldn’t budge it. It finally took two people to get the fish out of the water and into the boat.

I was so buggered from the fight that I struggled to help lift the Doggie out of the boat and up onto the jetty. It took three of us pulling on the rope, as well as Edmond lifting to lift the fish high enough to weigh properly. Once we had the rope tied off, I walked around to look at the scale and there it was… 109kg! A new world record!

I think I nearly fell over! What an amazing first three days! If the thought of me pacing up and down the jetty the day before was funny, then you should have seen me after weighing the Doggie. I cut the jaws out and had my post dive coffee, and then found myself walking out towards the end of the jetty again, leaving Brandon behind to have a beer and a whiskey for me. I spent my afternoon perched on the end of the jetty, lazing in the sun, totally consumed by the incredible place…

Walking out to the boat the next morning, it was quite a sight to see massive Dogtooth heads and Wahoo frames lying in a foot of water on either side of the jetty. It was like a graveyard for giant fish. For me, day four was going to be about filming and relaxation. Brandon was on the hunt for a Wahoo over 50kg. Again, it was a quieter day on the Wahoo front with only the occasional fish passing through. I made a few dives, practicing my approach, only to let them swim away again.

After an hour or so in the water, a school of Wahoo approached. I sat back and watched Brandon dive towards them. Just as he went under, I noticed one at the back that was the fish he was looking for. Hell, this fish was bigger than my world record. I slapped the water and yelled at him to get him to turn to his right but he already had his sights on another fish. So, I paddled over closer to the huge Wahoo and waited for the right moment to approach it. I glided into range head on before he turned broad side to me. After inspecting him at closer range, I estimated him to be 70kg or bigger. I aimed and placed a perfect shot through the back of his head and out the gill plate. He exploded off faster than any fish I’ve seen before. Both my floats disappeared along the surface before I could reach them. It looked like both Brandon and G’s rig lines were tangled around my last float, and this was confirmed when the blurred shapes of two massive fully loaded blue water guns whizzed past me seconds later. I continued to chase the fish as fast as I could, finally reaching my last float. I stopped for a second to try and untangle some of the lines but knew I was only wasting time. Somehow the fish had also taken the line under the boat now… what next?

I removed the line from under the skeg and was surprised to find that the Wahoo was still on and that the sharks were still at bay. I started pulling the fish in, but it exploded off again. It went straight down and took my first float under with it. As the bungee started to retract I knew it was time to bring the fish to the surface before it was eaten. I managed to get the fish up to 15m, before I noticed one of the sharks arching its back and beginning a slow motion approach, before attacking my fish. Seeing the sharks and the fish in close proximity gave me an even better idea of the Wahoo’s size. Its head was almost bigger than the shark’s. The whole fish was the same size as some of the smaller sharks.

After the first bite, it turned into a frenzy with over 30 sharks trying to get their share of the action. It was a mass of jaws snapping and tails flying until nothing but a diluted cloud of blood was left. The fish was obviously not meant to be. While reloading my gun and replaying the fight in my mind, I came to the conclusion that I would let sleeping dogs lie and just enjoy swimming with these amazing creatures for the remainder of the trip.

That evening we found ourselves drifting a drop off again, hoping that Brandon would nail a big Doggie. The first school came through and Brandon dived with me following with the camera. What an insane sight! Fish up to 80kg were casually swimming through as Brandon continued to glide into position. The moment was cut short when I heard Brandon’s gun fire, and I turned to see a massive Doggie gliding off, but unfortunately with no spear in it. I later learnt that he was still out of range when he took the shot.

On the surface, we discussed taking our time to get the fish more comfortable with us. For the next hour, the Doggies continued to roll through in schools of up to twenty at a time. The most interesting thing for me, was observing the pecking order in the schools. The smaller fish

were always used as barriers between the brutes at the rear until they felt comfortable. Then, the larger fish would herd the school around, making a pass on the near side of the school. Sometimes, they would even peel off from the school and swim straight up to me to have a closer look.

Unfortunately Brandon was unable to get in range of any of the larger Doggies until the end of the day, when I watched him fall on the back of a big Dogtooth before stopping and hanging mid water. I was left wondering why he didn’t pull the trigger… until he surfaced and told me that he was just about in range when his float line pulled tight and refused him the extra metre or 2 needed… gutted!

Approaching the last dive of the trip, I found myself floating on the surface without a care in the world. Crystal clean water, amazing reef below me and a small school of Doggies tailing into the current. I inhaled and duck dived for the last time, tucking my head into my chest, closing my eyes and kicking to 10m before going into a freefall.

Levelling out at 20m, I opened my eyes and just hovered, taking it all in: the Doggies below carrying on about their business, the sharks filtering in and out keeping a watchful eye on the whole situation. The place made me feel like I was finally home; somewhere I belonged, though I knew I couldn’t stay down underwater forever. My reverie was interrupted by the sound of someone slapping the surface. I looked up to see what was going on but couldn’t make anything out. When I surfaced, I was told there was a sailfish fully flared up at my fins, checking me out before bolting off into the blue again. I took that as a final “Thanks for coming and farewell” as we ended the trip. Two world records down, sights we will never forget and a lifetime of experience… could anything ever top this trip?!


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