World Records for North American Yellowtail

Brandon Wahlers

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World-record North American Yellowtail for men—87.6 Pounds, (39.7 kilograms) Guadalupe Island, Mexico, Aug 23, 2009 by Brandon Wahlers

We arrived at Guadalupe Island on Aug 20 to film for a National Geographic Documentary on White Shark cognition. As well as a full film crew, there were 2 other freedivers on the trip with me, Ryan McInnis and Mark Healey.  On the 21st  we were looking for places to dive on the way up to Pilot Rock from Prison Beach, where our mothership was anchored, when we found a pinnacle that came up to about 20ft, dropping to over 130ft drastically. On the morning of August 23rd, Ryan, Mark and I were diving the pinnacle with our smaller single band euro guns, and had taken a few yellowtail up to 50lbs when we saw a few schools of large tuna pass by between 80 and 150lbs. We immediately called the chase boat over and pulled out our big game guns with bungees and floats. We dove for another half hour without any more tuna sightings, just a few sightings of yellows down deep at 100+feet. On one dive I was down waiting on a rock at about 50 feet and I saw two nice sized yellows about 30-40ft below me and 40 feet out to my left. This visibility was about 80 feet, and the fish didn’t look much bigger than 40-50 lbs, so I ignored them, waiting for tuna to pass by. The next time I looked to my left, the fish swam a bit closer and looked a bit bigger, so I pushed off and sank in on them to get a closer look. When I thought I was about 15-20 feet away, the fish looked about 60+lbs and I started to line up for a shot. I fired my tuna gun aiming for the head of the bigger fish, and I could tell it was a bit further than I though when the shaft seemed to take a while to hit the fish. The shaft hit the fish mid body from 25+ feet away, but it was stunned. I grabbed my shooting line and swam up to the surface, calling for the boat to bring me a second gun. Once I hit the surface I pulled in my bungee and clipped my buoy off to the shooting line. When the boat arrived I took out my 130cm Omer gun, loaded it, swam down, and shot the fish in the head. At that point the fish really wasn’t fighting much at all. I quickly looked around to make sure there were no sharks around, then swam down and grabbed the fish, pulling it up to the surface and brained it. Once the fish was dispatched, I put it in the boat and was amazed by the size of this fish, definitely the largest yellowtail I have ever seen!!



Colleen Gallagher

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Dick Gebhard

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Previous World-record North American Yellowtail for men—84.6 Pounds, (38.4 kilograms) Alijos Rocks, Mexico, Nov 30, 2003 by Dick Gebhard

Last year the day after Thanksgiving, Myself, my son CADEN, and some friends went down the coast from San Diego to CABO aboard the Long Range Sportfisher Spirit of Adventure, owned by Mike and Ann Marie Keating. They offered their boat for a charity that supports the Big Brother and Sisters. We were lucky enough to be the high bidder.

We headed directly for Alijos Rocks, which took almost two days to get there. Once at the Rocks, we are a little disappointed, because the water temperature was 69 degrees, I have always used Riffe guns and equipment, so we changed all of the lines to stainless steel cable. On our last trip we had lost a lot of WA HOOS and spears to the sharks. We spent the morning getting our gear ready, before the dive. I was using Jay Riffe’s Blue Water Gun with two floats. My son and I were the only ones diving, so the boat anchored up and the rest started to fish for Yellow Fin Tuna. My son and I got into a panga and Mike told us to check out a rock that was about 30 feet below the surface. Once in the water, it was unbelievable. There were fish everywhere. After about ten minutes of diving we were seeing Yellow Fin, WA HOO and Yellow Tail. CADEN and I were together and we both dove at the same time. There at 25 feet down we leveled off and to our right was a school of Tuna that were over 100lbs!!!!!! To our left a school of about 10 WA HOO was coming in on us. So here I was running out of air not knowing which way to go. Just when I was out of air I looked below me and saw what to me was the biggest Yellow Tail I have ever seen. I started to descend a little and intersect the fish. I was out of air so I took the shot. I got him right behind the gills and a little back, but it held. It took about fifteen minutes to get to the Panga. When we got him into the Panga, CADE looked at me asked why I shot this one. I looked at him, and said are you crazy this guy is huge!!! Then CADE said, but Dad the one that was right behind him was at least 10 lbs. Heavier!!!! Once at the boat we measured him, and put it on my Scale Master certified scale. He was 84 pounds, but I heard the record was 86 so I was a little disappointed. Once the boat arrived back in San Diego the fish was weighed again at H and M landing on a certified scale that does tenths of a pound. This time the Yellow Tail weighed 84.6 pounds.

So with that we bid on the Spirit of Adventure again and we are going back this Thanksgiving. Mike and his gang are the best!!! They know where the fish are, and they don’t mind if you get in the water, you can have the best of both worlds if you charter with them.


Craig O'Connor

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Previous world-record yellowtail for men—77.4 pounds (35.1 kilograms) by Craig O'Connor September 23, 2004 at Guadalupe Island, Mexico

It was day six, the boat was anchored on the south end of the island. I spent most of the morning id deep water, looking for tuna. Conditions looked good, visibility was 65-75 feet. I stayed there a while but the current grew stronger so I headed inshore toward a prominent point and settled on an area that looked good. I decided to stay in this area to see in any yellow tail swam by. I was now in 60-65 feet of water. The bottom was barely visible from the surface as I watched the bait fish. I'd made occasional dives and dove down to what was spooking the bait. Several times, it was Guadeloupe Fur Seals and other times it was small yellow tail. I saw the bait fish act abnormally so I slipped down to see what might come by.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw to yellow tail coming up as I headed away from them, dropping deeper and turned to see the two yellow tail approaching me. They appeared to be in the 30 to 50-pound class and I focused on the second fish. I waited slowly, patiently until I had a shot. I squeezed the trigger and the shaft sped toward the fish.

I hit it right behind the gill plate. This stunned the fish momentarily and I swam for the float line before the fish could head for the bottom. I swam hard, charging out to deeper water. One of the Fur Seals dashed in and the fish responded equally fast, pulling away from and the seal. The fish was diving for the bottom as I went up to the surface. I had to let some of the line go through my hand jus to get to the surface for some air. But I as able to keep him off the bottom and away from the rocks and the seal!

I kept swimming into deeper water. I fought the fish for the next 15 minutes, playing a modified tug-or-war, him sounding and me regaining the surface for much needed air. I raised my gun out of the water. This being a signal to the boat that a skiff was needed. I did not have time to see if one was on its way as I was still fighting the fish. I was tired but was pulling the fish to the surface, slowly and carefully I brought the fish to the surface. This was when I realized it was a bigger fish that I thought, it was a big fish, a monster, and I was not going to lose it. I hauled it up to the spear shaft all the way up until I got my hand into its gills. I wrapped my legs around it to keep the fish from getting away, then I took out my knife to subdue the fish, at this point a struggle ensued causing me to lose my knife but resulting in a dead fish.

The skiff driver was now standing by and passed me down a stringer for the fish before I removed the spear.f I was pretty tired at this point and was ready to go back to the boat. Once in the skiff, I could see this was a personal best, the largest yellowtail I had ever shot

Doug Kuczkowski
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Former world-record yellowtail for men—77 pounds (34.95 kilograms) by Doug Kuczkowski
9:45 a.m. June 25, 1999
Pilot Rock, Guadalupe Island, Mexico
Surface Temp 63' Partly Cloudy 

I got a lift from the Horizon's skiff to about 1/3 mile up current. I was the first freediver into the water that morning. This was one of the few days the sun had come out. The water was blue and inviting, just as I had remembered from previous trips here. Once in the water I realized I was in about 200' of water and started swimming away from the island.
Soon I witnessed a large band of various sea jellies between 20' - 50' down. I made several dives in the band, hoping. As I was swimming away from the island, the top 10' - 15' was a milky haze, so I started back in toward the island. As I swam closer, in about 110' depth of water, I noticed a large school of baitfish, mostly blue perch, swimming at the 50' - 70' depth. The baitfish were a bit agitated and I could sense something was spooking them. I made a couple of 30' - 35' dives through the baitfish, looking for anything different. After five dives I happened upon a couple of yellows at 35', swimming at my level behind me.
They were about 50' away and closing, when I realized the rear fish was the larger of the two. As the rear fish swam up to the lead fish, I realized the tremendous size of it, then it veered away suddenly. At this point they were only 30' away, but not as curious as yellows tend to be, and just seemed to be passing through.
At this point I knew I would only have one chance to pursue. I kicked toward it and came in at an angle, and just as I got within reach, it started to turn away. I was low on air, but I took the shot. I lead the fish well, but realized that it was a longer shot than I had expected. I could see the shaft pointing down, heading for the gut. I wasn=t sure the tip went all the way through, but I needed air. As I went up, I never took my eyes off of the fish. On top I could see the fish just lag there, sinking, so I started to raise the gun up with one arm and slowly pull with the other. Once the skiff saw me, I let the gun float. Now I had the entire 25' bungee pulled up and was starting to pull the shooting cable when it woke up. All of a sudden it had all of the shooting cable and 25' of bungee stretched to the max. Now I knew it was hooked!
It made five strong dives, and each time I was able to pull in until I reached the cable, then it would dive again, until the last time and I finally grasped the end of the shaft. Yet, it still wouldn't give up. It proceeded to wrap me in the cable and I had to dive to create enough slack to unravel myself. As I unraveled, I later realized this would be the strongest run.
It took all of my cable, bungee, and float line and dived towards the bottom. It headed towards a very noticeable right pile. I pulled back with all that I had. I lost visibility with the fish as the bait fish were obstructing my view, then caught sight of it as it went around the pile, luckily not hanging up, and started towards me.
I noticed palm kelp wrapped around the shaft as I grabbed a hold of it for the third and final time. I stuck my arm beneath its right operculum and out its mount and grabbed onto its lower lip, pulling it close to my body. That=s when I realized how big it really was. I was so involved with everything else that I didn't pay attention to it's size. After getting a firm hold on the fish, I subdued it by braining it. With one direct hit, it never flinched again.
I swam over to the skiff, and assisted by Capt. Ron Martin, we loaded the fish onto the skiff. After getting out of the water and into the skiff, I was amazed at its size. I waited in anticipation as we motored to the Horizon. We hauled it aboard and immediately weighed it. Everyone was amazed that another large Yellow was speared on the same trip. I wrapped the fish in plastic bags, and lugged into the fish hold until we reached dock two days later, where we officially weighed it.
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Previous world-record yellowtail for men—72.7pounds (33 kilograms) by Joe Tobin
June 22, 1999, Battleship Point, Guadalupe Island, Mexico

The trip began with many unanswered questions. What would the water temperature and visibility be? Would there be bluefin tuna? Would anyone get chased out of the water by great white sharks like last year? We had taken the Horizon dive boat to Guadalupe Island five years in a row now but we always went in September. I knew well what conditions I could expect to find in September but what about June?
It was hoped that the cooler waters of June would hold bluefin tuna but with the La Nina effect bringing colder than normal sea water temperatures, all I could do was guess as to what would be waiting for me.
Our first two days of diving started at San Benitos Island and then we made the move further off shore to Guadalupe Island for five more days. The water averaged 62 degrees which was twelve degrees colder than my last visit here nine months ago. Visibility was around seventy feet or so. Sightings of tuna were few and far between but one thing that stood out was that we were finding some big yellowtail!
The first day of diving at Guadalupe started out slow for me. I had not taken a single fish when we moved the boat to Battleship point for our last diving of the day. Not far off the stern of the boat was a point that dropped off sharply into deep water. I slipped into the water and started to make my way towards the point. Two freedivers were already hanging out with the baitfish on the outer edge of the point so I decided to swim around the point to the other side. Working my way along the edge, I was admiring the beauty around me. The underwater terrain beneath me was made up of large boulders that dropped steeply into the deep clear blue water that surrounds this volcanic island that lies one hundred miles off the coast of Baja Mexico.
As I was swimming at the surface approaching the point, a school of bait fish in front of me suddenly bolted for the protection of the rocks below. A lone yellowtail came from around the edge of the point, cruising in my direction about fifteen feet deep. I judged the yellowtail to be at least over twenty pounds so I made a dive and prepared to line up for a shot. The fish was between me and the steeply sloping edge of the island so there was no where for him to go but right in front of me. I lined up on the pectoral fin and pulled the trigger on my tuna gun. I hit the fish with my twenty foot shot and struck him along the lateral line at mid body.
At first the fish just continued swimming in a straight line but soon bolted towards the rocks as I kicked for the surface and prepared for the fight. I quickly noticed that there were a couple of things happening that were out of the ordinary. First, my five and one half foot spear shaft looked tiny against the fish it was now sticking out of. Secondly, the fish was swimming in an odd manor giving me my first hint that I had struck him the spine!
Even though the fish was spine shot at mid body and partially paralyzed, he soon exploded in a frenzy of energy trying to run to the rocks below. I pulled at my bungee float line trying to keep him off the bottom as I kicked like hell trying to drag him out into deeper water. It was obvious that the fish was greatly wounded but he was still able to pull me around with tremendous power. As I progressed at pulling the fish into deeper water, he progressed at making deeper runs toward the bottom pulling me under many times. I would fight like mad to reach the surface and just grab a quick breath of air when the yellowtail would make another dash to the bottom dragging me down yet again. For the next five minutes I fought the fish from my float line some times having to give up line and sometimes working my way closer to the fish.
Now I was beginning to appreciate that this fish was larger than I first thought. Maybe over forty pounds I said to myself as he dragged me down again. I new that if I could just keep him out of the rocks, he would soon tire and I could then start the dangerous process of working my way down the shooting line towards the fish.
Each run the fish made was shorter and weaker than the last. I was now able to stay at the surface and start bringing the fish up. As I reached the stainless steel cable shooting line, I was careful to keep myself clear of all line should the fish make another strong run. Working quickly before the fish regained strength, I was able to get my hands on him and lock him under my arm where I could quickly dispatch him with my knife.
With the fish now subdued, I signaled the waiting chase boat to move in. Returning to the Horizon in the inflatable, I kept staring at the fish. He seemed bigger than forty pounds, maybe he was fifty pounds?. There was a lot of commotion on the deck of the boat as everyone gathered around to see the fish. The captain and I put a hand scale on the fish and lifted it up. The sixty pound scale bottomed out. We got out a one hundred pound scale and tried again. This time the fish weighed in around seventy three pounds."Hey, isn't that a record?" someone asked.....and a record it was....for the next three days!

Mark Steele
Yellowtail, North Amrican record, Mark Steele

Previous world-record yellowtail for men—68.3 pounds (31.01 kilograms) by Mark Steele as told to Terry Maas

Marine biologist Mark Steele took his 68.3-pound North American record from the La Jolla kelp beds of California in May 1990. Shore diving, Mark entered the water by timing the mild sea swells and letting them sweep him off the rocks. Twenty minutes later, he was patrolling the outer edge of the kelp forest growing from 70 feet of water. The water was 67 degrees Fahrenheit, warm for that time of year, but the visibility was only 15 feet. He leveled off at 20 feet and watched schools of jack mackerel, streaming by and milling about aimlessly, obviously not threatened by gamefish. Finding a school of barred sand bass, the biologist in Mark took over as he observed the breeding fish at 40 feet.
"As I neared the level of the bass, I sensed motion to my right," Mark recalls.
Hugging the kelp, a big yellowtail swam directly toward me. Knowing the fish would get spooked if it sensed my gun movement, I turned my gun carefully. True to form, this fish, which appeared to weigh 40 pounds, veered sharply away. I swung the gun as fast as I could. Aiming at the disappearing fish, I calculated where it should be, compensated for the distance by aiming high and shot into the gloom. I headed for the surface as line spun from my reel. Its initial run toward open water was short lived because it returned to tangle in the kelp 60 feet below.
Adrenaline coursing through my body robbed me of valuable oxygen as I attempted to dive and assess the quality of my shot. The good news was that, even though the fish was hopelessly tangled in the kelp, my fixed spearhead (not a detachable) was wrapped up tightly so that it could not slide back through the fish. After catching my breath, I returned to dispatch the fish with a quick stab to the brain. Next, I became a human lawn mower cutting the kelp free from the bottom. I pulled the whole floating mess to the surface, where I untangled the fish. I strung the fish on my back where its five-foot body rode for the swim to the beach. Tourists asked the usual questions:
'Do you always get fish like that?'
'No, I wish I did.'
'Must've been a good day?'
The best part of the day was yet to come. Mark drove to the nearby homes of California legends Jack Prodonovich and Wally Potts, whom he credits with doing more for the sport of bluewater hunting in the United States than any other divers. "These guys helped me out when I was getting started," Mark says. "Their incredible excitement and enthusiasm for my catch was a special reward, one I'll long remember."


Tom Murray
Yellwotail, North American, Tom Murray

Previous world-record North American yellowtail for men—65 pounds 29.51 kilograms) by Tom Murray

Date ----- October 14, 1988
Location ----- Cortez Bank, California

The strong current was becoming slack with the incoming tide. We were able to anchor after operating a live boat for most of the day. There were several large yellowtail taken to 35 lbs. Large schools of small bluefin tuna were seen. The few shots taken at the tuna missed.

I slid off the swimstep and loaded my old standard Riffe gun. It had three 9/16" bands, a 9/32" x 57" shaft, Riffe's small spearhead and a new Wally Potts reel. After loading, I made a dive to clear my wet suit of trapped air. Upon my return to the surface I saw, at the edge of my visibility, two very large bluefin three feet below the surface. The tuna were motionless but getting closer. They moved like robots and appeared to be about seven or eight feet long. Definitely the largest fish I had ever seen. Luckily they didn't come into range as I was not prepared to take a shot at one.

After the tuna moved on, I made a dive to thirty feet. Out of the blue, three large yellowtail moved in. One passed me before I could swing my gun around. The second one looked to be the largest. I took a shot, aiming at the eye. The shaft hit in back of the dorsal fin about one inch under the soft rays. I hit the surface and yelled that I had maybe a forty five pounder on but probably not for long. I let the line slip from the reel.

I followed the line around one kelp strand and then another. I hit the surface again and swam as hard as I could following the line. When the line became slack I reeled. The line made a deep arch to about forty feet then appeared to come back to the surface. After a half hour of recovering line I could see the fish swimming slowly on the surface.

I made it to the shooting line. The fish decided to go down. I could see it moving toward a kelp strand, so I dove down and grabbed the fish by the tail and the shaft fell out. I made it back to the surface and wrapped my legs around the fish. The tail was in my face and literally kicking the snot out of me.

From my weight belt I tow a seventy foot float line, attached to lifeguard float. Attached to the float is a stringer. I pulled the float to me. I gripped the fish's tail with my left hand and barely reached the gills with my right hand. I was able to get a good grip inside the gills. I grabbed the stringer and pushed it through the eyes. The fish was caught.

We got in the next day and weighed the fish at the fuel dock. It was 65 pounds. Dale Cote had the previous record of 60 pounds taken in 1974. Being the gentleman that I am, I gave Dale a call so he could be one of the first to congratulate me on breaking his fourteen year old record.


Todd (Mr. Yellowtail) Anderson
Yellowtail, North American, Todd Anderson

Notable catch, yellotail for men—62 pounds (28.14 kilograms)
by Todd Anderson

It was mid afternoon and we had just arrived at Tanner Bank onboard the dive boat Encore. We anchored on a 70 foot pinnacle and noticed that the current was screaming. Three divers hit the water and powered away from the boat, I watched for several minutes before deciding to join them in the water. My plan was to go up current and then drift back over the pinnacle, I was about a hundred yards past the boat when I started seeing baitfish and less than a minute later a large school of yellowtail rose up to greet me.
I dove down about twenty feet and selected a fish that was a little bit larger than the others and angled towards it. The fish sensed my movements towards it and veered away, I could feel the other fish swirling around me but continued my glide towards my chosen fish. Pulling the trigger, I felt my breakaway come free. I grabbed my float line and swam to the surface. After about ten minutes of struggle the fish weakened, and as I pulled it closer I notice that my shot had torn part way down it’s body. As I got near the boat, another diver threw me his gun and I "second shot" the fish just to be sure. When we got the fish onto the scales it weighed sixty two pounds, I was thrilled by the catch and awestruck by the fact that I was surrounded by a school of fifty to sixty pound yellowtail, I don’t ever expect to see something like that again


Ron Mullins
Yellowtail, North American, Ron Mullins

Notable catch, yellotail for men—61 pounds (27.69 kilograms)
by Ron Mullins

In the fall of 1995 I booked a trip with twenty other divers to a bank 105 miles off the Southern California coast. Cortez Bank can be an almost magical place to dive and has produced many a spearfishing story. Our primary goal was to get some of the bluefin tuna that the bank is known for. Cortez Bank is also a good place to look for white sea bass but is most well known for the very large resident yellowtail.
The trip was scheduled for three days and late on the first day I was having a great trip. I had landed some nice white sea bass and it seemed like the entire bank was crawling with yellowtail. The yellowtail were cruising the edge of the kelp and often swimming through it. Inside the kelp the bait was swarming as if it was one giant animal. The bait was so thick it appeared to be a river flowing through the kelp stalks. On several dives I would dive down to the bait and continue to sink through it only to find another layer of bait at a depth of about eighty feet. Under the second layer of bait the white sea bass were swimming completely unaware of my approach.
Toward the end of the second day my dive buddy and I decided to swim a long distance to an area where nobody had been diving. Our plan was to work the edge of the kelp in an effort to catch some large yellowtail or some of the bluefin working the bait. As I approached the edge of the bait I saw to large yellowtail swim past my buddy. He raised his speargun and shot missing the fish. We hadn’t even gotten to the edge of the kelp and we were seeing nice fish. As my buddy was reloading his gun a huge yellowtail cruised right up to him and then it came straight over to me. When I raised my speargun, the fish was less than five feet from the end of my gun.
When I pulled the trigger the shaft went completely through the fish and kept going. The yellowtail sat motionless. As the shaft was sinking the yellowtail seemed stunned and didn’t move. When the shaft came to the end of the slack in the shooting line, the yellowtail exploded. He darted off around a kelp stalk and then straight down. I knew if I let the fish have enough line he would tangle on the bottom so I grasped the trail line to stop the fish. The fish was very strong and pulled me straight down. At a depth of about fifty feet I had to let go. I made a mad dash for the surface and I could see the fish going crazy down by the bottom of the kelp stalks.
On the surface, my heart pounding, I knew I had to get the fish away from the bottom. I pulled as hard as I could and before I knew it I was back down at about forty feet. I made another mad dash for the surface. When I reached the surface my chest felt like my heart was going to pound it’s way through the front of my wetsuit. My lungs were burning and I gasped for air. I was concerned about the fish but it was to late. The fish was really tangled on the bottom.
I tried for several minutes to calm down and slow my heart rate but I couldn’t reach the fish to untangle it. The line was threaded through the kelp stalks and I spent a lot of time just getting to a point where the line was going straight down. I made several dives to a depth where I could see the line tangled around the kelp stalk near the bottom. I decided to try to break the kelp stalk free of the bottom by pulling from the surface. I was kicking as hard as I could and pulling on my trail line with all of my might. Finally I could feel that I was gaining line. Eventually I pulled a huge ball of kelp to the surface with my yellowtail right in the middle.
When I got the fish free from the kelp ball I was amazed. I had never seen a yellowtail so large. The width of the fish’s head was staggering. I couldn’t get over the girth of the yellowtail’s body. I swam the fish back to the boat and handed it to a deckhand. As soon as the deck hand had the fish safely on the boat I turned from the boat to swim back for a try at another one. I didn’t see another yellowtail that large so I went back to the boat where I found a lot of people looking at my fish.
The fish sat in the freezer on the boat for two days. When we got back to 22nd St. landing we weighed the fish on the certified scale there. The scale stopped at 61 lbs.


Ed Glass
Yellowtail, North American, Ed Glass

Notable catch, yellotail for men—60 pounds (27.24 kilograms)
by Ed Glass—
story pending.