IBSRC ANNOUNCES RESULTS OF THE FIRST LA PAZ INTERNATIONAL BLUE WATER MEET
(Click on images for a larger picture)
|Contestants line up after the first day's catch. From left to right Stathis Kostopolis, Wade Binley, "Toto," Dennis Haussler, Terry Maas, Ron Mullins, Andreas Agathos and Glen McGuire.|
Would a freediving spearfishing meet limited to 3 blue water species be fun? Would local inhabitants accept the concept? The answer is a resounding yes. Eight international divers from 3 countries gathered in La Paz, Mexico this June to test this concept in one of the worlds finest blue water hunting localesthe entrance to the great fish trap of the Sea of Cortez. "Great competition! Excellent dive sites," says contest champion Dennis Haussler, "Lots of pelagic fishyellowfin tuna, wahoo, dorado, amberjack, rooster fish and billfish. Wonderful weather, excellent organization, great hospitality and a friendly atmosphere. Ill be back next year!"
John Riffe, one of the meet organizers suggested late June as the perfect time for a blue water contest. Its t-shirt-and-shorts weather, even in the morning. All winter, the Sea of Cortez produces prodigious amounts of life. In June, hungry predatorstuna, wahoo, marlin and doradomake their way into the gulf, eager to sample the springs bounty. This year we planned to do some sampling of our own.
The Cortez Club hosted its first international blue water competition with participants from Greece, Mexico and the U.S. The rules are deceptively simple. During each day of the 5-day event, under Mexican law, you are allowed to spear 5 fish, one of each speciesthats 25 fish for the entire meet. Under the International Blue Water Spearfishing Records Committees rules (IBSRC), you may present 3 of these.
|The "Admiral greets each contestant at opening ceremonies. Andreas Agathos from Greece shakes his hand.|
The 3-fish, one-per-specie limit makes this contest a game of both skill and strategy. For your score, just total the weight of the three fish you entered. But what fish do you shoot the first day? When a wahoo swims by, do you take the shot or wait for a larger one? In the evening of each contest day, youve got to decide on which of your fish to officially present. Its a tough choice, especially if youve seen bigger.
We dove Cerralvo Island for the first 3 days of the contest, where we soon settled into a routine. Up at 4:15, catch the shuttle at 4:45 and arrive at Las Arenas beach at sunup. The launching beach is an impressive example of Pangero culture in the Baja. Pangas are skiffs perfectly suited for the calm coastal waters. Skilled Mexican skiff operators, the Pangeros, line their 18- to 20- foot, thin vessels on the beach, ready for the days fishing. Some Pangeros cater to sportsmen while others fish commercially with hand lines.
|The Greek team prepares for departure. This is a good example of the panga and the calm seas we encountered.|
In order to ensure equality, all divers dove from nearly identical pangas after we drew their skippers by lot. The rules level the playing field for all divers by providing nearly similar transportation and local knowledge so that international divers would not face a home-field advantage from faster boats or more knowledgeable skippers.
As we faced the Pangeros on the beach, we hoped to begin a new relationship with these fishermen. In the past, divers have offended, even incensed, the hand-liners who earn a meager subsistence from bottom fishing for such fish as grouper and snapper. Can you imagine their feelings as thoughtless divers brought huge snapper and grouper to their beach, butchered them and trucked the fillets home in large freezers? You might get an idea if the tables were reversed and Mexican divers trucked home loads of fish from Laguna Beach.
Soon after our arrival at La Paz, we opened the meet with an introduction to the port captain of La Paz and a high-ranking officer in the Mexican Navy. Andrea Tomba, of the Cortez Club and John Riffe had spent many months preparing local residents for the concept of a blue water meet in their area. Representatives of the local press asked questions and publicized the event. As the meet progressed, we were especially pleased with the enthusiasm and respect we saw in the Pangeros eyes. We did not threaten their local bottom-fish population because IBSRC rules emphasize pelagic open-ocean fish and avoid controversial bottom-dwelling, resident fish. The Pangeros watched us dive in new areas, far from shore, for quality gamefish.
Just a few minutes in the water tells the story of the incredible bounty of the Sea of Cortez. Cool, nutrient-laden water ebbs and flows through the warmer waters of the gulf bringing with it vast quantities of plankton and krillthe base of a huge food chain. Glimpsing into the water you see life seething everywhere. Clouds of mackerels and schools of trevally dart about gorging themselves on the rivers of food transported by the currents. When you find so many baitfish, you know youll see larger fish such as tuna, wahoo, dorado and even billfish. While marlin and sailfish are not part of the contest, divers are free to take them under local fish-and-game laws.
"One of the highlights of the trip for me was seeing a big marlin on the first day of the meet at Punto Bajo Sud," says Greek diver Stathis Kostopolos, "It faced me with its sword for a couple of intense moments as if to challenge me, then veered away. At first, I thought it was a black marlin so I didnt pull the trigger. Later, I found out it was most likely a blue marlin and would have been a world record. In retrospect, I cherish the experience even though I didnt land the fish."
At the end of the first day, we made an impressive catch of quality fish. Wed seen marlin and tuna and taken beautiful amberjack and wahoo. Back at the Cortez Club, we relaxed and discussed the day. By 6 P.M.. we had to make the decision about which fish, if any, to present for one of our 3 fish. JosÚ Carballo the famous Mexican diver known as "Toto" made his decision to present his 56-pound amberjack the first day. While he had a nice fish, many of us saw fish close to that size and we held our shots. We were hoping for bigger fish. But would we find them? Would the weather hold? Toto made a wise choice and was in first place after day one.
One of the central themes of this new contest format is to promote friendly relationships among contestants. At the end of the day, we wanted competitors to become comrades. In classic spearfishing meets, contestants often stay to themselves and concentrate on team strategy. The IBSRC-La Paz meet was designed to create goodwill among the contestants, typical of blue water hunters in general. Everyone uses the same accommodations. The La Concha Hotel and adjacent condominiums were perfectly suited for this concept. Within a few steps, we could discuss events at the Cortez Club, have dinner at the hotel and sleep upstairs. Divers stayed together, shared fish stories, discussed the days events, compared gear and techniques, and generally had a grand timeexactly as we planned.
|Good food, good company after the dive. Here, we're having a drink on the water at the Cortez Club, talking over the events of the day.|
The new five-day contest is unique. The longer event solves problems common in one- or two-day meetsbad weather and unequal conditions. Changes in the weather create challenges and different opportunities for blue water hunters. A windy day can destroy your plans for offshore fishing. Generally, in 5 days, the weather will change. In shorter events, it is not uncommon for divers to exploit secret spots or techniques. Our longer venue allows divers to equalize and catch up. By rotating Pangeros, all divers have equal access to their extensive local knowledge.
We dove the famous El Bajo the last two days of the tournament. This seamount, miles from shore, intercepts bait and predators alike as they make their way into the Gulf of California. Each morning, wind-driven currents swept over this fish magnet like a river. Only two of us made it up current the first morning. No matter how far we swam, the bait continued in balls and streams into infinity. We saw 100-pound plus tuna, wahoo, amberjack and marlin.
Ron Mullins stared into the gill cavities of a huge marlin as it swam lazily up to him from the depths. "Its gill slits opened grotesquely, wide enough for me to fit my leg in the opening." Ron said. "I lined up on its gill plates and fired. To my astonishment, it aloofly flicked its head, which easily dislodged the spear." (Rons 3/8-inch spear is driven by 7 bands, each with 110-pounds of force.) Later, Ron learned from fishermen experienced with 1,000-pound marlin (granders) that these fish sport gill plates nearly 2-inches thick and as strong as armor plate from the side of a Sherman tank.
A relatively new diver Wade Binley shot a great catch of amberjack, wahoo, roosterfish and dorado. Had Wade selected the right fish, hed have won the contest. Meet champion Dennis Haussler proved to be the shrewdest of the lot. On the fourth day, hed landed a 70-pound amberjack. To my surprise, he did not declare this fish. The last day, Dennis won the contest with a 98-pound amberjackjust 7 pounds off the world record.
Greek diver Andreas Agathos got the thrill of his life when he shot a sword-bearing sailfish. Here is his story:
It was around 1:00 P.M.. The water temperature was 82░F and the visibility exceeded 70- to 80-feet. I was swimming up-current at the edge of the south point of El Bajo. A lot of baitfish were in the water and a big school of skipjack followed me, swirling around me whenever I dove. The bottom was 100-to 130-feet deep and full of big schools of monster-size pargo and cabrilla. The last half-hour, I had four sightings of small schools of yellowfin tuna passing by very fast in the distance.
At 40 feet, looking around, I observed that all the baitfish disappeared in a flick of a second to my left. I turned my head to the right and I saw a 100-pound sailfish (initially I thought it was a marlin) swimming 20 feet away from me. Suddenly, it stopped and turned its sword toward me, flinching its two pectoral fins a couple of times. It stayed in this position probably no more than 5 seconds before it again started swimming in front of me, slowly and sure of its dominance! I raised my gun quickly, aimed and launched my 3/8-inch shaft just behind its left gill plate and 2 inches above the medial line. I watched as my shaft penetrated its body, but this seemed to bother the fish little, as it continued on its way, lightly accelerating.
I quickly rose to the surface fast and grasped my boogie float. The shaft was attached to a 100-feet bungee line. As soon as the bungee was stretched, the fish realized that it was caught and suddenly made a mighty leap out of the water! (Those of us on the main boat heard Andreas yelling as the sailfish made flying leaps all around him.) Jonathan, our boatman spotted the sailfish jumping out of the water near my float and he could see the spearshaft hanging from its body. At that time and after four consecutive splashes, my bungee went slack. At this point, the sailfish made its appearance 20 feet below, swimming directly toward me. I recalled stories, of wounded marlin that had penetrated spearfishers with their mighty sword and this made me very alert.
I shielded myself with my float in my left hand and my Riffe gun in my right. The sailfish made a quick first pass just 2 feet away from me. As it missed me, it turned again and started making small circles around me, at 15 feet deep, with a radius of 15 feet. At the completion of each circle, it came to the surface 3-4 feet away from me. This kept on for 40 minutes! I reasoned that it was after me, but my spear must have fouled up its sensory system. He could get very close to me but lost me in the last few feet.
Meanwhile, the boat had come next to me and passed me another gun. I loaded all four bands and speared the fish in the middle of its body, aiming for its spine, but missing. The spear penetrated its body, but this did not alter its aggression toward me. My strategy was simple, stay immobile on the surface next to my boogie float so as not to give the shocked sailfish a chance to distinguish my figure from the surrounding float and later to the boat.
I loaded a third gun as the sailfish kept swimming dangerously around me. Suddenly, he swam away from me, dived, stretched my bungee line and just died. Within 5 minutes I had it on the surface. Meanwhile three boats had surrounded me with excited divers watching the fight. I handed the fish to one of the boats as fellow divers took some nice pictures. Two hours later the fish weighed in at 94.7 lbs. What a thrill.
After the last days catch was cleaned and dressed, we added it to the previous 4-day catch for presentation to the School for Disadvantaged Youths of La Paz. Andrea Tomba had arranged for a representative group of these young people to meet the divers and accept their packaged fillets. We shared our stories with hand gestures and gathered for a group photo. This was another example of the sensitivity that meet organizers, who are a part of the local community themselves, showed our hoststhe citizens of La Paz, Mexico.
|Andrea Tomba (far left) of the Cortez Club arranged for our fish to go to a group of disadvantaged youths.|
We totaled our catch for the trophy presentation at the closing ceremonies. Officials from the Mexican Tourist Bureau, Navy and Port Authority and their wives joined the contestants for dinner. Andrea translated introductions and explained the philosophy of the meet and the concept of blue water hunting.
Contestants departed La Paz with visions for next years contest. We were proud of accomplishing our goals: 1) We proved this new contest format promotes friendship and competition at the same time. 2) The 3-fish concept works well. 3) Most importantly, we left the Mexicans of La Paz with a good impression of freediving spearfishers as proved by discussions with the Pangeros and articles and pictures in the local press.
Next year, meet organizers are planning for 20- to 25 competitors. If you can spear fish and want to spend a week in one of the greatest blue water environments in this world, then this meet is for you. The Cortez club offers an all-inclusive package for divers. For about $1,500 U.S,.you arrive at the airport, where Andreas crew at the Cortez Club takes care of everythingtransportation, food, lodging and the Pangeros and their boats.
You may apply for the event through the Cortez Club at: TEL:+52-112-161 20/1, FAX:+52-112-161 23, E-MAIL: email@example.com or visit their web site athttp://www.cortezclub.com To learn more about the sport of blue water hunting and the IBSRC, click on the "Home" button below.