Photos by: Samantha Mase, Valentina Prokic, Oleg Chebykin and FPAS
Another World Championship has come and gone. This event was by far the toughest one I’ve competed in yet. First mistake was getting in my own head early on. These competitions come with a lot of pressure. Mostly stemming from the financial and time commitments invested in them. There are a lot of other things I could spend ten grand on in the middle of the summer. Because I invested so much time and money I felt a ton of pressure from myself to do well. Two weeks out I was pretty confident I had no chance of winning. Not the attitude you want going in.
Overall my biggest mistake was not shooting enough fish in practice. I scouted my ass off everyday for over a month. I checked thousands of holes. I should have been learning to shoot tiny terrified fish. In the end I had a set of potentially winning spots but not a set of winning skills.
I did do some things right though. I went a year early to visit the zone and had a really good idea of what to expect. I also found my boat captain and now friend Samuel Inês. Finding a good captain you get along with and that speaks English is key. In this case I found one that also knew the area like the back of his hand from years of commercial spearing. I owe multiple fish from each day to him.
Zone one was furthest from the port and exposed to weather. It also had way more diveable area with rocks extending well out from the shoreline. Much more potential for big catches here. 40-45 fish were expected by the top guys in this zone. I had a potentially phenomenal starting spot here. A long dark tunnel in 12 meters surrounded by endless generic looking rocky area. Really tough to locate from above and likely something I’d have to myself. When I located it there were two of the biggest dorado (gilted seabream) I had ever seen and a 3-4 kilo sea bass. I checked on them three days in a row and they were always home. Unfortunately a day or so before the comp the swell got big and when I checked on them I couldn’t see in the hole through the silt. Comp day I started here all alone. I swam down with two guns and used one to block the exit with the idea of shooting from the other side. Would have been a good plan had anyone been home. First spot: zero fish.
Swam from here straight inshore to where I had a big moray in a cave. Strike two: no one home.
Swam from there to my second moray with the same result. Three spots: zero fish. Not good.
I had a few solid congers to check next but I was skeptical on whether they would still be alive this late in the day. So many fish are killed in that first 20 minutes. I ran to the first one anyways and was thrilled to see him alive. A quick easy shot and I had a big one on the board. I hopped in the boat and moved to the next one but he was already gone. My third one paid off though and I was feeling much better with two good scoring fish in the boat.
I picked away at sargos, mullet, and salemas throughout the day. Trying to stay away from other people as much as possible and in general doing a pretty good job. The style of diving is super tough. Basically, hide in a crack in 2-5 meters of water use your legs to lock in and look towards the surf. Everything is zipping in and out terrified and you are just trying to get whatever shots off you can. I missed 10-12 shots which in the end would have made all the difference. This is the biggest skill I must master going forward if I intend to continue competing. All year long I shoot at big slow targets then competition day comes around and everything is small and running for its life.
During the scouting period scuba diving is allowed up till two weeks before the competition. I burned at least 10 tanks exploring the deeper zone and looking in holes in 25 meters. I ran out to these spots next knowing each one was good for at least one fish. First drop I landed a good wrasse and secured the bonus points for another new species. Second drop I got a nice fork beard securing another species bonus. I then moved over to an amazing sargo crack that I had in 26 meters. First drop I see it’s loaded with fish and I take one of the fish on the outside of the crack so as not to scare the rest. I get him in the boat and see another guy kinda nearby but am not worried about it. I drop again and end up shoulder to shoulder with that dude looking into the same crack with flashlights at 26 meters. We each take a sargo and move on.
I finished day 1 in 24th place. Not what I wanted but about what I deserved for the mistakes I made.
Day 2 started with a lot less pressure. Zone 2 was protected from weather with very little structure off the main shore line. We expected that about half as many fish would win the day. Congers were going to be vital for this zone and I only had one solid one.
These competitions begin with a shotgun start. The problem is they never seem to have a starting line. I’m not sure why they can’t just put up some buoys for everyone to stay behind but they can’t and it’s the same situation every year. As everyone stages, the boats start inching away. No one wants to be in the back so we all inch forward faster and faster till we are super far from where we were supposed to start. Sometimes they call everyone back to try again, sometimes not. I’m never at the front of the inching crowd because I think it’s ridiculous. Well, this time it cost me 3000 points. The horn blew and everyone took off but I was already behind two boats. Everyone started peeling off towards fish but these two just kept going on the same line I was about a boat length in front of me. We all jumped in about the same time loaded guns on the way down but I was a few seconds too late and watched someone shoot my eel. First heartbreak of the day.
I jumped back in the boat for the next spot. Samuel noticed no one was on this next point that he liked. It was the only spot he had ever got a corvina. I hadn’t seen one in a month of scouting so wasn’t even sure they existed. I quickly grabbed a nice mullet and a big fork beard. I made the mistake of missing a solid seabass which was the second big heartbreak of the day. Then everything changed as I caught a glimpse of corvina on the bottom. It was clear there was a large school of them. Having never seen them before I didn’t know how they would react to me being mid water column so I just fired at the first one I saw. He was a solid fish and I landed a great top down head shot. I seem to do better with larger targets. At 5 kilos he was just over the minimum size but I was beyond stoked. Definitely the fish of the tournament.
From here I was planning on hitting a tiny piece of the wrecks that I thought might be a secret. I found it scuba diving in 25 meters and there was one hole I really liked that was always stuffed with sargo. When I got there all I found was dust and tangled shooting lines.
I got a call saying Justin got his three congers and I was free to grab his fourth. We were at least an hour in now so most of the races for fish were over. So I was surprised to see this other boat racing towards the same crack I was. We hit the water at the same time loaded up while swimming down side by side. We both entered the crack and I realized my light was on the boat. Instead of going up I tracked his light with my gun as we both scanned the length of the crack. Hoping I could be quicker than him. Would have been interesting had his light landed on the head of the conger but it didn’t. He turned and gave me a friendly shrug and we headed for our boats. I yelled for the light and wanted one more scan of the crack. He was home. Deep in the crack and just barely visible. I hit him hard and managed to get him out but unfortunately he was about 200 grams short. I spent the rest of the day picking away at mullets and being generally exhausted. This type of speed hunting is incredibly tiring.
I finished 21st out of 72 divers. Not what I wanted but about what I expected and what I deserved. I have so much still to learn which is great because I’m just getting started.
The real miracle of the event was the US Women’s Team. They absolutely crushed it and ended up 1st place. Really inspiring to hear the United States national anthem play with them on the podium. Check this space out next week for Sam Mase’s experience at the first Women’s World Cup.
I can’t thank our sponsors enough. Scouting is so incredibly difficult and is only made harder by the financial burden. It’s tough to get motivated to get out of bed and go in the cold water to look in holes all day. It’s even harder knowing you save $300 by staying in bed. Thank you to everyone who donated and made that burden a little less.
Thanks to Mike McGuire for being on the ground for a month with us scouting, cooking, and keeping us on track. Thanks to my teammates Justin Lee, Paul Young, and Kelston McGuire for being killers and putting up with my grumpy ass for a month.
Thanks to John Shedd for flying over and being team doctor. Eric Salado for the technical support. Chuck Hartz for the continued financial and moral support. Joe Fernandez for being captain. Samuel Inês for being a phenomenal boat captain and sharing so much of his local knowledge.
Thanks to Florida Freedivers, Hecs Aquatic, Metal Shark Boats, and Headhunter Spearfishing for the continued support over the years. I couldn’t do it without you guys.