Shark Tax

By Kevin Glen

That little voice inside my head—that sounds not unlike my wife’s—asked me if this was a bad idea. Too late, I’m committed. I’m getting my fish back. I was almost to the shark, swimming as fast as I could. But all I could do was watch as the beast took my fish in its mouth, tail first, shaking that prehistoric head from side to side until the rear third of my catch came away cleanly. With his mouth full, and my rapid approach the sevengill retreated a few feet and I was able to retrieve the lion’s share of my sea bass. Now I just had to get it to the boat.

My involuntary shark-feeding charity began a few hours earlier when Frank and I headed out for an afterwork dive trip on my trusty Stabicraft 2050 Supercab. The weather was the best you could ask for off our local coast and we made the crossing to the channel islands in record time. Pulling up to the kelp beds, we were greeted with warm, clear water and lots of baitfish. Our quarry for the day was white sea bass.  

For spearfishermen of the Pacific, white sea bass are a pinnacle species, known for the challenge they present. Their soft-flesh coupled with sturdy bones result in a high likelihood of tear-off from poor shot placement. On this day my aim may have been too good.

I saw my first fish about half an hour after getting in the water, it was quartering away from me about 20 feet down. I casually dropped in the opposite direction, hoping to pique its curiosity. No dice. The second fish showed up a few minutes later coming at me head-on. As we neared each other he peeled away and slightly down, leaving me a perfect broadside shot. I picked out the imaginary line of the spinal cord and squeezed the trigger. 

The spear tip struck exactly where I intended, directly impacting the spine. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, these fish tend to have very hardy bones. My shaft stopped dead on the vertebrae, not penetrating deep enough to engage the flopper (a little metal bit that works as the barb to hold the fish in place). So as the fish entered its death throes, spasming vertically in the water column, my shaft slid right back out. 

I quickly made a lunge for the fish, stupidly awakening the last of his survival instinct and spurring him to evade me. Bad idea. Changing tactics, I followed the fish from the surface, haphazardly reloading my gun as quickly as possible while watching as he half-swam with no particular purpose. Between the current and this dying fish’s aimless path, I couldn’t keep up and lost sight of him. I spent the next few minutes swimming in expanding circles, trying to relocate the wounded sea bass, eventually deciding to get a better vantage point from the top of the boat.

When Frank saw me leave the water, he climbed aboard to see what was happening. I relayed the events to him and continued scouring the area for a floating fish carcass. He had just enough time to tell me, “That fish is gone man; you’re never going to see it again,” when I shouted, “There he is!” I spotted the white belly just as it reached the surface and was already scrambling down to the water. I briefly considered raising the anchor and moving the boat but snatched my fins instead, knowing they were the faster option.

Before I was even off the boat, Frank shouted, “Shark! Take this!”, tossing me a speargun. I saw the bead of a fin racing me towards my catch. I’d like to say I’m faster in the water than a shark, but it wasn’t a very close call, and that’s how I ended up approaching a roughly eight foot long, sevengill shark, chowing down contentedly on a fish that, I’d argue, belonged to me. 

After I snatched the front two thirds of the sea bass I turned and kicked slowly towards the boat.  Yes. Slowly. The last thing I wanted was to get the shark even more riled by thrashing around.  However, despite my best efforts the shark was not happy with the appetizer I had already provided and returned for the rest, which was now tucked comfortably under my arm. As he glided up for his next casual bite I gave him a solid jab in the nose with my spear. While that poke bought me enough space to get to the boat without any more hassle, the shark didn’t leave the area.

Frank still hadn’t gotten a fish, so after a short celebration on the boat we got back in to continue the hunt. The sevengill was never out of sight and we eventually had to give up—something about having a big shark tagging along with you makes other fish a bit too leery to swim within range. 

From the FE Films Archive

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