By Kevin Glen
After nearly four years of chasing the world record for white sea bass, I finally did it; everything came together. Days spent spearfishing very rarely go according to plan, yet this one did – well, almost.
Back before 2010 very little attention was paid to spearfishing world records around the polespear and Hawaiian sling categories. To this point only divers in countries where the law required use of this equipment seemed to really push the abilities of the more primitive gear. Most large pelagic fish worldwide were taken with spearguns and the records for such were fiercely contested.
However, as I was coming up in the sport this was all changing. Awareness of the separate records categories for pole spears and the growing availability of pole spears to tackle larger game fish created a surge of record-hungry divers out to claim their spot in the books. I caught the fever hard, started building my own pole spears and it wasn’t long before I took down a few of my own record breaking fish.
The one record I wanted the most was the white sea bass, Atractoscion nobilis. To California spearfisherman, this is THE FISH. The one that dominates our lives from February to August; the one that fills most of the “fish that got away” stories; the one known as “the Ghost” for its elusiveness and the one I’d never heard of being taken on a pole spear. I had to do it, so I hung up the spearguns and told myself I wouldn’t pick them back up until I did.
Unfortunately, I was not the only one chasing this goal, and before I’d even had my first sea bass sighting with a pole spear the record was claimed for the first time. Twenty-seven pounds was the first notch; I could beat that.
It took a year of dedication before I took my first white sea bass with a hand-held pole spear. The fish went twenty-three pounds, so no record, but I had one under my belt. After that first fish the pieces seemed to fall into place, and I took six more that summer, but I was always just shy of the bar that was creeping slowly upward as more and more divers took on the challenge.
Then the day came. I spent the morning convincing my buddy, Forrest Galante, to take me out to one of our coastal spots on his boat. Conditions were lousy and had everything else (wind, temps, moon phase, tides) not been pointing to fish in the kelp beds, we would have called it off. The allure of the fish won out and we left after work, knowing we’d have less than an hour of daylight to dive by the time we got to the reef.
When we arrived the water was so brown and murky, in an area known for white shark sightings, that Forrest informed me he was staying in the boat. I was too determined, and we were already there, so I suited up and slipped in. Immediately I heard a symphony of croaks so loud and deep my whole body vibrated. Only someone who has swum through a kelp bed full of breeding white sea bass will recognize that sensation; there is no other sensory experience like it.
Despite the bad visibility, I wasn’t ten feet from the boat when I saw the first piece of silvery scales and yellow tail. I didn’t have a shot, but kept moving as slowly as possible in the direction where I lost sight of the fish. When I got to the kelp and punched my first dive, keeping my body hidden against the slowly waving strands, the perfect fish materialized out of the murk swimming broadside to my hiding spot. I let my shot fly, connecting with the spine for an instant kill.
I was back on the boat within five minutes of entering the water. Forrest was ecstatic and we weighed the fish as best we could on the rocking boat. Thirty-nine pounds, I had the new world record. After telling Forrest the story we both knew this was one of those magical days where the fish were thick and the opportunity wouldn’t get better, so he begrudgingly put his suit on to go get his own fish.
To my everlasting regret, as he was climbing out of the boat, I took his speargun and handed him a pole spear instead. “Do it like a man!” I told him. Forrest laughed; not one to back down from a challenge, he took the pole spear. Ten minutes later I heard him whoop from the same area I’d just taken my fish. When he got back to the boat my heart sank; his fish looked bigger. A number of vengeful thoughts bubbled in my mind. What type of friend spears a larger fish after his buddy set the world record mere minutes before?
I shook off my rivalrous desire to punch Forrest in the face and we weighed his catch. It went forty-three pounds, I was simultaneously crushed and elated. His record held for almost two years before another mutual friend bumped it up in 2017 to nearly fifty-two pounds, where it still sits. Despite my initial disappointment and all competitive joking aside, I revel in the fact that one of my best friends and I took two world record fish in a matter of fifteen minutes just before the sun set on a day we had no business going out at all.