By: Capt. Tony Young
If you have been spearfishing, hunting, or fishing for a while then you either have or want a story like this for yourself. As watermen, there becomes a point when you long for the “BIG ONE”. The goal is still to bring fish home for the family, don’t get me wrong, but as you do it more you look for larger and more mature fish. Spearfishing is a lot like bow or rifle hunting. You can stalk your fish and learn about them, their behaviors, and where they live. I believe this is one of the reasons why spearfishing can consume so much of your life and drive you crazy at times. Just like hunting a mature whitetail buck, learning his pattern, where he eats, and where he sleeps. Hunting a big fish on a specific spot will require the same amount of time and dedication.
When I first met Pat Galyon, I had no idea how close of friends we would become and how his passion for spearfishing would challenge me as a guide. Pat and I started diving together about eight years ago. He was a great diver and we shot a lot of beautiful fish together. As time went on, I challenged Pat to continue his dive training and he challenged us to find him larger fish to shoot. Long story short, Pat would become one hell of a diver and ready to put the work in for a fish of a lifetime.
A few years ago we found a new spot, by accident, and dove it on a clear day to see what it was. The spot had hundreds of lobsters on it and we shot a few nice. There was also a nearby wreck that provided good habitat for large fish and it was always loaded up with a ton of bait. We knew of a large cubera snapper that frequented this wreck, from diving it in the past, but we really only saw him once or twice and didnt know much about him. With Pats dedication and some new information on this area, we started to piece it all together. Over the next two years we learned a lot about this fish. The tough thing about cubera snapper is that they move and change daily routines with the seasons. The window to hunt him at this particular spot was short and we really didn’t have any idea where he went the rest of the year. However, the puzzle was being put together and it was only a matter of time until we got a chance at him.
Pat and his wife Nancy dive with us most every week, his wife especially loves to dive the reef and hunt Lionfish. When it was just Pat on the boat, he called it big fish day and we would go try for the big cubera. Most of the time, the fish would bust us. He was usually in the mid water column feeding and we bumped him out into the sand before we could get a shot. When the water was clear, it was tough to hunt this fish. The wreck is deep and he would always see us long before we were in the shooting range. You could tell this fish had a long life as he definitely knew the drill and most likely had been shot at by other divers in the past. Long story short, another year went by and we didn’t get the fish. Pat never took a shot at him, nor did I, we didn’t want to pose a threat with hopes he might become more comfortable with us in the water.
Another year passed and it was finally time to hunt this snapper again. The feeling of not knowing if the fish would return or if he got caught or died, was killing us. He was an amazing fish and for how much work we had put in on him, we really needed to close the story ourselves. Years ago, we had a black grouper that was well over 100 pounds, we tried countless times and had some good opportunities, but never connected on the fish. One day this grouper was gone, we never saw him again, it was heartbreaking to not know what happened to him.
We really wanted to get this cubera snapper and were determined to put in the work. Usually, we would dive the spot with clean water, making it easy to spot the fish and see the wreck on our way down. That wasn’t working, as the fish would always bust us and run out to the sand, so we tried something different. Pat and I dropped in on the spot and like always the cubera was feeding in the water column, but with dirty water this time. We couldn’t see him at first but ended up getting very close to the fish and surprised him, he did not act too spooked and went right into the wreck. This was his fatal mistake and we slowly closed in on him. This fish was smart and we figured this would be our only chance, no way he was going to make this mistake twice. Pat swam around the back and I went to the front over the top of where he was. When Pat was in position, I shined my light and Pat’s gun went off without hesitation. Pat shoots a 65” Super Amero gun by Hatch Custom Spearguns, with a 5/16” heavy shaft and slip tip. His shot was right in the gill plate and into the throat. The gill plate cut the spectra line and the fish was free, it also bent the slip tip on Pat’s gun. Confused, the fish swam a circle in the sand and went right back into the wreck. With the fish back in the wreck and bleeding out from Pat’s shot that tore out, I placed a quick top down shot into his brain and the fish rolled over dead. We quickly got our hands on the fish and started our assent. On our way up I gave Pat a huge hug and broke out in tears, my mask was filling with water as we laughed and cried together. This was a huge moment for all of us and years of hard work put in. To this day, it was one of the best moments in both of our lives!
Back on the boat, it started to set in as we saw how large this fish was. He was measured at 49.5 inches, over 69 pounds bled out, and estimated around 40 years old. This cubera snapper was a fish of a lifetime, I would say a fish of many lifetimes for the area we were diving! Pat has landed over 200 species of fish on rod and spear in his life. This is one of his most memorable moments and we couldn’t be more happy to share it with him! When you are spearfishing, always remember that you have the choice on what you shoot, in order for large fish like this to exist, we need to let them mature and grow. Shoot what you need for dinner and leave the rest to spawn and grow!