By: Anthony Dooley
The waters off the west coast of Puerto Rico offer some spectacular freediving and spearfishing. The dramatic drop offs that plummet into the Mona Passage hold some of the world’s best pelagic fishing. This is where twice each year, North Carolina-based freedive and waterman-survival instructors Joe Sheridan and Alex Llinas host the FII Waterman Survival Extended course in Rincon.
As the photographer for the course, I look forward to their return every year. When the class is over, we have a friendly spearfishing rivalry between my local Puerto Rico crew and the North Carolina boys. This July, Capt. Greg Carson, of Taino Divers, was determined to put us on some outer reefs that he knew held some monsters.
Here is the story of the winning fish from that week:
We approached a pinnacle section of reef that juts up from thousands of feet to a mere 30 feet below sea level and jumped off the boat in teams of three. The current was ripping out of the north, great for fish activity but tough conditions for hunting. My eyes were on a big dog snapper sitting just on the opposite side of the pinnacle. I drifted toward him at depth, and he retreated into a hole.
Back on the boat and heading up for another drift, I told my dive buddy, Chris “Pookie” Brooks, about the crevice the dog had holed up in. We made plans, and when we were back in position I slipped in the water ahead of Pookie to line it up. At about 40 feet of depth, I was resting on the reef when three beautiful king mackerel swam within arm’s reach of me.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Carson in a cave looking for a big black grouper we had spotted earlier. The macks were heading directly behind him! I screamed out with all the air I had left in my lungs. He turned around startled, taking notice of the approaching macks. He lined up a perfect lateral shot and squeezed the trigger, placing the arrow directly behind the gills of the biggest of the three.
At first I thought he might have stoned it, but suddenly it burst to life and raced into the depths. As I swam to the surface to refill my lungs, I noticed Carson’s reel had spooled. The fish was dragging him out into the blue.
I swam alongside Carson as he worked through a hundred yards of line until we could make out the silhouette of the fish. When the king was 15 feet from the surface, a massive barracuda came racing up to get a bite. I was determined to get a photo of this incredible fish in one piece. I got there just in time to spook the cuda away and snap a photo.
Check out Anthony Dooley’s underwater photo adventures on Instagram: @el_squid. For more information on Joe Sheridan’s Waterman Survival Course, go to www.watermansurvival.com.