by Chris Chaput
What do you get when you combine experience, skill, luck, and total idiocy? This story! Doug Jones and I literally have 1,000 hours apiece of blue water hunting under our belts. And when I say “literally,” I don’t mean it like a 13 to 17-year-old girl means it. “Like, OMG I literally can’t even manage to wear anything other than my (****ing obnoxious) pajamas to the airport to travel for the second time EVER in my life!” Seriously, 1,000 hours is not an exaggeration. At the very least, we’ve floated around for enough time to realize when we’re on a slow trip. This story is about one such trip. And, of course, idiocy.
A few years back, we were on the fifth day of a five day tuna hunting trip to our favorite fickle stomping grounds outside of Puerta Vallarta. Desperate for some action, Doug and I decided to ditch our 100′ bungee, three-float tuna rigs in exchange for a 75′ hard line with one 35l inflatable. Our intent was to finally to “tag team” the big pargo (cubera) we’d been seeing for years as we drifted past the ridge at Corbatena. We had our plan: one gun, two guys. One up, one down. The guy on the bottom shoots the fish, while the guy above limits the damage by pulling up the float line as soon as the fish is on. Simple, right?
Anyone who has been to this spot knows it has its own particular Siren’s Song: seventy-plus pound Pacific dog snapper coming ever so slightly off the edge to greet you in beautiful clear almost grey hued water, while you gently drift closer and closer to the most glorious hero shot to ever occur in spearfishing. The rest of the tale? Eighty feet deep, tons of structure, old tuna nets and fishing line caught submerged on the ridge, and six knots of current. Dreams were broken like ships on the rocks!
So here we were: two savvy guys with a plan hatched from boredom, destined to shoot a world record fish that wouldn’t actually qualify anyway according to rules we knew well, about to make an inevitably mediocre legend. As Doug ascended from his first dive I could see the vague dark outline of the ridge as we drifted towards it. He politely handed over the gun and I pulled in a deep breath and made my well timed descent. Everything looked right. It looked perfect. I settled in at 65 feet, and as per our agreement, Doug choked the float line in anticipation of the shot. I was fully confident that I was not only in the perfect spot, but that Doug would see me take it, and would unfailingly keep the huge fish I was about to shoot out of the death trap that the sirens had set.
But it didn’t happen — at least not in the way we had planned. As I looked all around below me I realized it wasn’t meant to be, and at the end of my breath hold I turned for the surface. As I did, I immediately saw a wall of around 40 tuna drifting slowly (close) in front of me. Without even thinking, I immediately reacted and shot the closest 50-60 pounder, dead center. Just for the record, all good sense did not fail me. In the moment I pulled the trigger I knew that I had all the wrong gear, and in all likelihood, Doug had no idea what I was shooting at. Of course, that didn’t stop me. I broke for the surface, barely taking a moment to see the fish speed off. I glanced up to see just how right my lack of foresight was … it was instantly obvious that Doug was in the fight of his life. Already fifteen feet below the surface, he was holding the line with two hands, kicking as hard as he could, with every bit of extra float line wrapped around his knife. All I could think was, “please let go!” I reached Doug, grabbed him by the arm to help him, and as we hit the surface I yelled, “let go! It’s a tuna!” He responded with, “how big of a pargo is it?” To which I screamed, “Let go you ****ing idiot, it’s a ****ing TUNA!” “Oh!” Doug said, “how big is it?” I guessed “about 50-60 pounds”. “Nice!” was his response. And he finally let go. Not a bad response from a guy who had come so close to death!
As we watched the buoy slowly tombstone away, we took a moment to catch our breath. I looked over to see Jeff Croci, a man of 1,001 hours, slowly shake his head, stick it back in the water, and go back about his business. Hunting tuna. In the end it worked out. Luckily the fish was hit well and Doug wasn’t pulled down by, and with, the knife he would have needed to cut himself free. We didn’t lose any gear. Jeff got to shake his head at us AGAIN as he second shot and stoned the fish. And the 50-60 pound tuna I shot? It ended up weighing 157 pounds on a certified scale. Now that’s a giant pargo.