After months of planning and the setbacks of Covid-19 we finally got the opportunity to travel north to the mid west coast of Australia. We arrived in Denham a few days earlier with impeccable weather which allowed us to scout new and unknown dive areas to us, with the prospect of targeting large and elusive species known to the area.
For the first few days the ocean was glassy but the diving didn’t live up to our expectations with poor visibility, strong current and mediocre size fish. On this particular day we’d just gotten out of the water at our first dive spot as I noticed a large oceanic manta ray. I decided to call my other dive buddy Jack out of the water so we could check under the ray for cobia.
Emily and Erika edged the boat over as Jack and I readied ourselves to jump back in the water.
Emily got us as close as she could to the manta as Jack jumped in and lead the way. Shortly after sighting the Manta, Jack yelled out in excitement “Big cobia, big cobia” as he frantically swam to keep up with it.
I did my best but was trailing a good few meters behind him as jack dove and took the shot. The shot was a direct hit on the middle of the head; unknown to Jack at the time the head of a cobia is solid bone. To both his amazement and disappointment the shaft bounced off without even making it flinch. The fish seemed completely unfazed and continued to shadow the Manta like normal.
As I sighted the ray for the first time, I was unaware that Jack had already taken a shot on that particular cobia. It was acting calm, normal and to my astonishment the manta doubled back in a feeding sequence directly under me. Noticing the cobia was shadowing the manta’s every move, I saw my opportunity and took a dive. Tracking the fish with my spear gun, I edged closer to the point I was comfortable with within the shooting range of my spear gun. The gun I was using was my Aimrite 120 single roller, which I had just been using for reef fish on the previous dive. It was totally unequipped for a fish of this size but I aimed and took the shot knowing very well it could end in tears and a very long battle.
As I watched the spear hit the cobia I was as stunned as the fish was. The spear had pierced the spine making the fish completely incapable of movement. I remember thinking to myself at the time ‘wow, that happened way too easily’. As I started to pull the fish up to the surface I could feel it weighed a lot more than I had originally anticipated. Less than a meter from the surface the shaft slipped out and I watched this massive cobia slowly sink to the bottom. I called out to Jack asking for his spear gun, at which point I realized he was reloading.
I gasped in a panic, took a quick breath and dove 10m with my empty spear in hand to where the fish was now lying on the bottom. As I approached it, I attempted to stab it in the head without my mind registering that their head is solid bone and there would be no way to pierce it. I then quickly bear hugged it and dug my arms into its gills and struggled to the surface. I was kicking as hard as possible and felt like I was getting nowhere, this is when I realized the sheer size of this fish. Finally at the surface, Jack and I screamed with excitement. I was ecstatic and couldn’t believe I had landed a fish of this calibre.
Back at my 21 foot Stedgecraft bow rider we now had to devise a plan of action to get this beast on board. Being 30 miles from the nearest port and no other boat in sight, this was no easy feat. With some float line and what energy we had left, we lugged the cobia over the gunwale onto the deck. By now, we were certain it was some sort of spearfishing record. I immediately grabbed my certified scales, but to my disappointment they weren’t working. We then tried to radio any boat in the area asking if they had any scales on board. No boats to be seen, no phone signal and no reply on the VHF; we had a decision to make. Taking into account we were 30NM from the nearest port and our day had just begun, we decided it was more important to preserve the fish for consumption and chose to bleed it over the side. We didn’t know at the time, but this may have cost us the national record. We stored the gigantic fish in the under deck ice compartment and continued to dive for another hour or so before our adverse journey home with the wind now blowing over 20 knots.
The moment we got within phone range, we contacted anyone who could potentially have scales. We got ahold of the Shark Bay Fishing Club who were enthusiastic and willing to let us use theirs. When we finally got the fish onto the scales, at first the numbers flickered to 53 to 50 and finally settled on 48.8kg. We were blown away as we became aware that we had beaten the current Western Australian spearfishing cobia record by 8kgs. Although it was upsetting to learn that we had missed out on the national record by 700 grams, regardless I was super stoked that I had a great fish for us to share and a day none of us will forget.
I highly doubt I will get the opportunity to find another cobia of such a size. Sometimes spearfishing comes down to being in the right place at the right time and this was certainly one of those occasions.