Published: Saturday, July 29, 2006
Primitive fishing presents challenge
Spearfishermen have to get very close to their prey.
CAT CAY, Bahamas When seasoned anglers want a new challenge, they take up fly-fishing. Gun hunters switch to bow and arrows. For spearfishers, the graduation is from spear guns to pole spears.
One of the more visible leaders in the back-to-basics pole spear trend is "Shark Man" Manny Puig, the Tarzan-like wildlife wrangler featured in MTV's "Wildboyz" and "Jackass The Movie."
The Cuba-born Puig, who has wrestled everything from Goliath groupers to grizzly bears on TV and in movies the past decade, has developed a signature pole spear and underwater hunting knife now available at some South Florida dive shops, as well as online at www.mannypuig.com.
"I went from using the most powerful spear guns on the market to using a pole spear," Puig said. "I like to fish very primitive and very simple."
The Manny Puig Pole Spear uses a hand-held rubber band instead of a trigger to fire the barbed shaft into the body of a fish. The device requires that the hunter get almost close enough to touch the fish before letting go.
"It takes skill," Puig said. "I've shot everything from a bally hoo up to an amberjack with it."
After shooting a fish, Puig uses his double-edged Predator, which looks more like a sword than a knife, to gut the fish and scrape off the scales all while he's still in the water.
"I can use it to call sharks by scraping it underwater," he said nonchalantly. "The shark thinks I'm a predator feeding. But it can be very dangerous."
Some of Puig's underwater hunting friends have taken up using his pole spear for fun, exercise and dinner.
On a recent Saturday, Coral Gables oral surgeon Carlos Coro; his uncle, dentist Jorge Coro; and friends Jose Fernandez, Alvaro Ordonez, and Arturo Mendoza sped 65 miles from Matheson Hammock to Cat Cay in the Bahamas on the Coros' 35-foot boat.
Their mission: kill fish 30- to 80-feet deep with pole spears while holding their breath.
"Like hunting with a long bow rather than shooting deer with a rifle," Carlos Coro explained. "That's what makes it fun because it's so hard."
It looked hard from my vantage point, snorkeling on the surface.
Clad in dark wet suits, extra-long fins, masks, snorkels and weight belts, the freedivers brandished their primitive weapons and searched for fish to spear. With the hope of killing something really big, each had a long line attached to his spear with a buoy to keep an impaled fish from diving to the bottom.
Spotting a toothy, colorful dog snapper swimming out from an underwater cave 50 feet deep, Carlos Coro hailed his diving companions to make sure someone would spot for him when he went after it.
Having spotters can be a life-or-death decision. Coro has lost friends and acquaintances to shallow-water blackout, which occurs when the lungs suck oxygen from the blood on ascent to the surface. If there's no one around to rescue the diver, they plummet to the bottom unconscious and drown.
As the other divers watched, Coro took a deep breath, held it and dropped down slowly while tensing the rubber band on the spear.
On the bottom, he kicked over to the snapper, which regarded him quizzically but didn't swim away.
When he was less than three feet away, Coro let go of the spear, embedding the barb in the fish. But before Coro could recover it, the fish dived into a shallow cave. Almost out of air, he returned to the surface.
The other divers took turns staking out the snapper's hideout and discovered it was wedged in narrow hole with the shaft still in it.
There was no thought of abandoning the wounded fish.
"If you spear a fish and wound it, you go after that animal," Coro said.
The divers took turns trying to dislodge the snapper. Finally, after about 45 minutes, Fernandez pushed himself halfway into the cave and pulled out the snapper.
There was considerable rejoicing on board the boat, because the day's haul had been fairly meager four cero mackerel, four dog snapper, two hogfish and a chicken dolphin.
Said Carlos Coro: "Every one of the fish we missed would have been super-easy with a spear gun."
By midafternoon, the party had sustained only two animal-induced casualties: A blue-and-white trolling lure that Carlos Coro carries to attract fish was mangled by a large remora, and a mackerel speared by Ordonez was bitten in half by a large barracuda before the diver could get it to the surface.
The conversation was light and jovial on the 11/2-hour ride back to Miami.
"I just like being out on the ocean. The kill is icing on the cake," Fernandez said.