Fish for the Future

AUSTIN DERRY

Diving Background / When you started / First dive memory:

I have been spearfishing for over 15 years. In my career as a spearo I have competed in many tournaments around the world from US Nationals to Pacific Coast Championships, winning or placing high in most of them. I currently work as an underwater photographer/film maker. My first memories spearfishing were chasing corbina and halibut around the shallows of Laguna Beach with a 3 prong pole-spear.  During one of those days I came across a school of white seabass over the sand. I dove right on them and managed to stone one. Unaware that stoning fish was even a thing, I struggled to hold it out of the water as I kicked in, propelled by some old churchill fins and nearly drowning me in the process. Regardless, I was hooked from then on.

What moved you to spearfish:

My earliest memories involve fishing and snorkeling around the reefs of Oahu, HI where I was born. A lifelong fascination of the underwater world combined with a love of fishing made the transition to spearo very natural for me.

What's the most memorable fish you’ve landed and the experience behind it:

The 5 most memorable fish of my career are really hard to pick. For me its not just about the largest fish of a species, rather the experience behind it. There is just something about the first proper one of a species, especially those at the beginning of my career which were so memorable even after progressing and taking larger models later.

  • 20lb White Seabass I pole speared at 13
  • 83lb Gulf grouper at 17
  • 92lb Broomtail Grouper at 19
  • 150lb Yellowfin tuna at 21 

By far the most memorable fish has to be the 218 lb. California Bluefin Tuna taken early spring of 2016. I was fortunate enough to be one of the first 10 divers to take a 200lb+ tuna in CA waters as well as the first LA Fathomier. Nothing compares to the stoke and hype this fish generated. The adrenaline pumping through my blood after finally pulling the trigger after so much time searching is too much to put into words. It started a tuna obsession which has lasted for years since.

Scariest thing you’ve seen/experienced while diving:

Diving presents a number of dangerous situations when you spend enough time in the water. Becoming entangled in old lobster traps, swimming deep into caves at night, having bronze whaler sharks charge you and your fish at 90 feet, or being stalked by a 700lb+ mako shark, diving far from the boat in open water. One must just take the time to calm down and assess the situation properly. 

Biggest fish you’ve seen and haven’t been able to land or most impressive fish you’ve seen in the water:

As fishermen, we all have those stories about “the one that got away”. For me, I can remember a few true monster fish. Watching 80lb+ white seabass fade into the shadows of a kelp forest, 160lb+ grouper make a distant appearance at the end of your breath hold, and watching super cow 350lb+ Yellowfin stream by without a passing glance are some of the true stand outs for me. 

Most awkward moment relating to spearfishing:

Ask any of my friends and they will probably come up with heaps of better answers to this question. I think a definite stand-out would have been going on camera for a globally published DVD and explaining a dive claiming the fish presented me for a “head-on, tail shot”. I have no idea why I said that, it doesn't make any sense but all I can do is own it now. 

Favorite place to dive:

It’s impossible to choose one place! I truly enjoy hunting the reef as much as drifting bluewater. The situations are just so different from one another that it is too hard to pick one. I have to give it up to Baja, California. As a Southern California native it has been such a reliable bread and butter trip to get into some proper fish without breaking the bank. I enjoy the challenge pursuing fish thorough-out different habitats and environments. For example the gear and techniques involved hunting yellowtail off the islands is vastly different than vermillion rockfish in Northern California. Both require a unique approach and can be equally rewarding. My favorite places I have ever dove would have to be the crystal clear waters of the Great Barrier Reef as well as the incredibly fishy pinnacles off Central America. For me, the biodiversity of non-target species adds so much to the hunt, I get stoked on the little things sometimes as much as I do on seeing a trophy fish swim by. 

Favorite fish to hunt / any technique tips:

Much like location, I could never pick one species as each one presents a unique set of challenges. The last few years, I have become obsessed with the unprecedented run of bluefin tuna off Southern California and Northern Baja waters. When they show up I am out there every chance I can take. The thing I love about them is the constantly changing techniques we have applied to consistently hunt them. Being an open water pelagic, sometimes it is as simple as running up to a bait ball being torn up by birds, dolphin, and tuna, or punching a dive when your sounder lights up with a massive school underneath. Other times only the most subtle of signs reveal their presence. It is this constant game of cat and mouse which keeps me coming back for more. As far as tips, just be patient, don't run over the school, don’t rule out subtle clues fish may be present, and make sure you are using the right gear like a Bluewater Elite, 100’ bungee, 3 ATM float, utilizing a solid working float as well. 

Favorite Riffe go-to gear setup / what kind of hunting is it ideal for:

I absolutely love the 130cm euro. From white seabass and yellowtail to monster cubera snapper, wahoo, amberjack, and smaller tuna. It is one of the most versatile guns out there, capable of getting it done in many styles of hunting around the world.

Why do you choose Riffe:

I choose Riffe because they have the proven track record and decades of experience to rely on. A family owned business, their dedicated to innovation, quality of product, and consistency producing some of the most accurate, well built spearguns on the planet makes it an obvious choice!

Favorite fish recipe/way to prepare your catch / cleaning tips:

Raw! There is nothing better than sashimi from species like tuna, wahoo, job fish, and countless others… although ceviche has to be up there too! A sharp knife is the most important tool, as well as basic knowledge of which direction to make the cuts which can be acquired online in countless free tutorials. Presentation is KEY! We are visual eaters, presenting a properly done platter surprisingly makes a dish so much more appetizing. As for cooked fish, a sous vide system can take your cooking to the next level!

Most rewarding part of spearfishing for you:

This is an easy one! By far the most rewarding part of spearfishing has been the relationships I have acquired around the world in this pursuit. The places you can see, adventures, people you meet, and general hospitality within the community has rewarded my life in a way I never imagined. Landing trophy fish is just a bonus!

Anything else you’d like the let the world know:

Be selective and respect the environment both in your own backyard and abroad. Learn the regulations and practice sustainable harvest. Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should or that it ensures a positive future for the sport. As a spearo it is important to maintain a proper representation of the community, as spearfishing is an easy target to misinformed people worldwide. 

Safety Tips you’d like to share regarding gear or freediving/spearfishing in general:

I highly stress the importance of a freediving course for those looking to both start freediving or improve on existing technique. Almost as important would be finding an experienced mentor or two in order to excel the learning curve. Spearfishing is not an activity one can just buy themselves into. It is a constant work in progress, requiring dedication over an extended period of time to truly excel at. Joining a local club is one of the easiest ways to start your progression. 

What are 4 common questions you are asked about gear or spearfishing:

“So what’s like a good gun for everything from halibut to tuna?”  I can't even remember how many times I have heard this. There is no such thing as a one-size fits all speargun. Start with the right tool for one particular species at a time. A rockfish gun is not going to be capable of pushing a shaft through and stopping a 100lb tuna 99% of the time. 

“Floatline or Reel?”  Again, this question has been absolutely beaten to death repeatedly on the internet. They both have their advantages and disadvantages. I personally like a reel for most reef diving under 90 feet, but prefer the ease of floatline or bungee for pelagic fish or when the target species has the ability to take you or your gear down without a float there to stop it.

“Where did you get that fish?”  It’s kind of funny how frequently people expect to be handed the coordinates to a location found only through countless hours, days, weeks, or years of trial and error. I think it’s only the pursuit of a good spot is part of why it’s so rewarding when you find one. The more time you spend covering ground in search of a good spot allows you to build up the knowledge of WHY a spot is good and why others may not be. 

With the internet, has become increasingly more common for people to just be handed out a good spot, then on days when it’s not producing, have no clue where to begin looking for somewhere which is producing. Think long term over short term if one hopes to become consistent at producing fish.

“What’s a good tuna setup for cheap?”  Landing large pelagic fish requires serious equipment and most of the time involves traveling to a distant shore to get the opportunity. I have seen time and time again divers attempting to use inadequate equipment on these fish and lose them or never even get close for a shot. Invest in a proper 63”+ tuna gun (at the lowest end), bungee, 3ATM float, and slip tip. I commonly hear people say “Well, I might stone it” or “Well so what if it takes my gear if it saves money”. To which my answer is simple. It’s not just the life of the fish and gear you are risking, it is the opportunity to land what may very well be the fish of a lifetime, one which the memory will bring you joy of for decades to come. If that isn't worth being properly prepared for I don’t know what is…