Brandon Wahlers Giant Dogtooth tuna

Where from/Current location? 

I grew up in Palos Verdes, California. Currently living in Southern California and working on a cargo ship in the Western Pacific.

When did you start and what moved you to spearfish?

One day when I was 16 years old, I went to surf at a local reef and saw a diver coming out of the water with a couple halibut and calico bass taken with a speargun. I always loved eating fish and the thought that I could catch my own fish with a speargun or pole spear was pretty much the coolest thing I could ever see myself doing.

Favorite fish/location to hunt and why? Any technique tips?

Dogtooth Tuna is by far my favorite fish to hunt. Not only is it a challenge just to see them, landing a fish after shooting it is a challenge in and of itself.

They are most often found in RIPPING current in deep water near steep drop-offs and pinnacles. Many of the best spots we find them at consistently have 6-10kts of current, so getting down to the depth of the fish in that current is always a challenge. Once you shoot a dogtooth, the fun has just begun. If you don’t have a great shot and your terminal gear rigged perfectly, you don’t have much of a change to land the fish. My goto setup is a Bluewater Elite with 5- 5/8” bands, 11/32” shaft, ice pick slip tip with 750lb SS cable, 650llb cable shooting line rigged to the Spectra Armor Floatline, and 2-3 3ATM Floats for doggies.

Most memorable fish/diving experience?

I’ve had so many amazing experiences diving for Dogtooth tuna , getting swept away in raging currents and almost getting sucked down to my death and seeing my 3 buoys disappear into the abyss, but nothing really compares to the emotional roller coaster I went through in landing a world record sized yellowfin tuna down in Central American in 2011:

“For the past 3 years I've been putting a lot of effort and research into putting a trip together to this spot and this year I was able to finally set it all up and get out to these few spots where I have heard of monster tuna being taken. I managed to get out there twice before and both trips were good with fish up to 250lbs. but no chances at anything in the 300lb. range. 

This trip it was just Justin Allen and I on the panga diving so I was stoked to have half the pressure on the fish as we had on the last two trips. As soon as we made it out to the spot late that afternoon, we could see action all around: birds diving, bait popping and nice tuna jumping. We tried dropping a marker buoy but there was so much current that even with plenty of line we couldn’t get the marker to hold. Scrapping that idea I quickly made the decision to start our drift about a mile up current of the spot just in front of where the birds were working. 

On my first dive to 50 ft I found the vis to be only about 15-20 ft but I was immediately schooled by tuna from 80-200 lbs that followed me up to the surface. The next dive I made was to 60 ft and I saw some bigger fish in the 200 lb. range. Things were looking good, and I knew we had a chance for a monster. Justin was still getting his rig ready in the boat and I told him what I saw. He and the Pangero both hinted that I shoot one quickly so we would at least have some fish to cook on the grill that night since we were camping. 

The next dive I saw mostly 80-100 lb. fish and I lined up on a much bigger one 5 ft. away ready to get a brain shot. I ended up missing the brain by less than an inch, fought him up to the surface quickly and clipped the buoy off to my shooting line. I went down to brain the fish and saw my slip tip toggled perfectly. Struggling and spinning around a few times trying to dispatch the fish with my knife, the slip tip somehow pulled back out and stabbed me in the palm opening up a fairly deep wound. 

I got back in the boat completely confused and in pain telling Justin I was done diving for the day and he should take my big gun in and look for a monster. After his first dive he yelled that he was seeing big fish everywhere. I checked the sounder and it was lit up with tuna from 30 ft all the way to 150 ft. With my hand bleeding like crazy and nothing on the panga to fix it, I grabbed Justin’s 140 euro gun and got in the water. I made 3 dives in a row getting schooled by 80-200 lb tuna each time with some fish coming within 3 ft of my face. This was as wide open as I’d ever seen tuna while diving. 

The next dive, I was again schooled by fish in the 150 lb range. I sank down to 67 ft trying to see if there were bigger fish deeper. When looking up I saw a super long bottom sickle fin behind 5 fish in front of me. That being the sign of a monster, I had to almost push the 150 lb tunas in front of me out of the way and I finally got a full view of this MONSTER tuna! It's sickle fins almost made it back to its tail and it was an incredibly tall and fat fish, not swimming how the other fish were at all.. it was waddling! As soon as it saw me it started to move off quickly, so I lined up and shot it just as it was going out of visibility from about 14ft away. 

The fish took off like a freight train and towed me over 3 miles in over an hour. I was using Justin’s rig with 50 ft of hard float line and 50 ft of bungee and the clip on his buoy was not holding the bungee very well. For the life of me I couldn’t get the fish above 80 ft. All my dives trying get a second shot were at this depth. The first 4 times I tried to get a second shot the fish would see me from 10 ft away just as I was about to shoot and take off for another 5 minutes. I finally got a second shaft into the fish and it started to bleed a lot really slowing him down. Soon enough I had the buoy clipped off at the shooting line and took my trusty Riffe 130 Euro down to put an end to the fight. 

Only once I got my hands in this fish’s gills did I realize that he was WAY over 300 lbs, an absolute toad! It took 3 of us to get him in the boat. Final size, 77 in. long with a 61 in. girth. Using the girth squared x length, divided by 800 formula the fish came out to 358 lbs, truly the fish of a lifetime! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find a certified scale within 100 miles to weigh him on, but I'm still on cloud 9 after shooting this monster!” 

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

If sharks aren’t an issue, I always like to bleed and gut my fish in the water for freshness. Leaving the whole fish on ice for at least 24 hours before filleting them help firm the meat up as well for a nice clean cut.

 My favorite local fish preparation is seared yellowtail. I take a medium sized shoulder loin and trim off any dark meat. Coat all sides in “Everything But the Bagel” spice mix, and sear all sides for 15 seconds on high in a cast iron pan.

Sliced thin and served with wasabi and soy sauce, it doesn’t get much better

Favorite go-to RIFFE speargun & setup? Why/for what conditions?

Tuna Rig:

  • Bluewater Elite
  • 5 x 5/8” bands (32” length)
  • 11/32” x 65” Shaft
  • Ice Pick Slip Trip with 750 lb SS Cable
  • 500 or 650 lb SS shooting line
  • 100ft Bungee for Bluefin or Yellowfin
  • 100ft Armor Spectra Floatline for Dogtooth
  • 2 x 3ATM Floats (3 for Dogtooth)

What safety tips would you like to share regarding gear or freediving/spearfishing in general?

Always diving with a buddy who you can trust is the most important way to stay safe while diving.

o When fighting a fish of any size, swim up current while pulling the fish up, letting the slack line fall behind you and not bunch up in your vicinity. Always be cognizant of your line and make sure you stay out of any loops that may have formed. A good dive buddy will also watch your line for you and make sure you stay away from any possible tangles. If there is no current, pick a safe direction and continue swimming in that direction while pulling the fish up.

o I like to keep my knife on my weight belt on the side of my strong hand. You will realize very quickly if you forget your weight belt, which will prevent you from diving without a knife. Cutting myself out of a line wrap has saved my life in the past. I can also reach the knife on my weight belt with either hand in case of an emergency. My favorite knife is the Wrangler 2 with double serration – this way you can just pull your knife out and cut without ever needing to worry about which side of the blade you are using to cut line.

What is the most rewarding aspect of diving/spearfishing?

The amazing memories we share with friends exploring new places and cultures has to be one of the best parts of spearfishing. Coming back from a day of diving and having a fresh fish meal also cannot be beat.

Why choose RIFFE?

You cannot beat the dependability of RIFFE products. Whether you’re out on the water chasing world class fish or simply trying to bring home dinner, you want your gun and gear to perform perfectly. I have never used more reliable and bulletproof equipment than RIFFE. I’ve been using my trusty Bluewater Elite for 13 years now with no problems at all. The only maintenance it has needed is a little teak oil.