Brandon Wahlers Giant Dogtooth tuna

What initially drew you to spearfishing/freediving?

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.

Can you share a memorable experience or defining moment in your journey?

When I landed my first big yellowtail down in Baja when I was 17, I knew at that moment that this sport would be a huge part of my life forever!

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!

How do you stay motivated and inspired in your pursuits?

Every time you enter the ocean for a dive, it's a different situation, and you never know what to expect. I would say that the thrill of not knowing what you're going to come across definitely keeps me motivated.

Are there mentors who've impacted your journey significantly?

Al Schneppershoff, Steve Sanford, Paul Romanowski, Richard Balta, and Rene Rojas all had a major role in helping me learn the basics and foundations of freediving and hunting, as well as pushing me to travel and explore new techniques in different areas, while staying selective.

Can you describe a particularly challenging or rewarding trip? How did you overcome the challenge?

I have been on so many trips where the conditions, weather, and fish are just not cooperating. If we got discouraged and gave up after the first couple days, we would have never figured out how to make it work and find the fish in the conditions we were presented with. Determination goes a long way, never give up until the last minute of the dive - that is often when you have the best opportunities!

    How do you balance risk and adventure in your endeavors? What safety measures do you prioritize?

    You're going to have to push your limits at some point in your spearfishing career, or you are not going to get better. The point is to push your limits slowly, and always have a buddy on the surface watching your back.
    Buddy diving is the most important thing we can do to stay safe.
    Line management is also of uttmost importance. You need to know where your line is as all times, and make sure you will not be tangled in it when fighting a fish.
    Aways have a knife on you so that you can cut yourself out of a tangle in an emergency.

    Describe your favorite marine species and what makes them special.

    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. Most of the time you get to watch your floats disappear into the abyss and pray they come back up! If you don’t have a great shot and your terminal gear rigged perfectly, you don’t have much of a chance to land the fish.

    How do you approach sustainability and conservation in your spearfishing/freediving practices?

    Between myself and the crew of guys I dive with, we never take more than we need. Once in a while, we may take an extra fish to provide to the locals if we are diving in a foreign location, but we are always cognizant of the type of fish we are hunting, and how fast they grow and mature. For older reef fish, we will often limit ourselves to just one fish a year or even less. For faster-growing pelagic fish, we may choose to take an extra fish so we will have food in the freezer until we have a chance to dive again.

    Can you recommend any resources or tips for someone interested in getting started with spearfishing/freediving?

    If you are new and interested in freedive spearfishing, join a spearfishing club and find a mentor. This is much better than learning solely from the internet, where bad information is commonly found.

    Joining a spearfishing club will greatly affect the speed of your improvement, and you will meet like-minded divers who share your passion as well!

    How do you balance your passion for spearfishing/freediving with other commitments in your life?

    This is something that I struggle with more than almost anything.

    My obsession with spearfishing has had a negative impact on quite a few relationships in my life as well as employment, and I am constantly working on finding a better balance between the ocean, relationships, and work.

    What is your go-to RIFFE setup and why?

    My goto setup is a Raider 67" 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 dogtooth tuna.

    For yellowfin or Bluefin Tuna, I will switch the spectra floatline up for a 100ft bungee and I'll go with 500lb cable shooting line.