Fish for the Future

PAULO AFONSO

Born and raised: Azores

Diving Background / When you started / First dive memory?

Haha I didn’t have a mask, I would just use my naked eye under water vision to explore this strange and interesting world. I believed that if I kept at it, I would eventually be able to see as well as a fish. Never did! But even still, I remember how much I was amazed with that blurry world my burning red eyes could see.

What moved you to spearfish?

I was a happy kid growing up in an island that allowed me to be free. Our house was practically glued to the ocean and my family had already a very tight bond with the sea. This powerful cocktail of factors very soon sparked on me an immense curiosity about that world underneath the surface.

I used to listen in awe to the amazing underwater adventure stories my father and older brothers brought home from the sea along with all kinds of beautiful fish. To me they had superhuman powers and I wanted to be just like them.

I spent much of my childhood with salty skin and cold blue lips, it didn't take long for me to get comfortable in the water and beg my parents for a speargun which they gave me right away. Kind of a “crazy parenting” I will always be grateful for. It set the course to the life I have today, a life were I'm still a happy kid.

5 most memorable fish you’ve landed and the experience behind it

220kg (485lb) Bluefin tuna: The toughest fight I've ever experienced.

Nothing ordinary about this catch. On a day that seemed to have no life at sea I ended up shooting this fish out of a small pod of dolphins. Then it took about three hours of insane adrenaline action until I finally had it subdued and tied to the boat. We weren't able to pull it in, had to slowly drag it the 30NM to the port. 5 hours towing a giant tuna in a small rib-boat through the night was a proper end of story for an already pretty intense adventure.

Speargun – Riffe Blue Water Elite

110kg (242lb) Bigeye tuna: Current Spearfishing World Record for the species and my most rewarding catch.

I spent a lot of time searching for this particular species but the big Bigeyes proved to be very difficult to find, even more so to get close to. Always too rare, too deep, too fast, too skittish. After some years trying my opportunity finally came and in a way I never imagined possible.

70 nautical miles off my island in crystal clear blue water looking for my unicorn. The ambiance had been too quiet all morning so everyone else was already resting in the boat while I kept the faith a little longer alone in the water. No flasher, no chum, just me drifting in what seemed like an empty aquarium. Then at noon, a glow in the distance quickly took the form of a lonely big free swimming tuna calmly coming my way at about 10m deep. It felt just as if the universe was telling me - “OK you stubborn bastard, here you go!” I was able to intercept it with a good holding shot to the tail. About 50 minutes later when I was just about to put a second shaft into the tuna, a Mako shark came in hot to spice things up. But on the end that fish was mine to take.

Speargun – Riffe Mach 5

97kg (213lb) Yellowfin tuna: My biggest Yellowfin so far and the current spearfishing European record for the species.

In a blue silk sea this fast beautiful tuna presented me with a very brief opportunity which I took. A long shot with just enough power to hit a tail vertebrae translated in a short and clean battle. “Better to be lucky than good”.

I shared this fish with my community in a genre of outdoor tuna feast were everyone had the opportunity to show their culinary skills. Many different tuna dishes to try in a fun positive environment. A great way to honor an incredible animal.

Speargun – Riffe Blue Water Elite

34kg (75lb) Tuna albacore: I've been chasing tuna in Azores for some time and although I was aware of their passage through these waters, I had never seen a Longfin tuna before while spearfishing. Fortunately that was about to change.

The appearance of an abnormal amount of bait fish right off Pico Island attracted a great number of tuna albacore, which remained there feeding on large bait balls at the surface for about a month. During this time I had the opportunity to catch some beautiful specimens, including a 75lb one which is the current spearfishing World Record for the species.

I always wondered if it was possible to spearfish a Longfin around here. Well, now I know!

Speargun – Riffe Blue Water Elite

17.4kg (38lb) Dourado: Mahis are not common to be found in my home waters so this fish has a very special place in my memory box.

A message from a friend containing GPS coordinates and the word Achado (FAD) was enough to make me forget about everything I was doing and embarked alone in a race against time. Eventually I got everything ready and after sailing 45’ in choppy seas I finally got to where the “Achado” was last seen. On tip of toes and eyes wide open I was looking deep into an empty horizon under the weight of a small voice echoing inside my head… please… please… please… then hope tore through that thick loud silence in an explosion of a thousand circling birds suddenly rising up in the distance. “There you are!!” Jumped in to stone this big ass Dourado. I had been dreaming with this fish for a long time and now I was finally looking at him in my boat, still all lit up in those unreal Mahi golds, illuminated by a perfect warm sun down light. An image I won’t ever forget.

Speargun – Riffe Euro 130 with Riffe Horizontal Reel

Scariest thing you’ve seen/experienced while diving

A bunch of situations come to mind. Big storm on a small boat, stuck in a cave, angry big dolphin, left alone in open ocean, big wave smash in to the rocks... … but I guess being ran over by a big fast boat wins. I was very fortunate to get out of it with only some bruises.

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

I've had my fair share of encounters and heartbreaking experiences with extra-large fish but there is one recent situation that left me with a big itch.

I was about 10m deep under a bait ball with big tuna action all around me. Had my attention fixed on a tuna coming my way when suddenly this massive all neon blue lit up 500kg (1100lb)+ Bluefin tuna appeared out of nowhere passing less than 2m away right underneath me. I didn't have a chance to redirect my speargun in time, was left with a sticky image of a mega tuna dorsal stuck in my mind. I did have a GoPro filming on my head but with all the excitement I had forgotten to remove the protective lens cover (!@#$%*).

Most awkward moment relating to spearfishing

:) Yeah, I think I'll keep this one for myself.

Favorite place to dive

My favorite spot is the one I’ve never dove before, where the unexpected lives. I do love diving the deep blue water around Azores Islands it’s full of BIG surprises.

Maybe one day I’ll find a favorite spot. Until then I’ll have fun looking for it.

Favorite fish to hunt / any technique tips?

The challenge of finding and landing elusive and powerful BIG TUNAS is addictive to me. Also there is yet to be created the tuna dish I don't like.

I've tried all tuna hunting techniques and some more. The one that excites me the most and has given me the best results, in my home waters, is going straight in to the action trying to intercept them when they are feeding on bait balls at the surface. These feeding frenzies normally don't hold up to long so it is crucial to anticipate were they will happen next. Easier said than done, but tuna will feed amongst other predators like dolphins and birds. If we understand the “language” of these animals that can be easily seen from the surface, they will tell you what the ones hidden underneath are, where they are and what they are doing. Especially the birds will exhibit different behaviors directly related to the ones of the fish they are following with their incredible vision and smell.

In this kind of game stubbornness and patience are great virtues, take the time to observe and learn.

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

Riffe Euro 130 with 7,5mm double flopper mini shark fin tabs Shaft and Horizontal Reel. Very versatile set up suitable for many situations. I find it perfect for when I’m varying between bottom and open water hunting on a same spot.

For those really big pelagic fish I go with the Blue Water Elite spear-gun with 5x16mm rubber bands, 8,7mm shaft and tree-cut Ice Pick Slip Tip. This setup has brought me much happiness.

Why you choose Riffe?

I appreciate and stand by the message Riffe relays about spearfishing and its philosophy on Ethics & Conservation. I believe the quality and construction of Riffe products to be the best, and contributes in bringing out the most of my skills. The results I have been achieving since using these products have enlightened me. For me, it’s the natural choice.

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

An Octopus Portuguese Recipe called “Polvo à Lagareiro”.

Octopus is one of my favorite sea foods and they taste even better when I catch them myself. I like to clean my catch still in the seawater, this will make a big difference in the final result in terms of flavor. The secret to always getting it soft and tender is to freeze it before cooking.

So here's my version of my favorite Octopus recipe:

Place the whole Octopus inside the pressure cooker along with a whole peeled onion and a glass of white wine. Leave it to cook for 10 minutes for every kg of octopus.

In the meantime put in a pan a few slightly crushed cloves of garlic with skin, just a bit of sliced bell pepper and some chilly if you like (I like a lot). No salt, the octopus is already very salty by nature. Cover everything with a good intense olive oil and let it cook on low heat until the garlic is soft.

Take the octopus from the pressure cooker. Cut it into smaller pieces and remove the skin, it should come off with almost no effort. Now throw it in a tray (I like to use a clay tray). Add just a small cup of the juice from the pressure cooker to the previously cooked olive oil with garlic and pour it on top of the octopus. Take the tray to the oven for about 15 minutes or until the octopus gets golden.

Aside, boil some marble potatoes with skin in a pot with water and salt until they get soft. Drain well all the water and with a closed fist give each one a good punch, this is called "Batata a Murro" or "Punched Potatoes". Now fit them tightly together on a tray with the open side facing up. Sprinkle with very small cut ham cubes, rosemary, sea salt and olive oil. Finish them in the oven until they get slightly golden.

Serve the Octopus and potatoes with homemade bread and a good red wine. "BOM APETITE"!

Most rewarding part of spearfishing for you

This is the one question to which I should have a concise answer. But I don’t!

I take so much out of each and every moment. The calm and clear focus of carefully preparing my equipment and the plan for a specific dive; the exciting anxiety before the dive; the muted thrill from the adrenaline rush of the hunt; the liberating happiness of a successful catch and the overwhelming disappointment of a unsuccessful one; the simply pure pleasure of fixing and cooking my own catch. Finally, the comfort of self-pride from getting to share my effort and passion with family and friends. Above all, I would say that the most joy comes from the powerful sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, knowing this is what defines me.

 

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

“You can only understand my madness if you share my passion.”

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

Keep an open mind and pay attention to the simple signs. If it doesn't feel right don't do it. Most likely something is actually not right, you just don't know what yet. Presentiment, intuition, doesn't matter what we call it. It is kind of an extrasensory heads up alert mechanism we all do have installed.

Oh, very important! Do not forget to breathe.

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

Where can I get Riffe gear?

Float Line or Reel?

How deep can you dive and how long can you stay under?

Are you crazy? (I never know what to say to this one.)