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Freediving N.43 - Oct / Dec 2005

In English.

Published on International Freediver and Spearfishing News, n. 43, Oct / Dec 2005, pg. 50 - 51.


I need a bigger scale - African Yellowfin Tuna

Text and pictures by Riccardo Andreoli




The usual blue under the fins. The usual concentration to the minute details that can suggest the almost invisible approach of a fish. The open ocean waves surge around me but not massive as usual. I only remain relaxed, leaning flat against its surface, lifted and lowered by its slow, regular breathing.

Thereís plankton today, and in some way it can disturb the sighting. The elongated shapes of some of them resemble too much a streamlined fish, and the eye is constantly returning on them. The water is not really clean, the opalescent rays of the sun, constantly dancing in the blue depth, today are somewhat milky.

On the flasher only some little trevallies, curious to the point to almost touch it. And a lot of triggerfish, with their bizarre way of swimming, fanning the dorsal and anal fins.

Suddenly a movement that resemble nothing of all this. Fast, massive. Tuna! Better, tunas! The first one to arrive to the flasher is a monster that only later, and roughly, Iíll weight way over a hundredth of kilos. Matching its velocity, a scant second later, a couple of other tunas, only a little bit smaller, bulky weightlifter of around 90 kg.

They arrive so fast that a second after seeing them theyíre already on the flasher, ten meters down. The first one has already circled it, disdained this approximate imitation of a fish, and heís already going away, the shining yellow fins disappearing in the blue ocean wall. A very fast breath, not enough for a long dive but now itís speed itís essential, and I dive. The gun is kept, for how much itís possible, against my body, I canít barrel on them with this evidently menacing stick pointing to them. The moment I almost reach the depth and the last two tunas are also melting away in the blue, on the heels of the first giant.

But thereís a latecomer. A tuna, definitely smaller compared to the others, arrives on the flasher, with the same lightning speed, and like the others circles around this seemingly promising little bits of fish. This time, however, Iím near him, gun ready. He swerves slightly in my direction, only to change again course, going away from my menacing bulk. He accelerates, slides down, but now Iím in the firing range, even if only for my powerful gun. I take a fast aim, and fire on his broad back. Caught! For a fleeting moment I see on his side the sparkle of the slip-tip deploying, then the tuna dives.

I kick not more than a couple of time on my way to the surface that already the power of the tuna becomes evident. The eight liters hard float darts down like a mere cork, the bungee connecting it to the big 35 liters inflatable float already at full extension, stretching in an instant from two meters to ten. And even the big float itís now totally submersed and itís sinking fast toward the bottom. Perhaps, perhaps, the tuna itís not those forty-fifty kilos I believedÖ

I resurface, and after a short delay so does the big float. A first yell of joy and relief together! After that, back to serious matters. The line down is perfectly straight. And so taut that even across the steel cable, the float line and even across the stretched bungee, I can feel the tuna swimming and heaving. And for the next twenty minutes the situation will remain as itís now: the big float only on the surface, the tuna invisible, deep under me.

Every time I try to haul the fish, hand over hand on the cable, the result is the same, I pull myself underwater and not the other way around. The big float luckily seems to have no problem to remain on the surface, a giant red exclamation mark on the blue and white ocean surface. The little one instead is still ten meters deep, jumping wildly but briefly some meters up then descending again, witnessing the power and the struggle of the tuna.

I dearly hope, anyway, that itís really the tuna fighting down there, and not one of the many sharks around here eating my prized fish. I have to wait, trying every some minutes to heave the fish, worrying more every time.

Finally I succeed in pulling the line. Only a meter, then I have to give up against the strength of the fish. But itís a beginning. Next time Iím being able to pull two meters, then let go of one. Then I can, slowly, always struggling, pull regularly. After some time I arrive at the end of the bungee and I reach the thick float line. The pulling is easier, Iím now directly connected to the tuna and I can feel clearly the mad, sudden rushes of the fish.

By now Iíve some meters of line loosely floating around me. Itís, with so powerful a fish and probably heavier than the fisherman, a potentially dangerous situation. If the fish runs again some of them can suddenly tighten around my limbs, so I start swimming to leave them behind me.

All these precautions are by now almost semi-automatic and my concentration has not been diverted from the fish. I keep pulling and pulling. And, slowly, sometimes having to give up some line, I arrive almost to the steel cable. Now I start to see the tuna under me. First just a glimmer, barely in sight, that slowly grows to a shape half glistening silver, half a blue so dark thatís almost black. The shape is enclosed in the thick, round parenthesis of the big, yellow, dorsal and anal fins. It seems heís not swimming anymore. Could it be true that that feared greedy sharkÖ but the fish seems whole, I donít see that mist, green in the blue of the water, indicating blood flowing out. It doesnít move at all. Probably, as has already happened to me, the tuna fought till the end, till the exhaustion of his forces and over, till he died, literally, fighting.

The fish, even if heís not struggling anymore, is HEAVY. Every wave rushing me over tries to lift me, but the tuna is bulkier and itís me instead that, arms totally extended, is pulled underwater.

But now this is not important. The last meters of steel cable, sliding limply under me, pulled with double care: I have not with me anything to cut it, and the tuna is now here, under my fins! A ragged breath and I descend toward him, hauling him hand over hand even when Iím swimming down, not daring to let him go because he would immediately begin to sink. I arrive at his depth, I appraise him carefully and I risk inserting my hand into his gills. He doesnít move at all. In any case I kill him, there, underwater, with a fast stab behind the eye.

Itís finished. I resurface slowly, almost sadly, with the marvelous, massive tuna in my hands.

The underwater pictures are a difficult matter. The fish is so heavy, even in the water, that between them, on the surface, I have to grasp the big float to stop for some scanty seconds to swim powerfully just to keep me and the tuna floating.

When I dive my apnea time is ridiculous because, even in the supposedly relaxed postures for the pictures, I have to swim constantly to avoid sinking together toward the unseen bottom.

Then itís time to haul the fish on board. It takes the concerted effort of both of us and, when finally slips over the boat edge, it thunders aboard with a sonorous slap of the tail.

Now, breathing hard, the heart beat little by little slowing down, I can admire the tuna. Itís really a perfect, fantastic swimming and hunting machine. The long pectoral fins retract into a groove on its side till theyíre totally flat against it. The profile is so streamlined that when I rub my ungloved hand over it I do not feel any different tactical sensation over his eyes. Itís one silkily sensation from his snout to the giant dorsal and anal fins, startlingly yellow now in the sun.

At the pier, five hours later, even weighting itís difficult. The only scale available is a fifty kilos one. Thereís no crane to haul it and itís impossible to lift it for weighting it by hand, itís too tall and too heavy.

The solution is to make a little cut in the body near the tail, insert in it the scale hook, and then slip it over the pier edge, keeping FAST while the scale rotates madly and stops, well over it, quivering. I can read something around 65-67 kilos under the trembling needle. Magnificent fish!

You know, itís a somewhat strange, curious, warm sensation to witness the scale dash so fast above the maximum limitÖ


Riccardo A. Andreoli

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