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Poseidon's Amberjacks

Somewhere in the Med

When: some time ago, in a Mediterranean Sea almost depleted of fish from an aggressive professional attitude toward fishing. Here, fishing for the future, are unknown words.

Where: in a deep reef, VERY far away from coastline, always lashed from a strong and unpredictable current.

 

That day was a magical one. Squalls on the coast were promising unsteady weather. A dark bar on the western horizon stood in confirmation. But at the first light of dawn the sea is flat as a table, the wind totally missing. It seems all still, all locked. At the sea, at the sea. This strange kind of weather always stirs up my fish-lust. Who knows what are fish doing when itís not one of the usual sun-wavelet-no-wind days? At the sea.

Departure toward the horizon, route very indirect to mislead any observer (not so hypothetical, since the curiosity aroused from previous catches of Amberjacks of ďbut then they really existĒ size). Out of view from the coast, with nobody around, direct route for the reef. Rain pricks in showers the table of the sea. Still, no wind at all.

The submerged reef is edged by the usual fringe of boiling, surging water stirred up by the current, but today it seems somewhat reduced. I anchor far from the top, praying that the anchor would not ground, compelling me to dive in the abyss for recovering it.

I slowly put on my wetsuit, concentrating on the pre-respiration, on the relaxation, trying to slow down my heart rate. All those splendid rituals that make a philosopher of the keen diver.

Now in the water. First of all concentrate on breathing, slow, slow, pause, apnea, a new slow, slow breath. Pause, apnea, last expiration, a forced inhalation. Down!

Underwater, little bubbles come out from the wetsuit legs, rolling and gurgling. Not a good bottom time. Every time I have to convince my body that for some time it has to do without so much oxygen. It knows that later will get used to it, but itís always necessary some time to explain.

The current is weak but itís definitely there. Good, because without current Amberjacks are more disturbed. Kicking slowly, breathing often with my eyes closed, relaxing, I arrive on the first of the four points of the Reef. The Sun is hidden, the sea hardly rippled but I forget all as soon as I recognize the signals. A white plateau 25-27 m deep, climbing suddenly up until 22-23 m and falling down first steeply and then gently on sand in 40 m. I accelerate the breathing. Partly it is not desired. I scan the blue, searching for the tiny marks of the Amberjacks: round balls of bait fish, even the sound of their little multiple tails cracking together in an attempt to escape the big predator if Iím not viewing them.

There! Suddenly clear, first the white pectoral fins, then the whole shape, stands out against the Grey-blue bottom. She is motionless, against the current, behind a needle of rock.

I canít avoid it. The heart rate is suddenly, maddeningly, quick. The Amberjack is beautiful. Elegant. Huge.

I breathe, kicking slowly. She has sight me. She turns, swims past the rock and stops in the blue water. Iím very far from the perpendicular but now Iíve no choice. A big breath and I dive. Forcedly, first meters are very slow but little by little I become negative and dive without moving at all. Slow, slow. Oblique. Sheís still. And sheís watching me. A stroke of the big tail and sheís farther and deeper. She stops again. I dive without moving, without watching her, without aiming my gun. The small currents around the point make me twirl a little. I continue diving. Sheís still motionless. I descend slowly, like a dead leaf, and Iím watching her big head. I extend my gun when sheís not watching me, when itís aimed straight on her and she cantís see the movement. Now that Iím deeper I descend quicker. Sheís moving deeper also. Iím following her, slowly. Sheís almost within range. Almost. Wait, sheís big.

Till now I had my eyes slit, now I open my right eye and take aim. Iím all-tight. I shoot! At the end of the gill plate, high, toward down. Good shoot.

The heavy spear almost gets completely trough her huge head. As always it seem to shoot in a block of hard wood. In the moment of the shot I instinctively straighten myself and start kicking toward the surface. Now I have five-six seconds before she can recover from the shot. I stop the reel with my hand and I climb up as swift as I can, towing her, gaining valuable meters of water. This canít last, I know. But Iím almost to the surface when she starts pulling madly. Iím forced to release the reel. Iíve however towed her till ten-twelve meters. Not bad. I finally reach the surface. I breathe heavily, blowing in the snorkel, struggling with the fish that seems resolute to pull me down. I free more line from the reel, kicking madly my fins. I free line when Iím underwater then I pull again when I can breathe. Itís strange this kind of angling, all happening underwater. But by now she canít go anywhere.

I canít avoid it, she tows me around like a piece of flotsam and all I can do is keep my grip on the line, doggedly.

Ten-twelve minutes of mad rodeo are passed and by now she has dragged me well far from the reef. All I see under me are the white dancing shafts of the sun in the deep blue.

However she starts to tire. She canít pull me anymore underwater. I pull the line slowly, paying attention to not being enveloped in the line itself, rustling in the water in the more and more narrow circles sheís describing under my fins. Sheís almost within my reach. Now I have to pay attention to the last trashing of the huge tail. I pull her very close without touching the spear, then suddenly I grasp and embrace her tightly, slipping my right hand inside the gill plates and holding fast. She almost pulls me out of the water but I still weight, alas, more than she does and she has no escape. Immediately I grab the knife in my belt and stab her in the skull. Bedlam! Splashes and sprinkles two meters high, the tail slaps madly the water, rolling me up around her, pulling me underwater, shaking me around like a doll. Then she stops.

To my boat, now. Slowly, I tow her for the long return way. There I catch her by the gill plates and with a shout thatís all together joy, effort, and, finally, a full-throttle Vs slow-danced movement, I pull her aboard. And at last I permit myself to really watch her. Sheís bright, smooth. I touch the dorsal fin that vanishes inside the body, the hard keel on the tail. Sheís a wonderful swimming machine. And sheís BIG. Now that I see her in the boat I realize her true dimension. The scale will stop at 42 kg.

And in that magical day sheíll not be the only one. Other two big solitary Amberjacks will come aboard before the sunset. Not so big: one of 34 kg and another one of 20 kg. The total weight was one quintal (for the maximum precision, 97 kg Ė thereís is always to doubt in a too round figure).

And three days later, in a bedlam of unrestrained sea, three more fish, always on the Amberjacks Reef, always big and solitaire. Not weighting so much but almost.

Next day, after a unilateral agreement with Poseidon, I left ashore my gun and took only pictures of the big Amberjacks. Still swimming freely in my personal Amberjacks Reef.

Then I left.

Riccardo A. Andreoli

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