Aaron Shook had always wanted to spear a giant bluefin tuna, but figured he'd have to travel to Mexico or some other known tuna haunt to enjoy the opportunity.
But late last week the avid freediver from San Clemente, California, found the opportunity close to his own backyard, and ended up shooting a 173.3-pound bluefin that’s likely to shatter the 33-year-old state record.
The massive tuna was speared at a depth of about 30 feet eight, miles off neighboring Dana Point. After Shook and his two friends hauled the behemoth aboard their 21-foot boat, they stood for several seconds "in stunned silence."
"Then we traded high fives," Shook said. "There was plenty of elation and, I must say, quite a bit of relief. It was like living a dream."
The current California record is a 98-pound bluefin speared by legendary blue-water hunter Terry Maas at Cortes Bank in 1982. Shook said he planned to file paperwork with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife as soon as possible.
Bluefin tuna are pelagic fish that swim rapidly through deep, blue waters. They typically don't show or hang around long enough in Southern California to be targeted by breath-hold spearfishermen.
But Shook, Jon Walla and Dominic Vadala had heard stories about large bluefin being caught off Dana Point. Vast schools have, in fact, been encountered at several spots during the past few weeks.
The freedivers embarked at 4 a.m. Wednesday and looked for several hours before they spotted a large school breezing near the surface. Walla volunteered to act as captain while Shook and Vadala jumped in, hoping to get a clean shot.
Shook said he saw flashes of color about 80 feet down. He took a breath and started his descent, but at the same time the school began to rise. One of the tuna suddenly turned on its side, "as if looking at me."
That became the prize, but it was not easily claimed.
After Shook scored a hit from about 25 feet, the tuna "torpedoed down like a sub," and the rest of the school vanished.
The line was attached to a buoy at the surface; Shook surfaced and watched the buoy being pulled underwater. After 20 minutes, he swam down for another shot, hoping to put the fish out of its misery.
He would end up shooting the fish three times, before it weakened, and ultimately it was subdued and pulled aboard the boat.
On Thursday, when reached by telephone, Shook said he was busy carving fillets of sashimi-grade tuna, and placing them in vacuum-sealed bags.
"My friends are going to be getting a lot of fresh tuna this week," he said.
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