A long underwater ascent in the middle of the sea, the first dives happened when it was still dark, and then, on the way back, another descent. The enormous dentex swims at me head-on and the shot is unforgettable. It will register a weight of nine kilograms
The summer of 2023 was beautiful. Several noteworthy catches, great moments in the company of old and new companions on the boat. I’ve had very little time the past couple of years, mainly due to work. I live 250 kilometers from the sea, so I always must optimize everything, and usually, this is a meticulous, almost "autistic" process. Yet, I manage fairly well. On top of this, the hunting conditions must be favorable, and as an experts in the field I know that to achieve a certain type of catch, one needs a disproportionate dose of "luck”; the moon, the tide, the time, the wind, the current, the temperature outside, the temperature inside, the temperature at a certain altitude, and at least 2 or 3 other factors.
So sometimes, it’s just not possible to "force" a fish to pass right there, at that moment, in that specific part of the Mediterranean.
The holidays have arrived. The whole family is in tow, including my son, who is an epidemiological bomb and one gastrointestinal disaster after another cascades onto all family members, making the start of the vacation rather uncomfortable in every way, let alone for spearfishing.
At sea, it’s one of the longest calm periods ever seen. I start to feel better and resume my outings, which, with the family in tow, usually only last for the first 3-4 hours of daylight and I dedicate myself to being a father/spouse for the rest of the day. During the vacations, I rarely go out to spear everything I can. Instead, I focus on catching a "specific type of fish." It's either a high-quality, large specimen or nothing at all.
Even though it's not exactly the safest choice, I take advantage of this incredible calm sea without the slightest drift and leave the boat directly above various spots, relaxing and preparing for the dive attached to the float line, in search of big dentex and amberjacks. I find them every day, for three consecutive dawns, large apathetic dentex in numerous schools. Apathetic, just like the calm sea.
I never get the right opportunity, not even in the very first minutes of the day, when any dream seems possible. After the third harsh dawn, I return to the harbor and spend a few minutes with a local friend exchanging fishing secrets. He recommends a spot for the next morning that I haven't visited in a few years and don't know very well. Usually, when a fisherman advises me to go right, I go left. It's an unwritten rule but a useful one.
Instead, the next morning, I do exactly as he says, and I go there quite convinced. The persistent calm sea makes everything easier for solo boat trips. No anchoring, no drifting; you can always relax. It's wonderful, except for the paralysis it often transmits to predators. I arrive near the school when it's almost dark, turn off the engine, put on my wetsuit. That typical humid and warm summer atmosphere, the scent of the Mediterranean and the maquis are carried to me by the morning breeze.
I scan a bit and don't see anything at all. I already think I've wasted the morning: "It was better over there," I think. When you're here, it's always better over there. The grass is always greener on the other side. Not finding anything specific, I turn on the second sonar, the one of instinct given to me by my father, refined by my grandfather, and optimized by me over the years at sea. I choose the most suitable ascent on this vast shoal composed of successive granite outcrops, with depths ranging from 24 to 29 meters, interspersed with deep canyons of 45 meters.
I ventilate myself well on board, turn off the engine, and as I continue drifting, I reach the vertical of the spot and enter the water. The light is barely enough to see the fins; it's practically a dive in the dark in every sense, especially because I don't know the place very well. Down I go. I take advantage of the first descent to find the right concentration and start monitoring my body's sensors to see if everything is fine. I rest slightly on the bottom, and the shapes are unmistakable. Large dentex in front of me scrutinize and seem to want to attack. I hesitate because, I think, if I saw them so well in the dark, it probably means they were within reach.
I ascend a bit disheartened because I realize I made a mistake, and I wonder if I'll have a second chance in that particularly calm week. I come up to the surface just enough to catch my breath, lean over the float line to check the sonar and see how much I've moved: I've hardly left the spot. This situation gives me incredible calm, so I head back to the bottom. Nothing. Biologically dead. Nature dead. It's disheartening.
I restart the engine and circle the school, exploring it far and wide. Nothing. I start cursing myself for listening to a fellow fisherman and sail several miles away but encounter yet another brutal calm. It's 8:30 when I decide to return to my family, but to do that, I need to retrace the sea area of the first spot, the one with the monsters in the dark. I pass over it after twenty minutes of navigation, cross it at 30 knots, but my instinct light comes on. Try again, Yuri, try again. One dive, and then we'll go home.
After a few minutes, I'm there and retrace the exact route on the sonar, turn off the engine at the same point, and jump into the water right above the school, just like the first dive of the day. I'm gliding, and despair already overwhelms me because I can't even see the baitfish. I land on a slightly deeper ledge and aim the speargun in the direction of the imaginary school, the one I probably dreamed of in the dark two and a half hours ago. I've been there for a few seconds, staring at nothing when, turning my gaze to the left, I see a huge fish descending straight toward me, as if on a mission. I only see its head, and it doesn't even move its tail.
I turn the 115 gun towards it, a complex rotation because it's well over ninety degrees. It keeps pointing at me without even a hint of danger. I shoot it in the head, and it goes down without any struggle. The dentex rushes away, leaving the typical trail of bubbles when they shoot off like rockets. The ascent is spent hypothesizing the weight because I know I've caught an extraordinary beast. The monster!