Fishing for Sailfish in Guatemala: An Epic Family Trip!

Want to catch and release HUGE numbers of sailfish? Go to Guatemala!! My 19 year old daughter and I just went on an epic daddy-daughter vacation and she caught 11 sailfish and 10 giant dorado (aka mahi-mahi) in only two days. By the end of the trip her arms were almost falling off, and she's a strong woman. What a blast!

Guatemala isn't just a world-class fishing destination; for sailfish (the ones with the radically massive dorsal fin and pointy bill on the front of their face), it's the very best place in the world to fish. On a good day, anglers can catch over 20 a day (actually over 30, but you probably wouldn't believe me). 

That's about ten times more than some other great fishing spots. It's just too good there so I actually don't tell all of my friends because then I have to prove it by googling the info on the spot so they don't think I'm exaggerating.

My daughter and I stayed at Pacific Fins Resort and Marina which is about 90 min from Guatemala City Airport. The place is super deluxe so all you have to do is arrive at the spiffy airport in Guatemala, where one of there chauffeurs whisks you off to their lodge by the water. 

Once you get to the lodge, it's all about them catering to your every need. They greet you with cocktails as soon as they help you with your luggage. What time would you like breakfast, sir? Will you be having shrimp, steak, or dorado for dinner? Can we bring you some cocktails at the pool, sir? Can we bring you into town to shop or sightsee? Would you like to go for a boat ride in the canal? My daughter was in heaven; I think it's the first time she's ever been treated like royalty. 

Anyway, the fishing was amazing, spectacular, once in a lifetime. I let her catch them all and I took pics for family fun, and also because I was hoping to get some cover shots of her holding some dorado. The problem was that the dorado were too damn big to hold up!! Even the mates had a hard time lifting them up for photos. I'm sure they got tired of holding them up next to my daughter for "just one more shot" but they were too polite to let on.

This trip was cool, too, because it was one of the first I've taken where I was able to let someone else catch the fish. This time, my daughter did all the fishing. I used to fish for marlin and other exotics from kayaks on channels like Nat Geo TV. Eventually I gave up kayak fishing and started taking cover shots and writing articles about big game fishing and  from boats for mags like Marlin, Sportfishing Magazine, Bluewater Boats and Sportfishing, and Saltwater Sportsman. 

This trip was different from most of my other trips to exotic locations in another way. Usually, I try to get jumping billfish shots for the magazines for which I write and take cover shots, and when I was young and foolhardy, I'd get in the water and get underwater shots of big fish like tuna, marlin, and sharks. GoPros now make all of that risky stuff I did swimming around with huge fish unnecessary, plus I'm a bit wiser, so I stay in the boat now.

We had a great time when our chauffeur took us into the town of San Jose. It's not a tourist town, it's the real deal. Everyone gets around on scooters-I saw a whole family loaded up on one!-and there are really cool markets and fruit stands. My daughter fell in love with a cute little girl downtown and her parents let my daughter hold her. My wife is from Mexico and my daughter and I speak a bunch of Spanish so making conversation with the super friendly Guatemalans we met was a no brainer. 

Next time we go to Guatemala, we will visit some of the awesome sites that make the country a popular travel destination for people who don't fish. Antigua (pictured below) and the super cool and pointy conical volcanos are next on our list.

I ain't getting paid to write this blog so I am going to stop here, and leave you with some cool pics. Plus, I already promised my daughter I would make a music video of our trip, and I haven't even waded through all of the footage. No matter though, we had the trip of a lifetime. 


Blue Marlin Book with big fish photos by fishing photographer Jon Schwartz

Awhile back I was contacted by Wild River Press to provide them with pictures of giant fish for their new coffee table book about blue marlin. I was honored that they chose one of my underwater photos for the cover. The book, called Blue Marlin Magic, written by Steve Campbell, is a treasure trove of useful and interesting information about big game fishing. It's available at this website: http://www.bluemarlinmagic.com/


Giant Headless Mystery Fish Baffles Fishermen and Scientists

A bizarre decapitated sea creature was found floating off Hawaii’s Kona Coast.
Even with pictures and photos of the 7 foot long serpent-shaped body, fishing experts and marine biologists are thus far unable to identify the rare and unusual species.
Captain Dale Leverone was fishing aboard his Kona charter boat Sea Strike for giant “grander” blue marlin with his son and first mate Jack when something weird, long, and shiny near the surface caught Dale’s attention. Jack recalls, “I thought it was a car bumper, but then I remembered they don’t float!”
Jack's been fishing with his father since he was two and a half. The pair and their passenger stopped trolling lures for a moment to scoop up the strange animal. It appeared to be freshly killed and was still bleeding. If the head and tail were still attached, it would have been in perfect condition!
Captain Dale first thought it might be an oarfish. Jack and Dale took some photos of their strange fish on the boat and Jack immediately shared the pictures with some friends, including me (Jon Schwartz). As a fishing photographer (see my Big Fish Photo Website Bluewaterjon.com), fellow monster fish enthusiast, and frequent visitor to Kona, I’ve befriended the Leverones over the years. Within seconds of seeing the photos I contacted them, eager to learn more.

I could barely contain my excitement when Jack returned my message. I’d lucked out by reaching them while they still had the exceptional find on board. “Jack did you really just find that?” I asked incredulously.
Ya we just found it. It's still bleeding because a shark bit it's head off.”

Ok cool! Take a million pics from all angles and send them to me!” I replied.
The Leverones resumed trolling for massive marlin and took more pics of the curious beast from the briny depths. Since Jack and his dad were still in the middle of a fishing tournament, he didn’t have much time to talk, so we agreed to chat later that evening. I was thrilled with the notion that I might know someone who has seen an oarfish up close. Now that's a real celebrity!

Along with Opah, Oarfish are one of the oddest looking creatures in the sea, and I dream of one day swimming with one for some amazing underwater photo opportunities. Ironically, Leverone is one of the few people I know who has caught an Opah. Here he is with an opah catch that made big news in Kona in 2005.

In fact, two years ago Dale and I spent the better part of a day on the his boat the Sea Strike fishing and talking about oddities like opah and oarfish.

To confirm Dale's hunch that the headless creature was indeed an oarfish, I contacted noted Hawaii fishing expert and historian Jim Rizzuto. Jim has written for decades about remarkable catches in Hawaiian waters, as well as a host of highly regarded how-to and historical fishing books and articles. Dale and Jack thought it was an oarfish, and speculated that had its head bitten of by a shark at the surface. They figured that the shark was still nearby and was going to finish its meal, but they had spooked it with their boat when they scooped it up. Here is the photo of the part where the head was taken off, possibly by a predator.  Notice the fresh-looking wound.
They figured that the shark was still nearby and was going to finish its meal, but they had spooked it with their boat when they scooped it up. What did Jim think?

Jim told me, “Because it was headless, I assume it was attacked and killed by a predator and the body floated to the surface. It might have been hooked on a deep water line of some kind and then discarded by the fisherman who caught it, but that seems unlikely.”

Here is a picture of where the tail would have been on the mystery fish. Notice the cut angle is different than the angle of the laceration near the head.
Had it been attacked by a shark that disabled it first, and waited until it floated up and bled out before planning to gulp it down? Maybe Dale was right, a shark could have been lurking nearby and they interrupted his meal. Mealus Interruptus. Bummer for the shark!
Jim and I had the luxury of doing some research while the Leverones were still busy on the water, and Jim said he thought the absence of a red dorsal fin would mean it wasn’t an oarfish. Jim thought it might be a type of cutlass fish; possibly a Hawaiian ridge scabbardfish, but without the head, it was going to be hard to get a positive ID. They seem to be so rare that the only image I was able to find was this old-school drawing on Wikipedia:
Rizzuto told me that they were rare enough that he didn’t have “a specific remembrance of other sightings and I have no memory of having seen one in the market”. To me that’s significant because to my knowledge, nearly everyone in Hawaii contacts Jim when they catch anything big or unsual, and it’s been that way for many decades.

Next I consulted Owyn Snodgrass and James Wraith, fisheries biologists at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Both of them thought it might be a King of Salmon fish- something I’d never heard of before. I researched them (one's pictured below in fairly rotten shape) and they didn’t look similar to the ones I saw on Wikipedia.
Snodgrass said that he doubted it was a Hawaiian ridge scabbard fish as he noted the largest recorded specimen was only 70 cm- only a fraction of the size of the fish found by Dale and Jack.

For reference, here's a closeup of the Leverone's mystery fish's skin in another picture. Notice the apparent lack of scales.
I kept peppering everyone with questions. Why didn't the predator eat more of it? At what depth was it attacked? I began to realize that because these are deep water fish, people don’t know a lot about them- even many scientists and fishing experts.

I was able to find some fish that resembled the Leverone’s mystery fish on Wikipedia, which listed them as “Beltfish” or "Largehead Hairtail" (pictured here in a Tokyo fishmarket) but who knows if they are the same species. For the record I hear belt fish taste exactly like chicken.
While the Leverones were still on the boat they said that they planned on eating the fish. When I contacted them later Jack told me they had filleted the fish at the harbor and tossed the carcass so it was now impossible to get more photos of the body. I asked him for pictures of the meat while they were cooking it. Before they were able to take any pics of the fillets, the meat from the headless mystery fish turned into a gelatinous mess in the refrigerator and they decided to pass on eating it. Good idea!

Jack's description of the jelly-like flesh matched up with some information I found online when I was researching oarfish, so who knows? Snodgrass offered to submit the photos to people he knew at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in hopes of getting more answers on this fascinating find. Maybe we’ll get lucky and get some answers soon; if I get any more news, I’ll be sure to post it on this blog, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, do you like big fish photos?  I happen to be giving away a 16x20" signed, framed photo worth on my Facebook Page.
I photograph big fish like marlin, sailfish, tuna, dorado, and sharks from above and below the waterline for publications like Marlin Magazine, Bluewater Magazine, Saltwater Sportsman, Sport Fishing Magazine, and my work has been featured on Nat Geo TV, in Forbes Magazine, and Field and Stream.
For example, above is my latest cover of a sailfish being released in Nicaragua. On my Facebook Page I am running a free photo giveaway worth $400. Here's how you can win:

Visit  and “like” Jon Schwartz Photography, Fishing, and Travel on Facebook.  There you can get a chance at winning a signed, framed 16x20” photo worth $400 from fishing photographer Jon Schwartz (that’s me!) postage included, by clicking on the "WIN PHOTO HERE" button that looks like this:
Note to Webmasters: This article is copyright protected and cannot be used without Jon Schwartz’s written permission. You can contact him at his website www.bluewaterjon.com or through his Facebook page.


WIN a signed, framed $400 fishing photo by magazine photographer Jon Schwartz!

Hi this is fishing photographer Jon Schwartz. I'm giving away a valuable signed, framed 16x20 big fish photo worth $400 on my Facebook Page Jon Schwartz Photography, Fishing, and Travel !

How can you win? 
1.  Go to Jon Schwartz Photography, Fishing, and Travel Facebook Page
2. "Like" the page.
3. Click on the small "WIN PHOTO CLICK HERE" button that looks like this:
4. Enter your name and email so I can contact you if you win.

This is what Facebook calls a "Sweepstakes" and I am having Wildfire, a "third party" company, handle the registrants so it is Facebook compliant. Once January 30 comes, Wildfire randomly selects a winner and I contact that person. I invite you to sign up and wish you luck. Let me know if you have any questions by contacting me through my Facebook Page or leaving a comment below.

Fishing for Sailfish and Marlin in Nicaragua

This sailfish photo I took in Nicaragua is now on the cover of Saltwater Sportsman Magazine. Yahoo!!
I went there several years ago and had a great time with at Surfari Fishing and Surfing Charters and my hosts Captain Lance Moss and his wife Kristen. There are TONS of big fish there, including wahoo, roosterfish, marlin, sails (known as "Pez Vela" in Spanish) and dorado. In fact the fishing is so good there that I was able to get this shot of a dorado (dolphin or mahimahi to some) when I was there too!
It's also a world class surf spot and I was able to get some decent shots of the crew in the lineup. Surfing photography is fun and I hope to do more of it.


Blue Marlin Fishing Photo: Releasing Big Fish in Kona Hawaii

Most marlin that are caught in Hawaii are released. Here's a picture I took of a big lit up blue marlin just before the crew took the hook out and let the fish swim free. If the captain and angler are skilled and use heavy enough tackle to quickly land the fish, the chances of survival are increased, and many marlin have been caught, tagged, and shown to have travelled thousands of miles after their initial capture.
Organizations like The Great Marlin Race and The Billfish Foundation prove this with satellite tags which fall off of the marlin several months after they were implanted.
These tags float up to the surface and send data to computers on land that can determine how deep and often the marlin dove, what temperatures they were in, and their travel routes. For more information on the Great Marlin Race check this article out: Marlin Travels 2225 Miles in 94 Days.

Wahoo Photo makes Sport Fishing Magazine's cover shot

A picture I took of a razor-toothed wahoo swimming straight at my underwater camera made the September cover of Sportfishing Magazine. Yahoo! I took the image when I was in Fiji fishing with Captain Adrian Watt and Glenn Gardener of Bite Me Gamefishing Charters. Click here to see what their location is like at Matava Resort. I also did a lot of resort and scenic photography for the website of their tropical paradise.
I've been really fortunate to have had cover shots in many prestigious publications, including Bluewater Boats, Marlin Magazine, and Saltwater Sportsman, but this is my first in Sportfishing Magazine. You can see my cover shots here. The mag features a lot of fish that I don't typically photograph, like redfish, snook, tarpon, and cobia, so there are fewer opportunities for a fishing photographer like me who specializes in large pelagic fish like marlin and tuna.

In fact, that's one of the reasons I wanted to go to Fiji, because there are a lot of Giant Trevally (or ulua in Hawaiian) and wahoo, and I didn't have many pictures of either species. We hooked this wahoo on a skiff trolling between reefs inshore and it was a big surprise because we caught it in February. At other times in the year they hook into huge marauding packs of big wahoo offshore, and in fact they sometimes even jump out of the water to pounce on lures! I am going to have to go back there during wahoo season to witness some of that action!

Wahoo are one of the fastest fish in the ocean, reaching speeds of 60 miles per hour. In Hawaii they are called Ono, which means delicious. When filleted, their firm white flaky meat makes for great cooking and eating, and it's one of the least "fishy" tasting fish on the menu. I don't have a favorite wahoo recipe, but restaurant chefs use them a lot in cooking meals because wahoo tastes great broiled, sauteed, baked, and fried. Wahoo would be perfect for picky eaters who don't like the taste of most fish.


Fishing for marlin, tuna, and spearfish with Captain Teddy Hoogs and Bwana Sportfishing

Teddy Hoogs is a top-notch big game fishing captain on the Kona Coast of Hawaii's Big Island. Check out him pulling this 130 pound tuna into the boat that his clients recently caught!
Teddy has an excellent reputation among other Kona captains and mates, and he has a lot of experience with giant blue and black marlin in Hawaii and Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Over a decade ago Teddy “wired” the fourth largest giant black marlin ever caught in Australia, a huge 1,389 pound monster. For laypeople, this means he grabbed hold of the line attached to the surging fish when it got close to the boat. 
I can’t imagine grabbing the reigns of a wild animal well over 1000 pounds! Not for the faint of heart, but every mate’s dream. He soon became a captain and rose in the ranks at Kona’s Honokohau Harbor.
Captain Marlin Parker, one of big game fishing's true legends, called Teddy "One of the best in the business". The thing I like best about him is that he's managed to stay super friendly and humble while skippering some of the choicest boats in Kona, which is arguably the blue marlin capital of the world. 
Teddy now operates the “Bwana”, a luxuriously appointed 46' Gamefisherman outfitted with an ungodly amount of power: twin Cummins QSM11twin diesels with 710 horsepower per side for a whopping 1420 total horsepower. It's one of the fastest charter boats in the harbor, and when Teddy was putting it through its paces upon it’s delivery to Kona, some jaws dropped. It’s one serious boat!

His father Peter Hoogs is one of the old time greats of Kona big game fishing and took the eager Teddy under his wing from a very early age. Check out this picture of Teddy as a toddler reading renowned fishing author’s Jim Rizzuto’s “Fishing Hawaiian Style”!
I've had the pleasure of riding along with Teddy while taking big fish photos for my fishing photography work and wrote an article about him for Marlin Magazine in March 2010 called "Lure Magic: Kona Capt. Teddy Hoogs Learned from the Best".

About ten days ago I accompanied Teddy with one of his charter clients, the Vandrie family from Carefree, Arizona. Mate Joe "Kaiwi Joe" Thrasher usually crews with Teddy, but Joe had taken out Teddy's new commercial fishing vessel and landed three big yellowfin ahi tuna by landline the night before and arranged for Brian Shumaker to replace him this day. In fact, we passed Joe coming in with his fish on our way out of the harbor at 6:15. Those are some tough hours! Here’s a picture of Joe Thrasher.
The Vandries were super friendly and it was interesting to hear about the father Jeff Vandrie's experience as an iron man triathlete. About 90 minutes into the trip while heading south, a huge boil exploded behind one of the lures in the trolling pattern. Two rods went off simultaneously, two reels are screaming, and we've got a double hookup!
Because neither fish jumped and they struck at the sometime, it became clear that we'd stumbled upon a pair of big yellowfin tuna, known as ahi in Hawaii. The ahi bite has been better than it had been in years and I was stoked to see that it was still on fire. There's not too many places you can hook into 150 pound tuna within 5 miles of shore so fishing in Kona is a special treat. Here's a photo I took last year of a big yellowfin ahi tuna chasing a lure that made the cover of Bluewater Magazine:
Jeff manned the fighting chair and his neice Abby Hansen fought  the other fish from the side. While swimming next to the boat I took some neat photographs of the duo both hooked up, and also of the big fish swimming in the incredibly clear blue water. Jeff reeled his ahi in first add then Abby managed to battle hers in as well. After posing for some pictures of their 'wicked' tuna, mate Brian Shumaker set all the lures back into the spread. 

The next fish to hit pulled line off the reel but by the time Jeff manned the chair, he thought it had come off..until it started to pull line again. This on again, off again pattern repeated itself unti Teddy identified it as a shortnose (or short billed) spearfish. In truth he may have seen it hit the lure; he's got his eyes trained on them all day and sees most every critter that pops up near the lures, regardless of whether it strikes.

Short nose spearfish, which are called "Chuckers" in Hawaii, are the world's smallest and rarest billfish. 
For anglers hoping to achieve a Billfish Royal Slam by catching one of every species of billfish, the short billed spearfish often proves to be the most elusive. It isn't found in numbers in many areas other than Hawaii and even then, it's somewhat of an uncommon, incidental catch.

I wrote an article for Marlin Magazine in February of 2010 called "Spearfish Skippers: A Talk with Hawaii's top Spearfish Captains" that detailed how anglers come from all over the world to Kona to catch these fish, which are most fun to catch on light tackle due to them topping out at about 70 pounds.  Getting good pictures of spearfish is also hard because they don't jump alot; one of my luckiest moments in photographing fish underwater came when I swam with a shortbill several years ago. The captains I featured for the story were Guy Terwilliger, Marlin Parker, and Gene Vanderhoek.

Shortnose spearfish are also good eating- they're called Hebi in Hawaiian fish markets-but the Vandries were all about catch and releasing billfish and the fish swam away in good shape after being leadered by the mate. For all we know it was devoured shortly thereafter by a big blue marlin, which have been known to swallow spearfish whole!

About midway through the day Teddy’s lures attracted another strike from a blue marlin, and Vandries again found himself in the fighting chair. The day was only half over and Bwana Sportfishing’s anglers had caught two big tuna, a spearfish, and a blue marlin! I didn't get any good photos of the marlin jumping, but here is a picture I took in Kona of a blue marlin that made the cover of Marlin Magazine a couple of months ago:
Here's another photo I took of the same fish. This shot became kind of well known.
Incredibly, the big fish action wasn’t over. In the last 5 minutes of the charter, on the way back the harbor and only a mile offshore,  a reel went off and a blue marlin started doing aerial acrobatics off the stern. Back into the fighting chair for Jeff Vandries! Teddy maneuvered the boat effectively to allow Jeff to wield maximum pressure on the fish and after a fun fight, the blue was brought alongside the boat for tagging. Here's a picture I took of it swimming near the boat just prior to release.

All in all it was a great day fishing for the Vandries family, Bwana Sportfishing and Teddy Hoogs. Total fish count for the day: two 100 plus pound tuna, two blue marlin, and a spearfish. I was fortunate to be there to take photos of all the big fish action and I'll be sending the VanDries family some pictures to hang on their walls. Yet another fun day on the Kona Coast with good people and plenty of fish!

If you enjoyed reading this article and would like to see more fishing photos, please go my Facebook page Jon Schwartz Fishing, Photography, and Travel and "Like" it by clicking HERE. I periodically have photo giveaways worth $400 and post a lot of neat content there. Thanks, Jon Schwartz


Giant tuna speared as Sharks circle breath holding free divers!

This is fishing photographer Jon Schwartz reporting on some BIG FISH NEWS from Hawaii with amazing video and photos!

A big game spearfishing expedition turned into the catch of a lifetime for Hawaii's Wendell Ko when he swam down 60 feet on a single breath to lie in wait for his dream fish, a huge yellowfin tuna ('ahi' in Hawaiian). Ko is a rare breed of sportsman called bluewater freediving spearfishermen: waterman, athlete, and ultra selective and ethical deep water hunter who possesses equal amounts of patience, skill, and daring. All these qualities came into play when he bested a massive 188 pound ahi tuna on July 24 off the Kona Coast of Hawaii's Big Island.

Kona is one of the world's top big game fishing spots, and Ko took a weekend with some friends from Oahu to continue his lifelong quest to spear a monster tuna that began when he was 9 years old. As Ko and his partners continually dove down to 60 feet and waited with breaths held for minutes, hoping for a chance at seeing a giant tuna swimming by, a trio of oceanic white tip sharks gathered ever closer, curious if they could catch a free meal of freshly speared fish.

Miles offshore in water thousands of feet deep, divers Ko, Mike Shimabuku and Nate Kaneshiro took turns fending off the increasingly interested sharks by poking them with their spear tips when they got too close for comfort. Captain Bomboy Llanes waited nearby on the Lana Kila with mate James Kataki.
Llanes, a well known Kona big game fishing captain and lure maker, had been hired to bring the 51 year old Ko and his Hawaiian partners to various offshore bouys that act as "FADs" (Fish Aggregation Devices) which are maintained by the State of Hawaii. Bluewater spearfishing enthusiasts like Ko target hard to catch, fast swimming open ocean pelagic fish like wahoo, tuna, and dorado ( known in Hawaii as ono, ahi, and mahi in Hawaii),  but they usually don't swim miles offshore by launching from the beach and simply hoping to stumble upon them.

Their prey can swim upwards of 45 miles an hour and freely roam the sea;  FADs provide them with some fish-attracting structure and at least some hope of finding these fish.  In fact, FADs are thus a common spot for both rod and reel and "spearos" and as the group took great care to only dive at FADs that weren't crowded with too many boats hoping to catch ahi with more traditional methods. Just when they thought no big fish were present, a school of mahi mahi swam by, providing the spearos with a chance at some action, and me, with a chance for some more photos for my fishing photography collection.

I write for fishing and travel magazines and usually don't get to see many free swimming fish so I snapped away with a grin under my mask. I was also excited to get some great oceanic white tip photos and video. Although just like many other wild animals these sharks can be aggressive when provoked, Ko and his buddies and I were mostly concerned with keeping them calm by not letting them get near any speared fish. Sharks are commonly encountered by spearfishermen and are a part of the sport. 

As legendary freediver and pioneering spearfisherman Terry Maas said in an interview today with me, "Sharks and spearfishermen are competing predators in the water" and spearfishermen must set the tone and discourage sharks from getting too close by setting an aggressive stance in the water. In fact, spearfishermen are much more likely to get hurt by boats running them over that don't see them, equipment malfunctions with their huge multi-band spearguns that are under a tremendous amount of tension, and shallow water blackout.

In fact, says Maas, because spearfishermen usually swim in clear water and the sharks won't mistake them for their usual prey of fish or ocean mammals like seals, they are much less likely to have negative experience with sharks than recreational swimmers so.

I'm not going to go into my diatribe about how people are more likely to get killed in a car crash on the way to the beach than by a shark in the water (true!), nor will I rant about how millions of sharks are killed each year by people simply to make soup out of their fins(true!), and I won't carry on about how dog bites send thousands of people in the US alone to the hospital each year while there are only about 100 shark attacks reported annually on average and the great majority of them are NOT fatal), but I will say that although sharks can certainly be dangerous, I felt safer swimming with Ko and his partners that day than I would if you were to put me on a motorcycle (you'd have to force me, because them things are really dangerous!). Sorry to kill your buzz if you are a shark week fan...

Back to the giant tuna story..Ko, a former USA National Spearfishing Freediving champion, speared a mahi mahi and eventually brought it back to the boat. Although it was exciting for me to see the sharks and the mahi mahi, Ko and his partners were just about to hop back on the boat and try another location when we saw the the yellow sickle-shaped fins of several HUGE ahi tuna below us.
I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I knew that it was very rare to for spearfishermenspearos, and here I was seeing them on my maiden spearfishing photo shoot! Here's where the greatness of the sport kicks in for me, and where I truly began to appreciate what it would take for a freediving spearfisherman to get one of these huge fish. Floating at the surface with a snorkel and camera, I could afford to let my excitement get the better of me, and when my adrenelin started pumping and my breathing and heart rate increased, it didn't matter, other than I thought I might die of excitement.
The spearfisherman has no such luxury. Because they've got to swim down to incredible depths and then lie in wait for sometimes over 2 minutes, and do this repeatedly in the hopes that they just might get close enough to the tuna, they have to maintain strict control of their heart rate and breathing. If they don't they can blackout on the way back up, and at the very least, their quarry can sense their nervousness and run, and they can run out of air quicker. So to swim down that deep and wait patiently and calmly with only the oxygen you have left in your lungs?
That's so beyond extreme! Oh yeah, it gets even wilder: I mentioned that Ko is a selective and ethical hunter, so let me explain. Like most spearfisherman, he knows that with such big fish in open water, if their spear doesn't hit the fish in the right spot, it will only hurt the fish and it will get away. He and others like Maas detest this idea of waste- they only want that special one, and will only pull the trigger of their speargun of they feel they can take the fish.
I know that this isn't baloney because when the big ahi tuna showed, Ko did another "drop" and, as proven by the video I took, he went down extremely deep, leveled out, passed on several shots at the tuna because he didn't think he would be able to deliver the spear correctly, and only let the spear fly when the giant fish passed a third time. You realize that by passing up the first two opportunities, he could have seen the biggest tuna of his life ( his previous best was 120 pounds less!) disappear forever, right?
That takes serious composure, and to do it with basically no air in your lungs? OMG. Ko was so deep when he let his spear fly at the giant ahi tuna that I could barely make out the fish, and so mostly trained my camera on the giant speargun that he made for himself. Next, I heard a faint "thwick" sound like a toothpick breaking. Did he actually hit the fish, I wondered? I stopped wondering when I looked over at his the floats that were attached to his gun.
See, in big game spearfishing, the fish are so big there's no way that the a man even as fit as Ko could wrestle a fish of that size to the surface once the spear hit home and it sounded for the depths. To tackle fish this size, they attach a series of floats to their guns and when they spear the fish, the spear, which has a breakway tip, keeps the fish attached to the floats, and now the fish fights the floats until it tires out enough for the spearfisherman to pull it up.
To my delight and amazement I saw Ko's lines go tight and whine under the strain of a giant fish pulling down on the floats. The floats were actually being pulled down and gas was being forced out of them by the power of the fish sounding over 150 feet below! Ko swam up just as calmly and slowly and controlled as he had done with all of his previous drops, so it seemed incongruous that he could have just speared the fish of several lifetimes, but when I saw his partners come over with looks of joy on their faces, I knew it actually happened.
A long battle ensued and Ko triued to bring the fish up, only to have to stop puling and attach more floats to the two that he started out with. This fish was like a locomotive! Wendell told me that it would be awhile before the fish might come up, so I swam back to Bomboy's boat to change lenses in my underwater housing and hopped back in the water. The sharks were still there, and in fact, now that there was a sense of urgency in the water, it felt like they were getting a bit closer, so Nate and Mike continued to protect Wendell by staring the sharks down and poking at them with their spears when they got too close.
As Terry Maas told me, that is every wingman's job in spearfishing: to protect the man who's fighting the fish so they he could focus 100% of his attention on raising it.Interestingly, at this stage of the game Maas calls the sharks and the spearfishermen "competing predators" who both want the fish. Maas said the shark might be thinking, "The diver won the first round, but the game isn't over yet" and of course, with several white tips coming ever closer, this scenario unfolded in front of my own eyes in dramatic fashion.
After about half an hour, the fish grew tired of pulling down against the floats and came up to where we could see it. It was still beating it's tail and swimming rather heartily, and as Ko brought the fish up little by little, the sharks took many close passes at the fish, but for some reason never attacked it.
The sharks might have been as stunned as I was, for I can't otherwise explain how they managed to let the tuna be pulled right through them (see the video!)
Ko finally managed to bring the fish to the surface and with his last reserves of energy, swam the fish to the boat while his friends stoodd guard for the sharks. Once he got the fish to the boat the mate James gaffed the fish and hoisted it aboard, and when it hit the deck, everyone's eyes almost bulged out of their sockets!!!!! Everyone was hooting and hollering.
This celebration continued until we got back to the certified scale back at Honokohau Harbor's Charter Desk.  Here is Mike, Wendell, Bomboy, and Nate:
"What do you guys think it weighs?" asked the woman at the scale. We'd all spent enough time with fish and scales to know that it's always better to take a lot of weight of what you think it weighs, so we shouted out numbers like 150, 167, 170, and 155. When she said "188!!!" we all redoubled our celebratory efforts.
I've seen a lot of really wild stuff on the ocean, but this was far and away the gnarliest thing I ever witnessed. For example I used to catch marlin from kayaks, but that is child's play compared to big game spearfishing. It being my first time on a spearfishing photo shoot, I think I might just stop here, because it's gotta be all downhill after Wendell Ko's 188 pound giant ahi tuna! ....FAVOR TIME......
If you liked this story, PLEASE do me a favor and "Like" my Facebook Page Jon Schwartz Fishing, Photography, and Travel by clicking HERE. That way you can stay current with my latest photo adventures and also be eligible to win my next photo giveway worth $400.00 ************* About the Author************** Jon Schwartz contributes to fishing and travel magazines worldwide, specialzing in big fish photos and yacht and travel photography, has been featured on Nat Geo TV, and blogs at http://bluewaterjon.blogspot.com. He lives in San Diego his wife and daughters, teaches elementary school, and enjoys teaching technology, fish science and art, and blues music to his students. Below is one of his student's tiger shark renderings!
Jon Schwartz also contributes articles to educational websites like Edutopia and has been featured on KPBS TV and many other networks for his pioneering work with technology, music and literacy in elementary education. Check out his First Grade Blues Band (they were on TV y'all!) and his student blogging site Kids Like Blogs. Here he is on stage with some of his first grade bandmates: