Deep Sea Rodeo
As the darkness crept up from the bottom and the rapture of the deep began to call, the amber backed sea monsters came into site. The predators rose from the deep abyss like a pack of ravenous wolves’ vortexing around a potential kill. Now surrounded by the pack, their huge dark glassy eyes peering through my soul, I spot the alpha!
No, this is not a nightmare or scene from Jaws; this is what the Kamakazi Divers do for fun on warm calm weekends…Amberjack hunting!
After a few summers of deep sea hunting trips for snapper, scamps, ling, and whatever other poor edible reef fish that happened to swim in front of a Kamakazi Diver’s steel shaft, my brothers and I were ready to test our skills on some real monsters of the deep. Now although a nice size lemon or snapper can give you a run for your money, I don’t think you can find any seasoned deep sea hunter or angler that doesn’t agree that the Greater Amber Jack, pound-for-pound, is the brute of the ocean. Built for low end torque and raw power the back 90% of an amberjack is solid muscle. Covered in silver and amber armor their powerful propulsion system only leaves room for their massive jaws and skull. Programmed for killing, their brain is marked by a dark stripe of war paint signifying the battle ready Apache warrior that lies within.
Going to battle and learning how to kill these reef donkeys was full of lessons filled with some hard knocks. It was the inevitable next step for the Kamakazi Divers and, we only made it through alive by the grace of God.
Our first go at it was a beautiful late spring weekend off the coast of Fourchon, LA. We had convinced my buddy’s dad, Mad Mike, and his long time brother in battle, Darrell Fairchild, to show us the ropes. Mike ran his mouth like usual with a vague and embellished rendition of what was in store for us but, Darrell summed it up with only a few words, “Make a good shot or hold the *#!% on.” Down through the water column we went. After 50ft the colors and reef fish begin to fade… after 90ft the water temp. dropped dramatically….after 100ft well shit, its getting dark down there! Finally 130ft…this was the deepest I’d ever been after fish and I wasn’t going any further (or so I thought). Well below the thermocline the water seemed frigid, the darkness from the deep had crept right up below my fins and, the swift early spring current had brought a green haze to the hunting grounds. As I peered into the abyss in search of my destiny I couldn’t help but feel I was in a place, trying to accomplish a task that a human being was not designed for. A few deep overly nitrogen rich breaths calmed my mind and brought me back to kill mode as the first of the wolves arrived.
Appearing out of the darkness, the pack surrounded me. Although I would have been happy with any of these nice sized amber torpedoes, (in retrospect I probably should have tested this whole deal out on one of the smaller ones) my eyes locked in on the alpha! There he was behind the pack on the outside of the rig, fatter, longer, and just strait meaner looking than the rest. With a couple quick fin kicks and, a good sturdy grip on the rig, I brought my body and gun into position for the kill. As he rounded the steel rig leg, Darrel’s words echoed through my mind, “Make a good shot, or hold on.” Overwhelmed by his size and proximity, I let the steel ice pick fly…whhhhammm!
……………… “What happened? Everything is surprisingly calm….holy crap I rolled him!” Instead of a fury of bubbles, barnacles and rage, the monster AJ just went belly up. I had stoned him! (Well at least that’s what I thought) As I turned to Alex with a balled fist pumping in celebration, the Apache warrior awakened from his temporary knock out, kicked the thrusters into high gear, and down we went!
As I clamored unsuccessfully for a grip on the rig leg, the monster ripped me into the abyss. The bottom still being hundreds of feet away, I knew I had to stop this death spiral soon. With one last fury of kicks and clamoring, I managed to wedge my barnacle ripped body between two cross beams and stopped the plummet to the depths. His descent now arrested, I began to feel the true power of the creature as my inability to control him let the ferocious tail blast and underwater acrobatics wrap me up in a web of cable and blood. Now well below 150 feet and pinned to the rig with the cable from my own weapon, the severity of the situation and its overwhelming potential for death became abundantly clear. Running low on air and unable to overpower the sea monster to free myself, my situation was bleak. As the last of my energy and air was dwindling the continued beating had me struggling just to keep my mask on and regulator in my mouth. I needed help from above, shit I needed a miracle.
I guess the good Lord decided it wasn’t my day, because like an angel from above, Darrell appeared out of the darkness. Facing the beast head on, Darrell grabbed the amber bully and swiftly pounded a 10” steel blade into its skull. Once subdued, the cable’s grip around my body loosened and the two of us quickly began our ascent to the oxygen rich surface. Back on the boat and, several grateful breaths of warm sea air latter, Darrel gave us a few last words of wisdom, “Well boys, that’s why you always dive with a buddy. Oh and Matt, you don’t always have to hold on…..but it sure is a hell of a ride!”
Before long we had the whole Kamakazi crew wrapped up in the quest for giant AJ’s. With several more similar renditions of this exuberant story derived from many more journeys into the depths in search of deep sea rodeos, we began to truly appreciate the raw power and tenacity that the Greater Amberjack possesses.
Youtube video of Amberjack hunt by the Kamakazi Divers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvRtgIri5GQ&sns=em