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White sea bass season...! (and tips part 2)

Mike Raabe shot and edited this video last year with diver Scott Blume. I'm sharing it because it's hands down some of the best white sea bass hunting footage that has been captured on camera to date, and I thought aspiring hunters or those traveling to Southern California to hunt in the kelp for the first time might benefit from knowing some background on process and techniques seen in the video. The diving and stalking aspects of 'hunting' are identical whether you are using a speargun or camera.

Any film worth watching has a great deal more time and energy in it than meets the eye, and when adding the underwater element on a breathhold, in the uncontrolled environment of the ocean, with unwilling and shy particpants (the fish), well, the amount of work required goes WAY up. The spot where this video was shot is a fairly common shore dive spot for spear fishermen, in the Los Angeles area, but is often unhuntably murky and not known for white sea bass. Mike and Scotty discovered late last spring that the fish were congregating there and they kept it a secret while religiously filming and hunting the spot over a two week period, with Mike behind the camera trying to get that perfect shot of Scotty trying to getting that perfect shot on a perfect big fish just looking to get lucky. As you might imagine more than one fish was harmed in the making of this video, and friends and family ate well during the filming and for a long time after.

On to the technique... Mike and Scotty are both trying to get below their subjects. Mike because he's a master underwater cameraman, and Scotty because it's a terrific way to stalk fish in southern California, who, having evolved alongside seals and diving mammals, are wise to attacks from above.

As a 'competitive freediving instructor' (not 'spearfishing instructor'!) viewing Scotty's technique, I could nitpick some of Scotty's diving technique, specifically head position and kicking, but he is overall very smooth and relaxed in the water, and of course working in a much less controlled environment than what many of us study, train, and compete in. The depth they were filming and hunting is relatively shallow for both divers, which would minimize chances of throat squeeze due to improper head position. Scotty avoids sudden movements which further minimizes the chance of any pressure related injury, and foremost in any hunters mind, also makes him less likely to startle fish. Scotty's progress through the kelp is very slow and deliberate, and you can almost see him thinking several steps ahead.

The type of hunting he is doing is called glide hunting--he is covering horizontal distance on every dive, finning along and looking into the water in front of him (and above in this case since he was hoping to silhouette a big fish against the sky.) He is also using the bottom occasionally to rest, stop and wait to see if anything swims in. Most southern California hunters practice glide hunting techniques, especially for white sea bass. The opposite style would be 'aspetto' (loosely translated from Italian as 'ambush'), in which a diver descends to the bottom and waits in one place, possibly behind cover and nearly always very motionless, ready to fire once a target species swims into range. Aspetto is not used so much in southern California, although I like it for particularly deep spearing out here (or anywhere really!), and many spearing drops fall somewhere on the spectrum between full glide and aspetto.

You can see Scotty mostly swims with his gun upside down and at his side. This gives him a small profile and makes it easier for him to move him and the gun through the kelp. When he sees a fish he moves the gun forward and rotates it as he closes distance to get within firing range. I sometimes hold my gun this way, particularly during ascents from the twilight in case I see something on the way up, but with a smaller gun or in murky water where there is less time to spot and approach a target I usually have my gun fully in aiming position and trigger finger pointed down the barrel, ready to slip it onto the trigger if and only if I spot and identify a target species, and have a safe shot (see photo below). I lead with the tip of my gun as I swim through the kelp but am aware of my body, making sure not to disturb the kelp stalks as I pass (if you do this when in firing range, it will absolutely spook a white sea bass, as well as most of our other species commonly targeted in the kelp.) By 'leading with the tip' I mean that I am mostly always looking in the direction the gun is pointing; I won't have time to swing a large gun around in the kelp if I spot a fish behind me. Different types of guns also have different balance points, so what works extremely well with one particular gun may not work with a different hunting configuration.

When moving through the kelp forest, it will help to think ahead, particularly in regards to aiming and manuevering the gun. Even within a thick kelp bed, there will be a variation in the actual density of stalks. If you always position yourself to be in the middle of the thickest concentrations of kelp, you may spot fish but will be unable to swing your gun through the stalks to get a shot. Better to stay outside the thickest bunches and look in from the edge.

In the video when Scotty shoots the fish, you can see the power of the animal as it tows him for several seconds before tying up.

(End of part 2 of 3...)

[LAST EDITED 7/14/2017]

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