Southern California anglers have logged several impressive bluefin tuna catches during the past couple of weeks, but a San Clemente spearfisherman on Wednesday subdued a massive bluefin that's likely to shatter a 33-year-old California record.
Aaron Shook, while hunting tuna eight miles of Dana Point with two friends, shot and landed a 173.3-pound bluefin, which is 75 pounds heavier than the existing state record, held by legendary blue-water hunter Terry Maas.
Maas shot his 98-pound tuna on June 1, 1982, at Cortes Bank, 100 miles west of Orange County.
Shook's tuna was speared only eight miles offshore, and after he and his two partners hauled the behemoth aboard their 21-foot boat, the trio stood “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.”
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 typically don’t show or hang around long enough in Southern California to be targeted by freedivers.
But Shook, Jon Walla and Dominic Vadala had heard stories about bluefin being caught off Dana Point. Large schools have, in fact, been spotted for the past few weeks at several offshore seamounts.
The divers embarked at dawn 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 for a clean shot.
Shook said he saw flashes of color at a depth of about 80 feet. He started his descent, but at the same time the school rose. 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 fired from about 25 feet, and scored a direct hit. The tuna “torpedoed down like a sub,” and the rest of the school scattered.
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, and using a knife to finish the job.
On Thursday, when reached by telephone, Shook said he was busy carving fillets and placing them in vacuum-sealed bags.
“My friends are going to be getting a lot of fresh tuna this week,” he said.
–Images of Aaron Shook and his tuna are via Aaron Shook and Megan Walla