I don’t hold any world records

This is about a plain humble fisherman. Who’s only goal in life was to feed his relatives from the bounty of the sea and thus reduce his capital outlay each week to match his meager pension. To truly grasp the meaning of that simple goal we must travel back to Dec. 6th 1999.

The place is Santo Domingo, Ilocos Sur, Philippines. After an Eight thousand plus mile journey and one year of correspondence I found myself in an old Catholic church, built by the Spanish over 400 years ago, proclaiming the words “I DO!” in a wedding ceremony given in a foreign language to an island princess. I married a Filipino. No check that, I married an entire family of Filipinos. I suppose I could claim I didn’t really know what I was saying, “I do”, too. The truth be know it was the best thing that has ever happened to me .

Providing fish for my friends

Providing fish for my friends

Visitors

In the year of our Lord 2001 we built a modest cottage in Puerto beach, Ilocos Sur, right on the China Sea. Every year there after, we visited for about two months at a time and swam in the ocean and entertained many visitors. Typically on any given night there would be sixteen to twenty relatives sleeping on our floor spreading out from the second bedroom and ending in the living room. People would just show up and it seems everyone on the island has some distant connection to my wife’s family and they would come to pay respects and visit. The term visit in the Philippines is more akin to the term permanent resident in the USA. My vacation time was joyously enhanced by a sea of bodies between me and the ice box.

Rural Philippines

The main activities in our remote location, about 300 miles north of Manila, are rice field crop tending and fishing. The trip from Manila by bus can take any where from eight to eleven hours literally. We live near Vigan the capital of Ilocos Sur. There is a mall of sorts about fifteen minutes from our home with a supermarket that has things like Oreo cookies and Delmonte Italian Spaghetti Sauce. Not a large range of imported items but still better than the street vendors for my taste. There is always of course market day in each town and you can get fresh fruit and veggies at what resembles a large food flee market. Transportation consists mainly of tricycles and jeepneys.

The Beach

We have a great sand beach stretching out for more than 3 miles in front of our house. There are several Sari Sari Stores and small Karoke Bars down the beach from our house. They are like small garages selling beers and chips, no food to speak of. Each of these establishments has build several cottages on the beach which they rent to visitors for about two dollars a day. Very few People ever come to the beach even on the weekends. If there are a dozen people there it’s a surprise.

Flowers from WowPhilippines

Remember the big “Keep America Beautiful “ campaign where the native American has a tear in his eye because of our disregard for the land. He would cry an ocean for the Philippines. People here just leave trash or throw it wherever they are. The beach looks like a garbage dump with no sorting when it is visited by any kind of group or party. Sometimes while I am fishing I come across potato chip wrappers and the like. I know Americans throw away more trash per capita then any other nation but we at least hide it better.

Fishing

The last time I held a fishing pole was when I was 12 years old in Menomonie Wisconsin. So as a lark I ordered a pole spear off the Internet from Amazon.com to take on my next vacation to our home in the Islands.

Pole Spear Fishing

My fishing was somewhat successful!

My fishing was somewhat successful!

I live in Wisconsin so I am no stranger to water but fishing with a ridged fiberglass rod with a three pronged tip underwater was something in hindsight I mayhap per chance should have researched a little more. My beginning attempts we actually quite comical and the subject of much discussion in many nipa huts. I first tried to actually throw the spear over hand at a fish some 10 feet away. I suppose fish have no sense of humor much less the bland emotion of disdain. I swear a fish mouthed the words “What the hell do you think your doing?” The spear fell at my feet less than 24 inches away from me.

I will concede I am a self-made fisherman. I learned by trial and error how to use the rubber sling attached to the end of the pole. I actually learned to polespear fish by launching over hand. It wasn’t till two years later while watching the TV series Survivor that I saw they used them underhanded. When I returned home that year I was bringing home seven to ten small fish each outing.

The Reef

The reef in front of our house has been destroyed by local fishermen over the past 20 years. Dynamited! The coral is all but dead and gone. The ECO system is devoid of any real sea life but people still need to eat and the fishing continues. The locals use bamboo rafts and nets with the occasional deployment of home made spear guns. On a positive note there is a fish sanctuary designated and the promise of hope is dim but still a glowing amber. Planning for the future is a hard sell when you have an empty rice bowl.

Progression

The skill I possessed as a fisherman was secondary to the enjoyment I got when I did catch fish and they were consumed by the noon meal each day. My sister-in-laws would begin to greet me when I returned from the beach holding out a plate upon which to place my catch. Some days, I fished for more than 4 hours at a time rather than return empty handed. The grass if always greener and the big fish were always faster and smarter than the small ones. Up until that point I only caught dumb fish to stupid to put enough distance between me and about 4 feet.

Technology Advances

The following year I purchased a 39” Riffe Spear gun. I began to notice an increase the number of fish I caught. My range had extended to about 8 to 10 feet. I could hold my breath longer and knew more about stalking or should I say surprising my prey. I had in fact improved both my skill and my equipment. I had purchase a Seasoft backpack for my weights and some Picasso free diving fins. None of this is an endorsement for I am not qualified to proffer.

Ninja Fish Assassin

Ok so how does a land locked Wisconsin man fall in love with spear fishing? It’s like real estate, location, location, location. I researched and in the end and decided I needed a bigger gun, not to knock down a 200 hundred pound Tuna but to reach out and tag the few bigger fish that did still habitat the reef always mocking me from a safe distance with a smirk of their fishy lips. Some people in Wisconsin own expensive deer rifles, snowmobiles, 4×4, the list goes on.

I had Daryl Wong make me a custom 55” semi-enclosed track hybrid spear gun. He is a world-renowned spero and someone I now consider a friend. He went out of his way to help me select the right gun for me. He spend personal time helping and assisting me to be all that I could be so I would not have to join the Army.

I know get up a 6:30 am with the local half naked fisherman looking like an astronaut from 2001 a Space Odyssey with a dwarven hand cannon. I use my Rife gun on the shoals reef at night with pride and respect. I use my Wong gun to bring home fish the locals admire and dream about during the day. (*Note I can hit within a 4” circle at 12 to 15 feet away if no one moves and there is no current lol.)

Summary

I don’t hold any world records and I would be embarrassed to dive among true sepros. The ocean is big enough for us all. I am a 62 year old heavy set retired district administrator who brings home the bacon more often that not. There is no greater thrill than hunting the sea bed for prolonged length of time and chancing upon the moment where you and the fish collide. The first one who gets his act together wins?

In the immortal words of Charlie Sheen “WINNING

Post Author: HenryL (5 Posts)


Comments

  1. BillB says

    Great story Henry! Are you in the Philippines full time now or still making the trips back and forth, any thanks for the artical and I’m glad you are having “More fun in the Philippines”

    • Henry Lamkin says

      I just retired for the second time this past June. We will be living full time starting Sept. 10th

  2. says

    Hi Henry Spearfishing is a wonderful sport and one that I used to be very keen on back in Australia but killing undersized ornamental fish? Is your need for protein that desperate?

    • Henry Lamkin says

      Dave, what was the point of your condescending and disparaging remark? I suppose the politically correct green thing to do would be to take a pass on undersized ornamental fish as you call them. However I am lucky to come across 5 fish in four hours of hunting. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. With my new gun I do bring home fish I an sure you would approve of. (See the top Photo) the second picture was taken years ago when I was stupid and ignorant. In the future I would suggest you try to refrain from coming off as an arrogant overbearing ass.

      • John Heitz says

        Henry, nice article. The degrading environment we live in can bring out our emotions. But to me that is good. We need to discuss the situation, create more awareness and work to find solutions. A couple of things we can do locally are trying to establish a no take zone or two on the reef. This can give the fish a place to live and get bigger and spawn. If the reefs corals are mostly dead or gone than some small concrete artificial reefs can be built and placed on the reef so corals can attach and the fish will have some place to hang out and hide. For the cost of one of those spear guns, some artificial reefs could be built and deployed. People may see the benefits. Have fun and enjoy life guys.

      • Don says

        But given its your picture you provided and the fish close to your elbow is no bigger than a guppy. Then agree that your taking fish way too small. I lived in California and loved to fish. With a rod and hook, never know what your going to bring up so would release the undersized ones. With a spear gun or sling, you make a conscious decision to kill the small. Would you hunt a fawn?

        • Henry Lamkin says

          It was my picture. The fish close to my elbow is extremely small. I prefer to focus on what a great shot I must be to hit such a small target. I am sure you are aware that the likely hood of coming across a fawn underwater on a reef in the Philippines is fairly remote at best.

          • Ricardo Sumilang says

            Oh, come on Henry. That small ornamental fish close to your elbow wasn’t a real fish. It’s one of those ornaments you bought from a dime store to pad up your catch of the day for the photo shoot. Nice try, buddy. :)

        • beachbum says

          we have eaten fawn. the winter of `76 in w.v. when the frost was 4ft. down.

          the meat was an xmas gift from a generous mountain neighbor along with home made wine.

          dont make judgements until the last crust of bread is gone.

      • wayne says

        Right on Henry i guess David has never had a empty rice bowel and has been around the poor people to see how small the fish are,that they are happy to get for a meal.Have fun feeding the people.

    • John Heitz says

      David you must be like me, I go crazy when I see people catch small reef fish. At least free dive spear fishing gives the fish a chance. I really go ape shit when I see people use scuba or compressor diving to spear fish. Even worse when people drag nets over the reefs ripping up coral. Blast fishing and poison fishing is even worse than those. There is not easy solution to these problems. However, I have a suggestion or two in my next comment.

      • wayne says

        The easy solution to this problem would be to outlaw fish traps there the ones that are killing the the little fish and everthing that enters them,this will not happen as the rich have all the power so i guess the poor should starve so fish can grow.like Henry said hard for the poor to believe in this with empty bellies.

  3. Gary Wigle says

    Looks like you are doing OK to me HenryL. I guess no one goes to the wet market and buys the real small fish, you catch looks big!!! Enjoy your life here. Life is too short. :-P

    Gary in Tagum City

  4. Henry Lamkin says

    Ok Folks

    I just wanted to do a fun article on my exposure and progressive development spearfishing as a hobby. I have not participated in Whale Wars or ever been a member of Greenpeace. I explained that the locals do have a No fishing zone to preserve the development and allow for growth of fish in the area where I live. That picture where I was a guppy baby killer was my first season of spearfishing with a gun. I do not use tanks by the way. However I was fishing and catching what the locals were. Have you ever seen what they pull in from their nets and oh by the way I don’t use dynamite.

    Hold on I know that because they do it I shouldn’t be an undersized ornamental environmental destroyer. I tried to explain as I developed and got a bigger gun I have confined my catch to what I pray the critics would approve of. My article was intended to be light hearted and while the perfectly legit discussion of the abuse of spearfishing is fair game I didn’t foresee some would relish the opportunity to spank me with it. Forgiver me.

    • John Heitz says

      In my opinion, my comments express what positive steps could and should be taken and have been taken by some people. I know you do not use destructive methods to fish. If you think my comments were offensive, you should see what I say about the rich jerk scuba spear fishermen. The rich boys that go out and spend thousands on gear to go “hunt” their prey. I always send them congratulatory comments when they get the bends and are disabled or die.

      • Henry Lamkin says

        Sorry if I over reacted I am sensitive to protecting the reef and wildlife. I have been a diver for over 25 years. I just got defensive and felt assaulted. Didn’t mean to over react. I love to fish and I do feed my family everything I catch is consumed before noon. Most of the fish I get now weigh in at about 1.5 to 4 pounds.

  5. Brent Johnson says

    I got the impression that Henry was using his “hobby” to also help feed the normally large and hungry extended Filipino family. If he takes a few “small” fish so be it, better to be ecologically bad and have a fed family then not. Now, if he wasn’t doing his “hobby” for such family-related humanitarian reasons, flame away at the poor guy. I say, good job Henry.

    • Henry Lamkin says

      Thanks Brent I needed those kind words. I mean well but as my grandfather once said it takes intelligence to mean well.

  6. Mark G. says

    Henry, as one with an extended family of Filipino fishermen, I can appreciate what you’re doing. Often times they come back with a boatload of fingerlings and what in the West would be considered undersize fish. Without those fish many would go hungry and stomachs would be empty. Even now they are battling with illegal Hulbotan fishermen who are destroying the local coral by trawling/ dredging in shallow water. Soon there may be no fish of any size if the illegal methods of fishing are not stopped. I know how hard it is to try and catch fish by spear fishing and as you are not fishing for sport I applaud your efforts. Some Western folks who have not experienced hunger and empty stomachs are more concerned with being ‘Green’ then with being compassionate. Keep taking care of your family and speak out against illegal fishing methods. Chris Dearne here on LIP has some posts about constructing artificial reefs that are inexpensive and effective. You may want to research those. Implement them and in the future your catch and the catch of your grandchildren will be better. Enjoy your retirement!
    Mark G.

  7. Gary M says

    Henry, I enjoyed reading your article, and think it a shame the way some folks over reacted to it. As some of the supporting comments have said, you are not wasting any of the bounty from the sea, rather your extended family benefit from your efforts and nothing goes to waste.
    On my last visit to Valenzula City where my asawa hails from, I went fishing in a tilapia pond next to her home. Using earth worms for bait and a bamboo pole, spent the afternoon getting an occasional nibble, but not actually catching a single fish. In the end, we bought tilapia from a more experienced fisherman at the pond in order to avoid having to come home empy handed.
    I for one would enjoy reading this article, and look forward to reading about your experiences as you settle into retirement life in the Philippines. Wish’en I was living the dream, Gary

  8. Jay McDowall says

    I saw him on the local spearfishing show here in Hawaii. Well you could have also come to Hawaii, we have plenty of fish and Ilocanos here. My wife is from Laoag, and I have been to Vigan. I heard the surf can be good too.

  9. Jeff says

    Terrific article. I really enjoy you writing style and can tell you really get a kick by fishing. I’m sure it feels good to “bring home the bacon”. Don’t let any comments here bother you. It’s obvious you’ve learned a lot since you started fishing. Overall the type of fishing you do is very friendly to the environment. I hope you continue to write and tell of your experiences.
    Jeff

    • Henry Lamkin says

      Jeff,
      I really appreciate your comment. It was really kind of you to take the time to encourage me. I began to feel like I sure won’t write another article if all people got out of it was some politically incorrect bastard is destroying the ECO system. I love my time in the Philippines and spearfishing has become a great pastime that I enjoy.

      I have been fishing underwater when dynamite has been set off so I am aware of the issues that concern those who feel called upon to pass judgment. In the end part of the point of this magazine is to deal with the cultural differences one encounters in the Philippines.

      There is a big problem all over the world with the potential exhaustion of fish as a natural resource. I wasn’t attempting to confront that issue. I just wanted to share a simple pleasure that actually did a small measure of good for some. The big picture escapes most Filipinos as they struggle with daily life, famine, and poverty.

  10. corjo says

    Fishermen do tend to get easily upset.Myself I rod fish mostly trolling on the pacific side of Samar.Its relaxing and gets my thoughts away from work and family, I have caught some nice fish Marlin Tuna and Dolphin [FISH NOT MAMAL] but I mostly fish for the cool breeze and cold beer.I would love to see how a spear fisher drinks beer while fishing ha ha.But its sadly true plastic bags are now making up a greater part of the catch even in areas where foreighners rarley go

      • corjo says

        Ha ha well no Im not from Samar but I work there a lot.Im an engineer and project lead for the E.U. in region 8.Because of the better communications I tend to work from Tacloban but I do have a place near Catbalogan and a weekender in Calbayog where you are based.
        Its a bit hit and miss when im there, my work tends to take me on frequent trips at the moment im in London heading to Belfast for a few months,but then Im hoping to get back to Catbalogan.

        • RandyL says

          Corjo, well maybe someday in the future if you have time, we could get together for some trolling along the eastern Samar shoreline. Would love to catch some nice game fish. Hopefully I’ll be there by the end of the year or early next spring. Easiest way to contact me is on fb.

  11. John Heitz says

    In my opinion this article and the comments bring out some interesting points. The main thing I feel is we make our own problems for the most part. Most likely the local fishermen and their fathers destroyed the reef and the fish with it. I am also very sure that the poor locals that have a hard time feeding them selves have a average of 5 or 6 children per family. I bet 80% of those fishermen also buy and smoke cancer sticks.

  12. don bullock says

    Very good article Henry. I enjoyed reading it and look forward to reading more of your experiences. Take care and enjoy your retirement here.

  13. PapaDuck says

    Henry,
    Maybe the community should do aquaculture until the local waters are replenished with fish. Good job with article, looking forward to next one. Take care

  14. Mark G. says

    Henry go out and enjoy your spear fishing. Don’t let these naysayers bother you. Lot’s of people have opinions about just about everything now a days and you know what they say about opinions. I enjoyed reading your article and sincerely hope you’ll take the time to write another so those of us who are unable to enjoy the company of friends and family in the Philippines can live vicariously through your adventures. Good fishing!
    Mark G.

  15. Casey says

    Henry- Too bad you can’t hunt for criticizing knuckle heads with that spear gun (they probably taste like ass anyway).

  16. John Leick says

    Such a small world, I lived in Menomonie for two years back in the late 70′s, and a Wisconsinite most of my life. Right now I am in the the cheese city of Plymouth. I head back to the RP next week for a little R&R and some business, then will make my move later next year.

    Nice hobby. I am one of those hunting guys, so I will need to find a new hobby in the Philippines. Never been a fisherman, but the skin diving there is amazing!

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