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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.)
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”