Dog Day Afternoon: An Epic Spearfishing Tale from Taveuni

For as long as humans have existed, the older generation has looked upon the new generation with dismay and wonders “what is it coming too?” However, every once in a while we meet a young person who possesses the qualities that give us hope for the future of mankind.

For as long as humans have existed, the older generation has looked upon the new generation with dismay and wonders “what is it coming too?” However, every once in a while we meet a young person who possesses the qualities that give us hope for the future of mankind.

This was the case when Joshua Johansen from Kona, Hawaii rolled up to Makaira. We had just had a couple from our own generation check out early because it was raining, making us wonder what our generation is coming too? Who would have thought, one would ever get rain on a tropical island nicknamed the Garden Island.

But the sudden vacancy turned out to be a blessing for everyone. Joshua is the nicest young man one would ever want to meet, wholesome, soft spoken, well mannered, humble, considerate, a pride to his family and his generation and yet below that mild and personable exterior, he has guts to spare.

He had been on a remote island with some friends in pursuit of what they promised to be some good blue water hunting. They were staying in some pretty basic accommodations in a woven Bamboo hut, with an outhouse, in worse torrential rains that chased the faint-hearted tourist away from Taveuni, that were luxuriating in far better conditions. In that kind of weather every insect is looking for the comfort of an easy access bamboo hut and the charge was led by brigades of famished mosquitoes.

All of this was actually fine with Joshua, if the fishing was good.

After a few weeks on a steady diet of roots, fruits, leaves and the largest Dogtooth Tuna they saw in the murky river fed waters was about a foot long (which they devoured right on the boat from lack of protein) his survival instinct kicked in and he wisely decided to go on reconnaissance to bluer and more fertile waters..

He read the story in HFN about Rob Torelli’s time in Taveuni with Capt. John, so he found boats, buses, ferries and taxis until he reached the promised shores. He left most of his equipment with his friends who opted to stay and he arrived with only the bare bones of equipment, just his fins, goggles, wet suit and a Rob Allen 140 centimeter spear gun.
He also arrived with a great attitude, saying, “I have come all this way to Fiji, I just want to have a look around, check it out, since I don’t have all of my equipment, whether I catch anything or not, I will be happy”. After listening to his previous escapades, Capt. John Llanes were pretty confident; they could probably supersede Joshua’s expectations. But even they had no idea to the degree of excitement that was yet to come.

Realizing that Joshua was on his own, and that Pete our usual free dive guide was off island, Capt. John had mustered up a local Fijian, Manu to accompany as some kind of back up and to work the flashers that Torelli had left behind. So they set out the tow ropes and went drifting along the ledge.

His first fish was a 25 lb Walu, by this time Joshua had some proper food put into his system so he didn’t need to devour it on the boat, using it instead as palu (bait), which on this particular day proved ineffective because the surface current was carrying it away.

His second fish was a 30 lb Doggie that he stoned, being without his back up equipment he knew he had to always take the best head shot that he could and he never failed to accomplish that. But, isn’t that the way, while he had that one on, two 80 lb doggies came right up to him.
While they were traveling to the next recon spot, they saw a sailfish free jumping nearby, being fishermen and seeing a fish, they had no other choice but to load up the 50’s and see if they could troll it up. In a few minutes Josh was hooked up to really nice 100 lb sailfish, who gave them some great aerial action.

Twenty minutes later, they had it on the boat and ready to release. Although it is highly unlikely Joshua will give up his passion for free diving, but it was fun experience for him to catch and release his first sailfish.. For someone who was committed to reconnaissance, he was pretty buzzed by the end of the day.

On the first day he was getting the lay of the sea wired. The second day was awesome. Assuming that Joshua’s mother, Moana might be reading this, perhaps you want to skip down or if you continue on, please know that there was no other way he could have handled the situation, he really does have the talent for blue water hunting, but being the nice young man he is, he seriously doesn’t want you to worry.

Joshua did his free dive down to about 120 feet when he saw a 70 lb Dogtooth Tuna that disappeared into the abyss. He went down for another dive to about 130 and saw 3 Dog Tooth Tuna’s one was a donkey, one was big and yet another was noticeably bigger then that one. So he drifted and hung, waiting for the perfect shot.

Then the smallest of the three monsters came towards him and offered him a flawless profile at about 5 feet away. Joshua took what should have been a perfect straight through 60 degree diagonal angled head shot and luckily he slacked the drag.

Instead of being stoned, this Doggie went ballistic, and made a blasting run, taking out line and Joshua was struggling to hang on and turn the Doggies head. It is truly man and fish, a purist experience because he has no buoys or anything, just raw bare bones equipment.

During the skirmish, the spear must have shifted and the Doggie abruptly and thankfully quivered and went stiff. Joshua gets to the surface and nonchalantly says to the guys,” Big Doggie”. They have no idea he actually had the Big Doggie leaving them wondering, what he is doing dinking around on the surface instead of going for it.

Unbeknownst to them, Joshua is not amusing himself on the surface but is bringing the Doggie up from the depths, and they see color and realize he has a monster Dogtooth Tuna, the largest one any of them have ever seen, easily over a hundred pounds. Just as he gets it to him, suddenly, it revives, lights up, and goes screaming past ballistic and into nuclear. Holy Moly! The guys on the boat are riveted in shock thinking where did all of this instantaneous frenzy come from?

Joshua has no choice; before this insane monster turns the tables on him with those gnashing teeth or drags him into the deep. His only option is to leap on its back, wraps his legs around it in a Jiu Jitsu hold, shoves his left hand into the gill plate, pulls out his knife and starts stabbing it through the top of its skull. He has assumed the position of a bull rider on this fish which is one of the most powerful fish pound for poune with the added thrill of large flashing dagger like fish teeth.

He has no idea how shocking this riotous scene looks like from the boat, which is primarily gnashing teeth, wild thrashing, white water is flying in every direction from the turbulence created by their violent life and death struggle. Joshua hangs on and keeps scrapping with it, trying to keep the jaws away from him and dispatch the murderous fish as quickly as possible.

He continues to hammer the fish in the head. Capt John wants to throw a gaff into it, but he can’t for fear of hitting Joshua because the whirling action is too fast and furious, and there is nothing anyone can do at this point. Manu his Fijian helper was stunned and riveted until Capt. John yelled, “Do something!! Help him out!!!” The only thing Manu could do was grab the tail, which was not that effective, it only made Joshua worry that he may accidentally stab Manu while he was grappling with the fish. They continue to whip in every direction and every which way but loose, until finally one of the thrusting stabs took the full and final effect and it was over with.

Just to make sure Capt John threw in the gaff and boated the fish and Joshua, who is unbelievably still in one piece. Everyone is panting and out of breath just from the sheer adrenaline rush of the whole scene.
When they could finally talk the first thing out of their mouth was, “Joshua you are one “mean” character! We never thought we would ever see anything like that in our life!” You should have seen yourself, riding that fish like a bucking bronco and how in the heck were you able to keep that fish up without it dragging you into the depths or busting you up.”.
Joshua said, “I don’t know, I just automatically slammed my hand in the gill plate and pulled his head back to keep control of it, wrapped my legs around him in a death grip and did everything possible to get it over with.

They exclaimed. Over with! You should have seen yourself going 280 Psycho style at it with that knife, white water shooting everywhere, you two were flying one way, then shooting off the other way, and doing 360’s in between, it was one mean scene, I wish we had a video camera.”
Being sensitive fishermen, the next thing they did was start laughing hysterically from the shock, nervous tension, and the sheer bizzareness of the scene of Joshua riding hell on leather on the back of a gnarly monster fish.

But when you look at the scenario, he didn’t have much choice, his spear was firmly embedded, the Doggie went aggro, if he let it go, there was no guarantee it wouldn’t attack him. It was through quick thinking and reaction time that Joshua realized the very smartest thing he could do was jump on its back which is the safest place and ride it to the bitter end. Thank goodness he has also has the Gomes Ranch cowboy genes in his blood. But he might want to consider riding the bull rodeo circuit in the future after that experience. At least they ring a bell and you can jump off and the clowns jump in

What makes this experience even more remarkable aside from the lack of all the technological bells and whistles, and, being forced to ride a big fish that pound for pound is one of the strongest and most veracious, had Joshua speared this Dog Tooth Tuna a few months prior, it would have been a world record for a free dive catch.

It weighed in at 60 kg or 132 lbs, it was over 5 ft long with a solid girth of 3 and a half feet. When someone shoots something right through the head and the spear is protruding through the skull to the other side by a foot or more and instead of instantly dying, the fish reacts by reaching untold infuriating heights, you have to respect that fish.

When the mouth was opened during the photos ops, it appears that during the throes of death the Doggie was trying to regurgitate a huge trigger fish. No one is sure whether this occurred because the Doggie was stressed or whether as they guys like to tease Joshua that he had such a powerful scissors hold around its large belly, that he squeezed out its lunch. But that biological function, certainly didn’t slow down its fight one little bit. In honor of his heroics the spot is now named Joshua’s corner.

Joshua had the experience of a lifetime, but he also had some helpful hints for future Blue Water Hunters that come to Taveuni. In his humble way, he would be the first one to say he is not an expert, since this is his first time seeing several of these species of fish and coming to Taveuni in search of this highly prized target species. These hints were from his observations.

1. I noticed that if the Doggies are chased they run away to the abyss but if the diver hangs out, they will come and check you out and hopefully offer the right profile, because obviously you don’t want to hit this fish anywhere but in the head.

2. The sites are relatively close, beginning at around a 20 minute boat ride. There are an abundance of all kinds of reef fish, Walu, Dog Tooth Tunas, Wahoo, Napoleon Wrasse, Sweetlips, Coral Trout, smaller reef fish, and Hapu’pu. I saw one on the bottom that weighed at least 150 lbs and looked like a Volkswagen parked in the cave. (Joshua decided to leave it alone because it was just looking at him with such innocent trusting eyes)

3. In Hawaii, free divers generally have their deep water dives wired. They know when they hit the cold water they have come upon the thermocline at around 60 ft. That is what makes Taveuni a little spooky, because the water is warm, you don’t use up as much oxygen to stay warm and the visibility is up to 120 feet on even less than favorable conditions, making it easy to go to deeper depths. So one needs to be in fairly good condition… (Not to mention in case they have to ride a ballistic fish)

4. Some of the spots were infested with Dog Tooth Tuna and there is definitely a world record here. It is a good spot to employ a conversationalist approach that any Blue Water Hunters be limited to one Dog Tooth Tuna and other less prolific species to preserve this awesome fishery for everyone’s enjoyment and there are enough here for a free diver to take their time and wait for a trophy fish. (We wholeheartedly agree with him)

5. It was a pleasure staying at Makaira with good accommodations, facilities and going with Capt. John who is an experienced Captain and knows where the fish are and the needs of Blue Water Hunters and all their staff really tries to take good care of you.

Joshua also left many fine memories at Makaira, that will also last a lifetime, and a story that is still making it’s rounds on Taveuni, since that was the biggest Dog Tooth Tuna any of the locals had ever seen, but please… since we know you are coming back again, next time bring back up and all the bells and whistles for the sake of your Mother and preserving our aged hearts. But you made us all really proud and you represented our native Hawaii homeland.

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