Even when you’re spearfishing, you still gotta go to know.
On a choppy day late last month with dirty water and poor visibility when conditions weren’t actually the greatest, Dustin Pitre and Coty Cheramie, both of Galliano, headed out of Moran’s Marina in Fourchon and ventured to Grand Isle Block 41B to do some spearfishing while free diving.
Cheramie, an experienced free diver and spearfisherman, served as captain on the trip and brought Pitre out to the rig, but never entered the water himself.
Free divers don’t use any air tanks, but practice holding their breaths for long periods underwater. According to Cheramie, many free divers can quickly make it down to between 50 and 100 feet, and can then spear a fish and return to the surface in only about 90 seconds.
But before starting a dive, they perform ‘breathe-up’ exercises to lower their heart rates, relax and prepare their bodies to stay underwater for extended periods.
However, on this trip on May 23, Pitre didn’t even have to hold his breath — and wound up with the mangrove snapper of a lifetime.
“Dustin was at the surface, and the fish was 2 feet underneath the surface. It was on the landing deck of the oil rig,” said Cheramie, who was talking on his phone when the improbable shot took place. “He jumped into the water, swam to the rig and held onto it to make his breathe-up.
“While he was doing his breathe-up, he saw the fish in the pipes. He said he didn’t even swim down. He just shot it. He was snorkeling — he was breathing when he shot the fish.”
Pitre knew instantly the big mangrove he saw was something special, and he shot the fish at close range with his SEAC pneumatic speargun, Cheramie said.
“He knew right away that was the biggest mangrove he had seen before,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of mangroves come over the side of my boat, but I’ve never seen one like that.
“I thought it was a cubera …. I knew it was a world record fish. We put it on a tape measure and it measured 31 inches, and I knew right away because I had shot a 15-pounder that was 27 inches long.”
Officially, the big mangrove measured 31 ¾ inches, with a girth of 23 ¼ inches. At Moran’s Marina, it tipped the certified scales there at 19.4 pounds and has already been certified by a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist on Grand Isle.
Pending final approval by the International Underwater Spearfishing Association, Pitre’s big fish will become the new spearfishing world record for mangrove snapper.
“The mangrove snapper is by far the hardest fish to spear, it’s an elusive fish,” Cheramie said. “A red snapper will come right to your face, but a mangrove won’t do that, especially a mature female like that.
“She’ll typically stay hidden.”