By: John Tolmie
The first Saturday of August I awoke to a cloudy day that threatened rain and wind. I should have expected it as most days of any spearfishing competition tend to produce bad weather! But me and the four other freedivers that had traveled from Long Island and New Hampshire were all giddy and smiles in anticipation of the dive day ahead. Jimmy Gagnon, Eric Faust, Jimmy Blaze and Matt Ramsay loaded our spearfishing gear in the bed of the truck and towed Matt’s brand new 22’ Panga to Point Judith Rhode Island. Matt, the owner of South Shore Pangas, imports these rugged and efficient boats from Columbia and today would be her maiden voyage on the briny New England waters. These sleek, thin and light weight platforms are favored all over the world by spearfishing enthusiasts. There is plenty of room for stowage and due the pangas efficient design it consumes a smaller portion of gas that a typical boat of its size would use, freeing up even more deck space. The gunwalls are also low, perfect for a freeddiver to ingress and egress from the boat without the use of a ladder.
At our destination we backed the boat into the water and cast off headed past the fishing fleet moored along the rocky shoreline. We made our way out of Point Judith and through the breakwaters and seawalls of the quaint fishing town enroute to Block Island for a day of diving. We had all signed up for a spearfishing competition for the 8th Annual Tristate Skindivers Species Meet. TheTristate SkinDivers Spearfishing Club was started almost a decade ago by a few ex-Navy Divers and it has grown into the largest spearfishing club in the North East. The rules were simple for this competition. All fish were to be taken in Rhode Island waters via breath-hold spearfishing.
The trip out to Block Island was rough as we saw four foot swells, rain and wind. The panga took the seas well and Matt captained the boat admirably on her first sea trial. Once we arrived at the belly of the island we decided to hunt the reefs. We didn’t have a fish finder or bottom sounder and we were navigating via hand held GPS, so the day was to be challenging to say the least! I slid into my wetsuit and donned my mask, fins snorkel, weights and went over the side with my speargun. On my first dive I speared a nice triggerfish hovering next to a boulder. Triggerfish ride up the Gulf Stream to feed on the abundant life in the warm summer New England waters and they are absolutely delicious! I saw a few more triggerfish but I pass them by. I was in a species tournament and my goal was too land several different types of fish. In the low visibility I spotted a school of curious striped bass materializing out of the gloom. They looked like ghosts blending into the cloudy water as I lay motionless on the bottom holding my breath. As they sped along, I picked the biggest fish, pulled the trigger and was grateful that my shot was true. I pulled in the line and on the end of the spear was a nice 36” bass! Together with the bass and the trigger I was able to harvest five species for the tournament including a scup, a black seabass and a tautog. The other divers did well too and we celebrated our catches as we motored to the weigh-in.
The weigh-in was amazing! The 98 registered athletes did an outstanding job braving the day’s angry seas. The raffle table was full of awesome prizes and the awards were works of art. The club presidents Mike Landau and Mike Meyer did an outstanding job coordinating the event. Scientists from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management were invited to weigh and take samples of the fish harvested during the day. Mike Landau often comments how the Tristate Skindivers gravitate towards sustainability and cooperation to help better protect our fisheries. The Winners of the competition humbly accepted their awards and the crowd of competitors all lifted their voices and clapped for those whose luck and skill landed them in the victors circle. Though I didn’t place in the competition this year I was proud to be a part of a great group of friends that respect the ocean and give back to causes that matter to them. In true diver fashion the profit of $3,000 from the event was donated to Boston’s own Dana Farber.
For more information about this event and spearfishing in New England check out the Tristate Skindivers Spearfishing Club page on Facebok and visit NewEnglandFreedive.com
All photo credits: John and Kate Tolmie