Every year I write a fish stories column that usually entails going offshore on Boundless Boat Charters and returning with a tale. This year was different as a beauty of a story presented itself to me as I was taking in the sunset at Beacon’s Beach.
I heard a sound I was very familiar with a very large fish hitting the deck of a boat, or in this case, the pavement behind me. I turned around to see Danny Sheehan, a 15-year-old student at Coastal Academy, holding a massive 40-pound yellowtail he had just speared in the kelp beds.
Sheehan’s catch created quite a commotion, and everyone wanted a look at this beautiful fish. I thought, “Well, hot damn, here is my fish story!” With that, Danny shares his epic adventure and some of the resulting meals.
LTP: How long have you been spearfishing, and what drew you to it?
Danny: I’ve been spearfishing for four years. When I first started, I used a Hawaiian sling or pole spear, hunting small fish such as corbina and spot fin croakers living in the sandy shallows. Three years ago, my dad bought me my first speargun. It was a two-band Omer euro and served me well for around a year. During that year, I excelled in hunting sandfish and started going after some reef fish, such as calico bass and sheepshead, and landed my first halibut, a prized fish because of its excellent eating quality.
What got me into spearfishing was my dad. I will never forget running outside to see what he caught when he returned from a dive. He’d tell me what it was and how we would eat it.
LTP: Tell me about the equipment involved and the process of finding fish.
Danny: For smaller reef fish and halibut hunting, I use a Riffe Metal Tech. I use a big three-band wooden Rife speargun for bigger fish like the yellowtail. I use a 5 mm Mako dive wetsuit, which is very important in winter and a weight belt with 11 pounds on it. Next, a good mask is critical — one that doesn’t have a transparent part around the eye holes is preferred so that sunlight can’t get through. We use long dive fins, which provide more power with less effort, and a float with a floating line.
Finding the fish can either be extremely tricky or pretty easy. While hunting halibut, they are so well camouflaged that it’s nearly impossible to spot them. With bigger fish like white sea bass and yellowtail, you go on the right tide, be in the right area, and hope you find them.
LTP: Besides Beacons, what other spots do you fish, and do you do different types of fishing?
Danny: Seaside Reef, which is good for halibut but can also hold good-sized calicos and white sea bass. Sometimes we go up to Dana Point and dive to look for yellowtail and white sea bass. I also fish freshwater for bass, bluegill and saltwater for reef fish. In the summer, we visit my grandparents in Colorado, and I fly fish for trout.
LTP: Tell me about how the Beacon’s yellowtail experience unfolded.
Danny: My friend Kaden and I were diving in the kelp bed for almost three hours. I came upon this channel between two sections of kelp, and as I was looking through the strands, there were two of the biggest yellowtails I had ever seen. They were moving quickly, so I wasted no time, aimed, and shot the fish, then it disappeared and started ripping line off the reel on my speargun. Zzzzzzzzzzzz! was the sound it made.
When it took off, I surfaced and yelled to Kaden, “Yellowtail!” “Yellowtail!” And he came swimming over quickly. All this time, the fish was still running and wrapping itself up in the kelp stalks at the bottom. I told him to grab my gun while I took him to get a second shot into the fish.
But I was too excited, and my heart rate was high, so when I dove down, I got maybe 20 feet and then went straight back up. It was wrapped up about 40 feet deep. When diving that deep, you must be calm and breathe up for a while so your body isn’t using as much oxygen. It was challenging to get my breathing under control, but when I did, I went down with Kaden’s gun and reached the bottom but still didn’t see the fish.
When I came up, the fish was still running, and then it occurred to me that Kaden’s gun didn’t have a float or reel attached. If I shot it at the fish, it could take off running, and I’d lose the gun. So I went down with my dive knife, ready to dispatch the fish and cut the tangled kelp.
I kept following my reel line, and after about six dives, I finally had eyes on the fish. It was a monster- I couldn’t believe my eyes. About another three dives later, I went down and grabbed the fish and started to pull it to the surface. But it was so tangled in the kelp that I could only get it about 30 feet up before I had to drop it and go to the surface for air.
Then after another dive, I went down, found the fish, grabbed it, and swam to the surface with the fish in my arms. Kaden came over, and we high-fived and celebrated — trying to wrap our minds around the size of the fish in front of us.
LTP: What are your favorite ways to prepare and eat yellowtail?
Danny: Poke bowls because of the incredible flavors infused into the fish. Next is fish tacos because you really can’t go wrong with some lime, pico de gallo, and veggies. Sashimi with soy sauce is so good and brings out the fish’s natural flavors. Fish nuggets are like chicken nuggets except with fish and sprinkled with Tajin, then teriyaki yellowtail and rice.
LTP: What are your favorite local restaurants for seafood?
Danny: I usually go to our local taco shop Kotijas for a good fish taco. But for shellfish and crustaceans like lobster and crab, Joe’s Crab Shack in Oceanside and finally, Fish 101, where everything is great!
And there you have it, folks. A great story from a young waterman who has learned the skill of spearfishing from his dad and is following in his footsteps. And thanks to Danny and his mother, Lena, for providing all the details on the fish story and the following meals.