Still carrying his 130-centimeter speargun , Gaspar fired once more at a large tuna — this time in self defense .
Even today , when I think about this , I get chills . I had been in the water for at least two hours when I spotted a bluefin about 12 meters away and about 2 meters deep . Its side was toward me and it swam slowly . I stayed completely still admiring this beautiful fish . I was totally impressed with its size and the grace with which it swam .
Suddenly , the fish turned toward me , swimming very fast . Realizing the danger , I aimed my gun . When I pulled the trigger , I knew I wasn ’ t going to capture or kill it . In spite of its speed on a collision course with me , it wasn ’ t at proper range for a kill . However , my intentions were only to divert it . I knew it wanted to bump me .
The fish leaped out of the water and almost came down on top of me . When I think of this , one vivid image stands out : the face of the bluefin so big and so close with a large opened mouth and lots of line ( almost like spaghetti ) floating all around in the violently disturbed waters .
The day finally came when Gaspar received his Riffe gun equipped with three bands and a shaft with a detachable spearhead . The same day he took his untested gun into the waters 400 meters deep off Silveira Island .
It was 4 p . m . when I arrived in my 18-foot Boston Whaler . I couldn ’ t feel the current and the water was crystal clear . The words of an old fisherman friend spoken that morning echoed in my head . “ Paulo , remember you ’ ll only catch one when you fully appreciate its strength . Be careful — that fish is a demon .”
Just as I was returning to the surface after a short dive , it appeared in front , just below me at 5 to 6 meters . At the time , I must have been 3 meters deep , moving very slowly and without returning to the surface . Even though I desperately needed to come up for air , I couldn ’ t lose this chance and I went back down a little . I made minor adjustments in my wrist for a good bulls-eye shot . My heart was racing . At the moment it went past me , the tip of my spear must have been 1 meter from its head . I fired . My shot landed 25 centimeters behind its great eye . Instantly , the great tuna stopped , opened its mouth as its tail trembled rapidly in short motions . Finally I can breathe ! I was amazed at the amount of blood pouring from its mouth and gills .
I swam toward it quickly , grabbed it by its pectoral fins and with much difficulty swam it to the surface . Its shaking tail helped propel us . I was immensely worried that the fish would emerge from its stunned state . I was afraid it might strike me or tangle me in the spearline .
Still in the water , I grabbed the 2.5-meter line I had previously prepared and tethered the tuna to the boat . Only then did the tuna regain some energy and began thrashing its tail about in the water and spinning the boat around . After what seemed like an eternity , but probably was only a minute , the fish died .
It is difficult for me to decide which was the most thrilling part of this adventure . I don ’ t know if it was when I first sighted this grand fish , when I fired , when I grabbed it , or when I saw it hoisted on the pier . One thing is for sure : it was the most overwhelming experience , and one that I will never forget
New archaeological evidence suggests that bluefin tuna may have played a pivotal role in the southern migration of ancient Greeks from the mainland to the Aegean Sea . Finding large quantities of tuna bones and spears at archaeological sites , anthropologists theorize that ancient Greeks followed the migrating tuna , where they corralled them in bays with crude nets , and then speared them .
Paulo Gaspar with his 655-pound ( 297.2 kilogram ) bluefin tuna taken in the Azores .
Photo by Doug Perrine