Dean Martin and dive buddy Steve Hathaway made an attempt at the giant bluefin off New Zealand in a well prepared effort . Dean Recalls his word-record hunt .
A number of years ago , a commercial-fisherman friend told me that he often painted huge blips on his sonar while night fishing off the west coast of South Island , New Zealand . He reckoned they had to be bluefin tuna . His stories triggered my interest in the possibility of spearing one , so my dive mate and I , Steve Hathaway , began to plan a trip . These giants are most often seen off South Island ’ s east coast . While this area is known for its scenic beauty , it is also our most isolated and exposed coastline . Treacherous weather from the south brings huge seas and high winds , often lasting for weeks , sometimes months . One needs only to read the dozens of plaques dedicated to lost fishermen in West Port to begin to appreciate the dangers of hunting in these waters .
Steve talked to local commercial fishermen for months to learn as much as possible about these fish and the dangerous seas they inhabit . He learned that a single tuna could pull down seven , large commercial fishing floats , and they traveled in dangerous company . Each fisherman told a similar story , with a recurring antagonist . Huge mako sharks bit away the entire body of their tuna from the gills down , while they struggled in vain to bring these beasts into the boat . The hapless fishermen were left with nothing but tuna heads for their troubles . These were very sobering conversations , indeed . All the local fishermen agreed , they would never swim in these sharky waters . They thought we were crazy for even considering it . This particular year , there was an unusually high number of makos around . One fisherman described them as being present in “ plague proportions .” Sometimes after these talks , Steve would come away with serious doubts about the venture .
Previously , two bluefin tuna had been boated — 168 and 204 kilograms ( kgs )— by divers who felt that it would be impossible to land a bigger one . They said it was simply too hard for a single diver to lift such a massive fish from the depths . Despite the negative comments and potential of getting eaten , Steve and I resolved to make the attempt .
My contribution to the team was to build the special gear required — a gun and a float that could
handle monster fish . I originally had a concept for an underwater parachute to slow the fish down , but the thought of getting tangled in extra lines nixed that idea . Instead , I decided to modify a simple Boogie Board by adding a solid wood backing , designed to handle the stress of the board getting pulled through the water at waterskiing speeds . I added a triple harness , which I hoped would keep it level as the fish pulled it through the water .
The guns were another story . Being a “ build it yourself ” guy , I modified my 20-year-old , homebuilt gun by doubling its length and adding seven 18-mm rubbers , along with a Riffe shaft and a Steve Alexander slip tip . After the first test exploded the trigger mechanism under the load of 700 pounds , I cut a new mechanism from some old 318 stainless steel . Our next practice shots revealed that , while we now had a very accurate gun , the recoil was so strong it bruised our hands . We solved this problem by adding a Tommy-Gun-like handle for better maneuverability and shock absorption . Our gear was finally ready .
I trained in the pool each morning to avoid possible leg cramps , should fighting the fish take ages . The excitement was unbelievable ! We talked on the phone several times a day for six months and continued to prepare our gear , attempting to cover every possible scenario to ensure safety . Steve booked a boat with the skipper that started the commercial fishery for bluefin tuna in New Zealand . He shared with us many of his encounters and experiences with these fish , but he remained dubious about the possibility of landing one with a spear .
Soon , hunt day was upon us , and we sailed to the zone . Upon finding a fishy area , we ground bait from the boat , hoping to get these fish within shooting range . The chum worked well to pull in the odd fish , but the water was filled with fluffy white plankton , and the visibility was limited to 15 meters . With the water clarity obscured , the large , camouflaged tuna blended into the background . Our sinking white bait looked like small flickering lights contrasting brightly against the dark water . Frequently , while diving into the chum , a “ light ” blinked out as a large fish came from virtually anywhere to engulf the ground bait . Quite quickly , all the bait disappeared ; time to jump back into the boat and try again .
I was lucky to be first up to dive , with Steve on my