The Freediver's Diary

"Guns?? Guns, you said?"

"Yes sir. That’s what I said. Guns"

I was trying the reverse psychology technique. Learnt it from a 10 years old kid’s quote "If you want your parents to buy you a dog, first ask for an elephant"

You have to admit it: a single tourist with six pieces of luggage weighing over 75 lb. each, should expect even the friendliest customs officer to investigate more thoroughly. I was supposed to really have 5 pieces. But the security officer in Montreal’s Dorval airport insisted on accompanying me to the Air Canada counter and have me check my loaded rubber weight belt. Some Einstein at management, very seriously explained to me and to the security officer, that the belt could be used as a hijack weapon, while drawing a large circle over his head, in a mimic of David stoning Goliath with a sling. Yeah right. I really would like to see you doing this all the way to the pilot’s cabin with a 22 lb lead weight belt, Arnold! Anyway, I had to check the belt. Luckily they didn’t charge me the usual 150$ extra per piece.

The 2 X 7 ft long gun bags contained 9 spearguns and 24 spears. Guns between 60 and 120 cms and spears between 90 and 180 cms. I wasn’t too sure of the water and hunting conditions, so I didn’t take any chance. I brought almost all my spearguns.

After the initial moment of panic, the highest ranking customs official finally showed up and asked me about the guns. As I started to explain they were rubber band powered arbaletes, the tension went down and they just let me go through.

"You should have said this was only fishing equipment! Have a nice stay in Lebanon sir!"

"Thanks!" I replied, while thinking to myself "Sure. I’d say fishing equipment and when they see spearguns, then I’m in a world of trouble. Ha!"

Dive hard

I was hungry .. starving for some extreme freediving and underwater hunting. But as the days went by, I grew more and more frustrated. True I was practicing fulfilling freediving and cardio-workout, up current and deep.

But I wasn’t getting any decent fish. Some days, I would get enchanted by some new successful techniques I would develop, like calling the fish and getting them into shooting range in impossible situations. But still, we’re talking smaller fish. Minnows by U.S. and Canada standards.

Then, my best dive spots have been destroyed by construction. Marinas were built on top of them. I had to discover new places. But it is so difficult, because of the nature of the Lebanese sea shore itself. The drop off is abrupt. You could be in 35 ft of water, 10 ft of the shore . Then 20 more feet further and the depth goes to 60 ft. Swim out less than quarter of a mile and you’re in 500 ft of water! It wasn’t easy to find some diveable spots with fish, but the good news is that you don’t really need a boat either.

One week later, I started developing a severe sinus problem, which slowed me down to the point where I couldn’t dive anymore. Meanwhile, I started visiting the local fish markets and fishermen harbours. Fishing wasn’t so good and lots of imported species were displayed in the markets. Mainly from

Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Sudan and the Persian Gulf. Bad news. Am I gonna just sit there and complain about my bad luck or "create" a new fishing ground?

Blue water hunting never existed in Lebanon. There is no such thing as a blue water gun, a bungee line, a foam injected float and so on … heck, I couldn’t even find a 200 lb test mono line! Whenever I’d ask for it, the classical response I’d get from the shop owner is: "There is no such fish in the Lebanese waters, friend. You are not in America here!"

No such fish, uh? We’ll see about that.

I had been hearing of boaters catching loads of albacore tunas off the cities of Tripoli, Tyre and Sa??da. Largest were said to be in the 20 to 25 lb. I asked about the blue fin tunas but the word was that these were to be avoided, because wherever they’re feeding, albacore won’t bite. They start getting thick when the albacore season ends. Albacore starts end of August and leaves our waters around the last week of October. Then the blue fins can play freely until January.

Once after a successful spearfishing day, I drew the crowds with my catch, at the White Beach, in the coastal town of Kfar Abida. One young man, Makram, came to me and told me that at this very moment his friends were on his boat catching albacore.

He said that one of them dove in the middle of the feeding school and speared an albie with a 70 cm pneumatic gun. The spear was attached to the fishing rod of his buddy on the boat! They lost the fish, of course.

(they were in constant communication with their cellphones, following the situation closely 🙂

He made me laugh so hard, it triggered his curiosity.

"Sure I could land albacore with my speargun without the need for a rod and reel to play the fish! I have my own reel attached to the gun"

He didn’t seem to understand it was possible. He couldn’t even imagine how, I guess.

Dive Harder

Last week, I got a phone call from Makram, the young man whom I had met on the beach. He’s a nice guy who learn freediving and spearfishing in Greece, where he lived for over 12 years during the war in Lebanon.

"A river of tunas … I swear" His voice was trembling with excitement "I took a shot at one of them with a pneumatic gun but it was a lot further than I had thought" he added

"And did you attach the spear to the line of a rod and reel?" I replied with mocking tone

"No. I attached the spear to a rope, attached to a boat fender" and then quickly asked me if I wouldn’t mind joining him on the boat to show him how to hunt tunas. Luckily, the week before, I had received a shipment from France with my Scupper Pro kayaks and 3 large Baywatch style, orange plastic floats, filled with anti-compression foam. I had my single band 120 and 110cm long Carbon guns, lots of Tahitian spears, one threaded 160 cm spear and one slip tip, I felt ready for tunas 🙂

So we decided to meet 2 hours later, at the Halat-Sur-Mer Marina (right near the Phoenician city of Byblos, or Jbeil, the 6000 years oldest city in the world)

The ride to the tunas feeding spot was less than 15 minutes! The bait was jumping all around us and the seagulls having a feast on top of the blue fins. What a sight!

3 times I jumped in the water, but they were so spooky and fast I couldn’t even take a good look at one of them. The sea started getting rough, it was late in the afternoon and we had to go back. But I promised Makram I’d come back in a couple of days and he’d have his sashimi.