Lai to me

Posted: April 18, 2011 in Diary of a freediver
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Anna likes Barracuda Bay (not its real name) because it has a tiny beach. When I say tiny I’m talking about a patch of sand no bigger than a kiddie swimming pool. Such are the hardships of living on the youngest of all the Hawaiian Islands; proper beaches are few and far between. Needless to say, she had hounded me all week to go back so that she could get in (via the tiny beach) to try out her new underwater camera housing, again. So we loaded up the truck and headed back down to BB.

This time I was better prepared for my blue water excursion, electing to bring my smaller blue water gun (with which I have a love/hate relationship with) instead of my reef gun, because the former has more range and power. Instead of spoons I brought a half dozen, ten inch long bait fish which are irresistible to anything with lips (including myself) that I planned on tossing out, ala the spoons, to lure the bigger game. Known as opelu, these bait fish are commonly named mackerel shad, and if they weren’t so damned hard to shoot, I would hunt them exclusively because they’re so tasty!

The conditions were much nicer today than they were last week. There was no noticeable swell, and despite a rising tide and a full moon, there weren’t any freakish tides or otherwise petulant surges to add to the mix. The sun was out, there was no wind and standing on the rocky outcropping that overlooked my entry point, with my polarized sunglasses on, I could see clearly to the bottom. Things were looking good.

I suited up and jumped in, letting the gentle action of the tides carry me out past the inshore reef toward the sandy bottom of the outside, toward blue water.

One BIG secret to any sort of diving (whether it be blue water or reef) and landing fish is to not act like a human. Meaning, don’t splash around and hyperventilate into your snorkel. Don’t point your gun at everything that swims by and absolutely DO NOT swim with cadence. Fish don’t swim with any sort of measured rhythm, they dart here and there, sometimes they stop and nibble on something, or they hide under a rock. Never do they just swim about in a straight line. If you plan on landing any fish, neither should you. Let the current take you a bit. Kick one leg gently and drift, then kick with the other leg. Stop and just float. Then, maybe for a short burst, kick with both feet, before you stop and drift along with the current. This way the fish won’t get (as) spooked when they see you and may even swim closer to investigate. It takes a very long time to uncover such knowledge, believe me, I used to swim like a motorboat and often wondered why the fish were never around.

Today the haze layer that plagued me last week was minimal. Floating at the surface I could see all the way down to the bottom, some sixty feet below. Sixty feet is considered shallow for blue water, but it is blue water nonetheless. You know when you’re in blue water, because like I had mentioned earlier, something changes in the clarity of the water and you suddenly feel as if you are hovering in the center of an enormous blue room. The viz was so good that I could see striations in the sand from the action of the ocean; row after row of perfectly uniformed lines like a mountain range as seen from space. I yanked the first opelu from my float and tossed it into the briny sea.

It floated for a moment at the surface before it began to descend, slowly toward the bottom. This fish was a teaser. Generally, unless there are fish within the immediate vicinity, the first fish will go unnoticed. When using fish or spoons to draw in bigger fish it is a good idea to also bring along a bag of palu, or chum. This is generally made by chopping up fish, squid or octopus or utilizing the innards of cleaned fish, mixing with cans of mackerel and flour and making a kind of ‘dough’ that you can form into softball sized globules and toss out with your spoons or whole fish. I didn’t have time to make palu today, so I went without. My bad.

The teaser fish settled to the bottom where it languished in the sand as if it were sleeping off a hard night of high seas living. A couple of triggerfish swam by and tried to wake him up but got nowhere, so began to nibble on the sleeping fishes face. Since most fish don’t sleep in the daytime, these triggerfish were obviously haters. But this is all a good thing. Feeding fish attract other fish, thus the Byzantine complexities of the inner workings of fishdom are revealed. I used this opportunity to toss out another opelu.

An uku, or blue-green snapper passes by underneath me as I tossed the fish out. As the opelu began to sink I remembered that I brought along Anna’s small underwater camera and decided to try and snap some shots. Pulling it from my float I immediately questioned my reasoning for bringing the gadget, as my gloves were ill equipped to push the fantastically small power button. For what seemed like forever I wrestled with the camera until it finally came on. When I looked back into the water, I wish that I had done so sooner.

The two opelu were lolling back and forth in the sand, like two drunken college roomies, surrounded by a horde of trigger fish intent on, I don’t know what, when gliding into view, a few feet off the bottom, like a pair of brunette Victorian-era wigs, came a pair of octopus. Octopus (I am refraining from using the word octopi, because this ain’t no nature show, dammit!) do not swim with their arms, nor do they swim like a spider would walk, nor do they swim like a fish. Octopus, when not being chased, curl their legs, flatten their bodies, and just sort of glide through the water like a flying carpet. It is a very regal and purposeful sight to see and if you squint just right you can imagine a flying wig.

Wasting no time, the pair of octopi (crap!) hovered over the baitfish before enveloping them (each ‘pus taking its own fish) and then proceeded to swim away with my bait. I tried to get a picture of it all but since they were fifty feet below me, and the camera had a max depth of twenty feet, by the time I reached twenty-five feet down I realized that I could damage the camera and so managed to only snap a picture of one of my fins, I think.

After twenty minutes, nothing of note had materialized and I was out of opelu. I tried to dive on the uku but it since it was still a baby– maybe fifteen inches long, maybe three pounds– I decided to head into the shore and see if I could find some action. On my way in I saw the only barracuda of the day, which was the same punk that had laughed at me last week and he must have recognized my displeasure at being ridiculed because the moment our eyes met he sped off into the deep.

Patrolling the inshore zone I came across a nice sized lai (queenfish) that I took a late shot on and hit. Lai are an interesting fish because of how they were utilized for the purpose of fishing, back in the day as well as now.

A member of the Jack family, lai are a top water fish meaning that they spend a majority of their lives near the surface of the water where they eat tiny fish fry and other tasty bits of whatever it is that they like to eat. They are silver in color and it is this shiny and resilient skin that makes them ideal for creating fishing lures with. Did I also mention that they are very delicious, best eaten raw? Well, they are.

Anyway, once the skin is removed from the fish and dried in the sun it becomes not unlike cowhide, that is, leather-like. Cutting the skin into strips and securing it to a hook is how the old timers would use the lai skin. Cast and retrieve fishing (colloquially referred to as ‘whipping’) is a popular style among shore fishers and given its strength and (if cut correctly) tendency to move through the water like a slender silver fish, lai skin makes perfect use of normally discarded part of the fish. Lai skin was also used in the very first trolling lures, which were often made from resin and allowed insetting flashy bits into the lure to add realism. Big fish are no different than little fish, mynah birds and yard sale enthusiasts in that if something is shiny, it’s going home.

Now before any PETA-philes  (goes together like peanut butter and chocolate lab) lambast me for killing Sea Kittens (no, I can’t make stuff like this up: http://features.peta.org/PETASeaKittens/about.asp )know this: I only take what I can consume, and I do not over fish. And, I make sure to eat all of the Sea Kittens that I catch. With a generous helping of baby seal jelly.

The lai struggled for a moment before I took out my knife and ended its futile attempts at trying to evade me. Lai are also tricky because they have four semi-poisonous spines right in front of their dorsal fin that leave a painful welt whenever they break the skin (another reason to not let it flap around on your stringer like a whirling dervish).

Looking back to shore I saw Anna waving to let me know that it was time to head in. I secured my catch and began swimming back, visions of raw Sea Kitten dipped in wasabi and shoyu making my stomach grumble.

As I was pulling my fins off while trying to maintain my balance as the tide pushes me back and forth over jagged rocks filled with sea urchins, I decide that we should give Barracuda Bay a rest for a while. And maybe wait for the kittens to turn into cats.

Comments
  1. Suzanne says:

    You write so well it’s like I’m actually there. Thanks for the mini vacation!
    S.