(from "SPEARFISHING IN SKATAHORI" by Matt
did I get this passion for spearfishing? I don't know if you can really
call it a passion just as you wouldn't call watching TV every night
a passion. Drinking ouzo and eating octopus is a passion, but I can't
spend all day doing that. There are certain rules regarding passions
and one of them is that if you do it all the time it's not a passion
but a compulsion or mental illness. So what do I do with my days until
the time that is acceptable for drinking ouzo? I go hunting for mezedes.
What could be finer then a few fresh, crispy fried fish with a bit of
lemon to go with my ouzo. Who cares if I spend three hours filling a
plate the size of a saucer? It's not what the hunter brings back, but
how much he has enjoyed the hunt. Some days I will catch a few morsels
and some days I will provide an entire meal for my family.
I suppose becoming a spear-fisherman was a by-product of my maturation.
What does one do when island night life has lost its appeal? When the
girls are so young and naive that chasing them is not a fair sport,
even if they were interested in fat, balding middle-aged men. When the
music they play in the bar sounds redundant, insipid, shallow, phony
or just plain bad, and everyone around me is mouthing the words and
tapping their feet. It's time to say good-bye to old habits, throw away
my contraceptives, and head for the open sea. Instead of chasing women
I'm chasing fish. It can be a lot more rewarding and I've never woken
up with a fish I didn't like.
Fish are not known for their intelligence, having an IQ a few decimal
points above most of your favorite vegetables, however it takes a certain
amount of intelligence to get close enough to shoot one. Any fish worth
shooting has probably survived numerous attempts on its life and does
not have a man with a spear on its list of creatures with friendly motives.
In other words, with most species of fish, if he sees you first you
may as well forget it. He'll go under some big rock or into a cave that
you can enter at your own risk. But when your air supply consists of
whatever you have
managed to suck into your lungs while in hot pursuit, then your underwater
time is limited. It's a great equalization process. Sure, you are a
big smart powerful human with a gun, but the fish still holds the advantage
in his element. You can take away his advantage one of two ways. You
can make him play on your turf, chasing him on dry land which is much
less challenging and I doubt could even be considered as a sport, besides
looking totally ridiculous. Or you can spend a couple thousand dollars
for all sorts of tanks and valves and weights, staying submerged for
hours at a time, thus leveling the playing field or
making it easy for you to not only win but dominate. But I'm not much
into equipment. I have a mask, a snorkel, a flipper for each foot, a
menacing looking knife for the kind of emergencies I'm too afraid to
even think about, a bag to keep my catch that I wear around my waist
which enables me to travel long distances and not have to go back to
shore every time I catch a fish, and a speargun.
The first thing that one realizes is that everything looks bigger underwater.
A meal for two turns out to be a treat for a cat
and the giant octopus you battled for hours is best eaten quickly before
anyone sees it and ridicules you. The good news is that nothing is too
small to eat if fried crispy enough.
Though the expression is "Curiosity killed the cat", in the
magic undersea kingdom it could just as easily apply to fish. Certain
species, either more intelligent or less intelligent, sit still and
stare in wonder as you get close enough so that missing them is impossible.
These fish are usually small and unless you catch many, not worth the
feelings of guilt that overcome you for killing such a trusting innocent
creature. The sad fact is that most of the fish you see in these waters
are cute and with the
exception of the smyrna(moray eel), not very threatening. In fact except
for the smyrna and an occasional maniac on jet skis I am the most dangerous
thing in the water.
At the top of the list of cute fish is the octopus, followed closely
by the soupia(cuttle fish). Both creatures bear an amazing resemblance
to Groucho Marks. If my heart is hardened and my animal instinct takes
over I shoot first and ask questions later. But if I hesitate or miss
the first shot it sets off an inner battle that leads me to question
my right to take a life, the flaws in my personality, my
lack of compassion and eventually my entire existence. I try to avoid
these moments by making a clean quick kill. As Robert Deniro said in
The Deer Hunter, You have to take a deer with "One Shot".
What applies on land to deer could easily apply to octopodi or soupia.
I've had unfortunate experiences with both.
I was about to leave the water after three hours of fishing one morning
but as is often the case, I wanted to take one last shot. I swam a few
yards beyond where I had left my clothes on the rocks and noticed a
commotion in a small cove. There were a lot of little fish darting back
and forth harassing this strange gray creature. Suddenly I realized
I was face to face with a soupia with his back to the rocky shore. As
any diver worth his salt knows, there are few things more dangerous
then a cornered cuttlefish. I could see him staring at me in disbelief
as I took my aim. It was only a matter of who would strike first. The
number one rule of engagement with a soupia is "Don't let him stare
you down." Besides the deadly ink his only other defense is his
previously mentioned resemblance to Groucho, and he's not afraid to
use it to
his advantage. My hands were beginning to shake as I fought the feelings
of conscience that were trying to break through to my animal self. I
knew it was now or never. I fired just as the soupia let out a stream
of black ink that temporarily blinded me. But it was too late as my
spear found its mark. Suddenly in a burst of super effort the soupia
freed himself and fired another blast of the dangerous ink. I dug in
and prepared myself for a fight to the finish. I knew the creature was
wounded, perhaps mortally and so had nothing to lose. In my fear and
confusion I loaded my spear backwards. The little darting fish were
now taking a keen interest in this battle. Strange how just a few minutes
before they were fighting with the soupia and were now actively rooting
for him. "Like nations", I thought to myself as I readied
for one final shot. The battle was taking its toll on me as I waited
for the ink to clear. I kept hearing Deniro..."One shot...one shot",
over and over again in my brain. OK. I blew it. Did I have to pay for
it with my
life? Then as the ink cleared I realized I would get another chance.
The soupia was hugging the ocean floor hoping to catch me off guard.
I got him in my sights and fired again. A direct hit! He died without
further struggle and I put him in my pouch with the other fish I had
caught that morning.
When I got to shore I examined my fallen opponent. He measured a full
seven inches from head to tentacle tip and though I felt a certain amount
of pride in the outcome of the battle I still had to ask my self that
eternal question. "How could I shoot and kill anything so cute?"
I attributed it to some genetic Neolithic hunting instinct and tried
to imagine my ancestor in philosophical turmoil over the cute-ness of
the woolly mammoth he had just brought down.
Regardless of my deep angst he was delicious, kind of a cross between
filet mignon and an inner-tube.
The octopus story was a little more tragic. I was with my brother David,
a fierce and noble hunter, in Vathy, when he spotted an octopus under
a rock. Over and over he went down and resurfaced for air, until he
returned with a little baby octopus that he had shot by accident while
going after its mother. I looked at the poor little mutilated creature
and tears filled my eyes. I continued to cry when
David returned with its mother. Then he told me that since he had shot
them, it was my job to beat them to death on the rocks, standard procedure
for tenderizing octopus. After that it was a long time before I shot
an octopus myself though I captured many, held and played with them
before letting them go. In fact among certain octopus circles I am a
sort of a Saint Paul of Octopi, having persecuted them and then seen
the error of my ways. Even so, I never gave up eating them.
David also shot a huge eel right off the rocks in Kamares. It took half
an hour to get the spear out of it and the animal was so powerful you
could not hold the spear while he wriggled trying to extricate himself.
That night, after eating it, David developed a respiratory infection
and almost died. We discovered that eels are very intelligent creatures
with a highly evolved system of justice. After that we left them alone.
We developed a slightly unorthodox method of spearfishing. First we
find an undersea area with lots of stones and archinos(sea urchins).
When we turn the stones over we expose a fantastic collection of strange
creatures and colorful lichens. This attracts lots of fish who come
to eat the now accessible food that was under the stones. Then we smash
a couple sea urchins to attract even more fish.
Suddenly we find ourselves in a multicolored underwater garden surrounded
by hundreds of beautiful fish. Then we open fire.
But something more beautiful and meaningful happened to me one day towards
the end of last summer. I was swimming in a very well known spot in
Kamares bay when I saw the biggest, most colorful grouper I had ever
seen. It was almost as large as I was and it swam into a cave where
I was able to watch it swim back and forth like a tiger pacing its cage.
I suddenly felt very stupid with my little spear-gun as I looked in
awe at this creature that might have been twice as old as I was. Even
if my puny spear-gun had enough power to take this magnificent fish
I didn't feel I had the right to. What I felt was a sort of fear and
respect for this creature of God and also a sadness because I knew that
sooner or later someone is going to get it. I wondered if they would
feel the same awe and respect when they do.
I told Michali about the fish after he promised not to hunt it but only
to visit it. I don't know if he ever saw it. It was after this incident
that I 'lost heart' as they say in snorkeling circles. Spearfishing
seemed like a really pointless and stupid sport. Luckily with the approach
of fall and winter I didn't have to suffer too much mental anguish about
it. When I am sitting in my house in North Carolina watching the occasional
snow fall, the last thing on my mind is that big fish. By the time the
next summer came I was back beneath the waves, terrorizing my brothers
of the deep.
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