Hold your breath and dive deep!

Spearfisher Phillip Almandoz gives his insight to the sport of spearfishing and discusses the progress of the Tobago Freedive Spearfishing Challenge which he started in 2010. This year, 2017, it was held on June 17 and 18; and hosted in Castara, attracting a large number of freedivers in their search for underwater game.

Free-spirited freediving spearfishers celebrate after this year's rournament. (All photos courtesy Phillip Almandoz)


The challenge is to dive, spear a fish and return with it to the boat, on one breath. Some people can dive deeper than 100 feet on one breath. My normal dive on a single breath is 1.15 to 1.30 minute. I don’t try to push myself; after all, I have a young family, my wife and two children, six and three.

Freediving is a very dangerous sport. You should be trained. And you have to be very disciplined. Just think about it, you dive deep, spear a fish and have to fight to get the fish back to the surface. If you overspend your time down there, it’s possible to black out on the way up.

We don’t know what might have happened with Sunil Boodram – who was a keen participant in the Challenge for the past few years – but it must have been something unusual for him to drown in 20 feet of water, at Little Englishman’s Bay. He was one of the most enthusiastic free divers, improving after he did the Free Dive Course. He was also a good spear fisher. He brought up one of the biggest kingfish I’ve ever seen on a spear. He was an eager and competent diver.

All I can say is, don’t dive if you aren’t feeling well, if you aren’t in top form. What happened to Sunil is very sad; and my sympathy is with his family.
Phillip Almandoz presents a prize to Sunil Boodram in the 2017 Tobago Freedive Spearfishing Challenge

Sunil Boodram with his horse eye cavalli
THE CHALLENGE
In 2010, I started the Freedive Spearfishing Challenge in Tobago, to bring together free diving spear fishermen from all over Tobago and Trinidad. There aren’t that many of us. There are plenty scuba divers, and many scuba divers who spear fish. In 2010, there were 24 competitors. Last year, 2016, we had 42 divers. This year, we were 34 divers including one woman.

The rules are based on an international point system. I get some sponsorship from suppliers, and the sale of the fish we catch goes to offset the rest of the cost.

The categories of the Challenge include the point system; Heaviest Fish; and a Junior Category. This year, we added the Lionfish Category and a video competition. Divers attach GoPro cameras to their spear guns or their heads; the footage is always exciting; with good editing, you have fantastic videos.

In all categories, you get one point per pound of fish and one additional point per fish. Maximum per fish is 21 points; three fish per allowed species. Your targets are certain types of fish, with weight restrictions for each type: briefly, no small fish, no billfish, no parrotfish, no goliath groupers. The Lionfish category was introduced to remove this invasive species from our reefs. I’m glad to report they are now being caught in fish pots. Once you know how to clean them, lionfish is one of the most delicious fish.

You are allowed to dive and fish anywhere around Tobago. Before you dive, the boat is inspected; and there are inspectors available in Scarborough, Pigeon Point, Charlotteville and Castara. Weighing takes place at Castara in the evening; you can bring the fish back by boat or by road, but all fish must be kept on ice.

This was a very good year; we weighed over 1000 pounds of fish. We sell the fish to cover costs; and the balance goes to charity, a home for the elderly.

Castara is the host for the Challenge because we were treated well there from the beginning. We choose two days on a long weekend, so that the occasion attracts people who also come to support the divers. The weekend has to coincide with the moon in the first or last quarter when the sea is calm with the slackest current.

So yes, it is a festive weekend in Castara, and the village benefits from an influx of business for a couple days.

Our top fishermen this year were Josh Lewis and Brett Thompson, both from Trinidad. Richard Parkinson from Tobago is usually in the top three. (See who topped the Challenge in all categories attached.)


ADVICE TO NEW FREE DIVERS
Take the free diving course; this is available in Trinidad as well as Tobago. I started spearfishing as a kid, went away to school and got back into it in 2005: that’s over 25 years! Now, I usually get in a good dive once a month. If I go out on a boat, it's to St Giles, Speyside, the rigs in Scarborough, anywhere around Tobago. I did shoot my biggest fish on a near shore dive, in Little Englishman’s Bay, a 60-lb cobia. I dive in my comfort zone, I’m not trying to set any records so I don’t push myself. Men like Josh Lewis and Brett Thompson may go beyond 100 feet deep and spend two minutes underwater. To do that, you must be physically fit. You must be disciplined. (Pat Ganase)


2017 TOBAGO FREE DIVE SPEARFISHING CONTEST RESULTS

WINNERS BY WEIGHT
Edmund Alley: 49.55lb barracuda
Lehron Brooks: 45.1 lb Cubera snapper
Josh Lewis: 31.95lb barracuda
Dillon Ragoonath: 29.8lb pompano
Brett Thompson: 27.95lb horse eye cavalli
Maurice Aboud: 27lb barracuda
Tony Chameley: 26.3lb barracuda
Richard Parkinson: 24.75lb barracuda
Marc Jaikeran: 20.8lb pompano
Allon Williams: 20lb horse eye cavalli

MOST POINTS
Josh Lewis, 407.45
Brett Thompson, 377.35
Richard Parkinson, 263.8

JUNIOR CHAMPION
Anthony James

FEMALE CHAMPION
Danielle Bachew

VIDEOS
Richard Parkinson
Edmund Alley
Stephan Berkley
Josh Lewis
Aldo Abraham
Lehron Brooks with one of the heaviest fish in the tournament, a Cubera snapper

Maurice Aboud, barracuda

Edmund alley, barracuda, heaviest fish caught

Phillip Almandoz presents prize for most points to Josh Lewis

Danielle Bachew, lone woman


Anthony Graham, largest lionfish

Anthony James, junior champion,

Josh Lewis, crevalli jack

Richard Parkinson, yellow jack

Dillon Ragoonath, pompano

Brett Thompson, mutton snapper

Brett Thompson, horse eye cavalli

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