Dig Baton Rouge

Deep Sea Rodeo

By Matt Leerkes

After a few summers of deep sea hunting trips for snapper, scamps, ling, and whatever other poor edible reef fish that happened to swim in front of a Kamikaze Divers’ steel shaft, my brothers and I were ready to test our skills on some real monsters of the deep: amberjack.

rodeo gear

Our first go at it was a beautiful late spring weekend off the coast of Fourchon. We had convinced my buddy’s dad, Mad Mike, and his long time brother in battle, Darrell Fairchild, to show us the ropes. Mike ran his mouth like usual with a vague and embellished rendition of what was in store for us but, Darrell summed it up with only a few words: “Make a good shot, or hold the f— on.”

When we reached 130 feet below the water, I realized this was the deepest I’d ever been after fish, and I wasn’t going any further – or so I thought.

Well below the thermocline, the water seemed frigid, the darkness from the deep had crept right up below my fins, and the swift early spring current had brought a green haze to the hunting grounds. As I peered into the abyss in search of my destiny I couldn’t help but feel I was in a place – and trying to accomplish a task – that a human being was not designed for.

A few deep, overly nitrogen-rich breaths calmed my mind and brought me back to kill mode, as the first of the warriors arrived.

Although I would have been happy with any of these nice sized amber torpedoes (and in retrospect I probably should have tested this whole deal out on one of the smaller ones), my eyes locked in on the alpha. There he was, behind the pack on the outside of the rig, fatter, longer, and just straight meaner-looking than the rest.

With a couple quick fin kicks and a good sturdy grip on the rig, I brought my body and gun into position for the kill. As he rounded the steel rig leg, Darrel’s words echoed through my mind.

wolf pack

Make a good shot, or hold on.

Overwhelmed by his size and proximity, I let the steel ice pick fly….whhhhammm!

What happened?

Everything was surprisingly calm, and I finally realized: Holy crap, I rolled him!

Instead of a fury of bubbles, barnacles and rage, the monster AJ just went belly up. I had stoned him!

As I turned to Alex with a balled fist pumping in celebration, the Apache warrior proved me wrong, awakening from his temporary knockout, kicking the thrusters into high gear, and taking me down with him!

As I clamored unsuccessfully for a grip on the rig leg, the monster ripped me into the abyss. The bottom still being hundreds of feet away, I knew I had to stop this death spiral soon. With one last fury of kicks and clamoring, I managed to wedge my barnacle ripped body between two cross beams and stopped the plummet to the depths. His descent now arrested, I began to feel the true power of the creature as my inability to control him allowed the ferocious tail blasts and underwater acrobatics wrap me up in a web of cable and blood.

Now well below 150 feet and pinned to the rig with the cable from my own weapon, the severity of the situation and its overwhelming potential for death became abundantly clear. Running low on air and unable to overpower the sea monster to free myself, my situation was bleak. As the last of my energy and air was dwindling, the continued beating had me struggling just to keep my mask on and regulator in my mouth.

I needed help from above; shit, I needed a miracle.

I guess the good Lord decided it wasn’t my day, because like an angel from above, Darrell appeared out of the darkness. Facing the beast head on, Darrell grabbed the amber bully and swiftly pounded a 10-inch steel blade into its skull. Once subdued, the cable’s grip around my body loosened and the two of us quickly began our ascent to the oxygen rich surface. Back on the boat and, several grateful breaths of warm sea air latter, Darrel gave us a few last words of wisdom.

“Well boys, that’s why you always dive with a buddy,” he said. “Oh and Matt, you don’t always have to hold on…but it sure is a hell of a ride!”

 me and mike with first aj me al and mad mike with aj copy


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