Fishing Saltwater Fishing

Freediver Spears Pending Record Pompano During Florida Tournament, Wins First Place

The pending state-record pompano was a cherry on top of the first place finish
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Spearfishermen hold up their catches.
Troy von Blankenburg (center) holds up the pending record pompano alongside the other members of the Dauntless Outdoors spearfishing team, Josh McCann (left) and Jared DeBlecourt (right). Photo courtesy Troy von Blankenburg

It was mid-day on May 18 when Troy von Blankenburg and his two spearfishing buddies went over the side of their 25-foot SeaVee boat, the VonZan Deep. They were freediving and looking for big saltwater fish on an artificial reef about 50 miles west of Tampa, Florida.

The pressure was on, too, since Blankenburg, Jared DeBlecourt, and Josh McCann were competing that day in the 40th annual Crosthwait Memorial Fishing Tournament out of Brandenton. Vying with several other spearfishing teams, the three divers were hunting for the biggest reef fish they could find. The number of points they could rack up depended on the species and the weights of the fish, according to tournament rules.

They’d already had a banner morning, shooting some huge amberjacks that pushed 80 pounds. They headed to a different location that afternoon to search for other species, and they were freediving in 160 feet of water when McCann shot a huge African pompano that weighed roughly 37 pounds. That’s when von Blankenburg saw an even bigger pompano about 90 feet below the surface.

“Its 12-inch-wide head was just 50 feet from me,” von Blankenburg tells Outdoor Life. “I waved so it would see me and come investigate — they’re [typically] very curious. It swam a little closer and I speared it behind its head near the pectoral fin.”

The fish fought violently while von Blankenburg headed toward the surface. He was using a spear with a built-in reel like the ones used in bowfishing, and this allowed the fish to peel off line as they swam in different directions. When he got to the surface, he started handlining the pompano, while staying alert for any other predators in the water. (He says that earlier in the day, a six- to eight-foot bull shark had taken one of their fish while it was still speared.)   

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“There were lots of 200-pound class bull and sandbar sharks circling us while we were in the water,” says von Blankenburg, who lives in St. Petersburg. “But my biggest concern was a pair of 350-pound goliath grouper that followed my shot pompano all the way to the surface as I reeled it in. They wanted to eat it, but fortunately they didn’t pull the pompano off my spear.”

With the huge African pompano in hand, Von Blankenburg put it in the boat and then went back to diving with his teammates. They finally headed in around sunset and made it back to the dock at 8 p.m.

Weighing an African pompano at a spearfishing tournament.
The African pompano weighed 55.4 pounds on the tournament scales.

Photo courtesy Troy von Blankenburg

It was too late to weigh the fish on tournament scales by that point, so the trio put their fish on ice and weighed them the next day. Altogether, their six-fish haul of two amberjacks, two African pompano, a permit, and a cobia weighed roughly 300 pounds.

“It was good enough to win the $2,500 first prize for a spearfishing team in the event,” von Blankenburg says.

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His African pompano weighed 55.4 pounds, which is almost five pounds heavier than the current Florida record. But von Blankenburg says it’s not the biggest African pompano ever taken by a spearfisherman. That record still belongs to Valente Qunitero Baena, who speared a 64.7-pound pompano off the coast of Mexico in 2016.

Instead of mounting the pending record pompano, von Blankenburg is thinking about having an ink print made of the entire fish in the Japanese gyotaku style.

“That big one would would look pretty cool inked.”