You’re not a true spearfisherman in California until you’ve speared a white seabass. And after you’ve done that, you’re still not legit until you’ve killed a fish that tips 70 pounds.
These are the accepted, if unofficial, rules of SoCal’s spearfishing bums, a relatively small but hardcore group of sportsmen and -women who hunt the elusive fish year-round. WSB show up in the strongest numbers from March to June, when they start slipping into the kelp beds along the coast to spawn. Spawning peaks during the new moon, when you hunt the fish by listening for them.
“Bass” is a misnomer, as this species actually belongs to the croaker family. Some WSB calls sound like a frog and a cat trying to mate, but the croaking of a spawning male is akin to a boat misfire—you feel it in your chest. Croaks usually mean you’re closing in, but most of the reverberations my buddies and I heard during this year’s spawn led to nothing. This was the slowest season in the 11 years I’ve been going, and we fought hard for the two bass pictured on these pages.
White seabass hunters are free divers, which means we rely on our lung capacity. This is because scuba equipment is loud. It scares fish and turns you into an alien in the underwater environment. But free diving lets you become a part of the ocean. You’re able to observe, hiding in silence or interacting with animals naturally. And that’s important, because these chrome-colored fish are called gray ghosts for a reason. They may be the largest prey in the kelp, but they’re also the most challenging to find. So there’s a certain frustration—not to mention danger—in free diving for them. But that’s half the fun.