91kg, C Kirkconnell, Indonesia, 2006
Fiji, Indonesia, Vanuatu
The dog tooth tuna is a unique fish and is easily recognised. It has the typical, torpedo like tuna shape and is wide and round in the middle with a very small caudal wrist leading into a large, sickle shaped tail. It's impressive dentistry immediately separates it from its cousins though. They also have two large white dots on their backs, one at the base of the dorsal fin and another at the tail wrist. You often just see these flashes of white from the surface indicating that there are doggies below you.
FEEDING HABITS AND HABITAT:
Despite often being thought of as a pelagic they're really a reef fish and hang around deep water drop offs, reefs and pinnacles. They're the apex predator in their environments and can live off a wide variety of smaller fish like fusiliers, scad, mackeral etc. The smaller fish can be found near shallower reefs but the big ones are always near very deep water.
Dog tooth tuna are one of the most challenging fishes to hunt. This is because of their sheer size and the brute force they exert to get away when speared and also because of the very difficult diving environments they inhabit. It's for these reasons that they are probably the most highly regarded trophy to the spearo.
The first step is to find them. Doggies are a deep water fish so you need to find steep drop-offs to dive or reefs adjacent to very deep water. They will be in the highest current areas where the water flow is pushing onto the reef concentrating the bait fish that they prey on. To dive these areas effectively you need to know the tides and understand how they will affect your reef. Irregularities in the reef will form 'pressure points' where fish life is concentrated and you need to focus your efforts there. Being a deep water fish they don't particularly like bright sunlight so they're most active during the shadowy periods first thing in the morning and towards dusk. When diving in the Solomons our guide used to talk about "5 O'clock doggies" and sure enough about 5 O'clock everyday the reef used to come alive with schools of bait fish and predators chasing them.
When you've found your spot you'll usually have to drift dive it. Dive as deep as you can and try and find the level where the most fish are hanging out. As always it's best to actually lie on or against the reef rather than hanging mid water. Doggies are curious fish and will often swim in within range to check you out providing you don't spook them with movement or eye contact. The best way to attract doggies is definitely with flashers and berley. You should work in a team of at least two but preferably three so one man can work the flasher and another berley while the other dives. Switch roles constantly so there's a diver down at all times. 95% of the time you'll have your fish swim up to you while you're on the bottom waiting rather than spotting one from the surface and trying to dive on it. Given the depth they live at they'll often be long gone by the time you get down to their level anyway.
Making sure your first shot is perfect is absolutely critical if you want to stand any chance of landing one of these fish. This requires patience and a good shot. No matter what you read or hear nothing prepares you for just how hard a doggie will fight and you will be amazed by their sheer power and violence. Mark Healey talks about 'pushing the red button' which sums it up well. If your shot isn't good
it'll usually pull out almost immediately or the fish will simply power down into the depths and tangle your gear up where you have no chance of retrieving it. I like to imagine I'm aiming for my spear to come out the eye on the opposite eye of the fish. That way the spear is punching through a lot of vital areas that will hopefully stone it outright or if not at least hurt enough to slow the fish down. Even if the spear doesn't punch right through there's a lot of gristly, boney stuff to toggle onto. There are very few times when a big wooden gun is justified but targeting big doggies is one of them. They're a very big bodied fish and it takes a lot of grunt to make sure the spear will get through. Your gun should be 130cm plus and have at least two rubbers on it but preferably three. Slip-tips aren't necessary and in my opinion are a disadvantage as your gun will never be accurate enough with one on and you don't get the same leverage on the fish as you do with a straight shaft. It is worth noting that none of the last few dog tooth records have been shot with slip-tips and very few experienced divers use them.
What is absolutely critical is one or two big floats. If you spear a 20kg+ doggie with a standard 11l float you will lose it. Depending on your location a bungee can be a big advantage but they can also be a disaster as well if used in the wrong situation. If you're diving along a very deep, sheer drop off a long bungee will really help you tire the fish out and take a lot of strain off your gear and the fish's flesh as you simply swim hard out into blue water and let the gear do the work. If there's any chance of the fish being able to get to the bottom though you should stick to a standard hardline. In these situations you need to be able to knuckle the fish hard and a stretched bungee doesn't last long over coral. If you are shooting around bombies or other obstructions mono isn't really suitable as shooting line either as it will get cut very easily on the coral. The best shooting line is dyneema. It is extremely strong and very abrasion resistant and will hold up a tangled fish long enough for you to get down for a second shot. Stainless steel cable is also an option but its very hard on the fingers and gets kinked and spikey once it wears in. You have to be doubly careful with coated cable as if it gets nicked water works its way up the sheath and corrodes the cable unseen. One of the other advantages of dyneema over cable is that you don't crimp it rather you tie knots which are easily done in the field. Cable should really be spliced unless you've got a proper swager to crimp it with. Never use aluminium crimps on stainless cable as they will fizz, you must use copper ones.
One of my pet peeves is hearing stories of guys travelling to the islands and shooting and losing heaps of doggies. Don't be that guy, be disciplined and wait for the perfect shot and hold on.