View Full Version : Diver spears huge grouper

07-24-2010, 02:35 AM
By Ed Killer
Posted July 23, 2010 at 1:09 a.m.


WEST PALM BEACH — Saturday, in 200 feet of water off Jupiter Inlet, John Ciulla couldn’t believe his eyes. As he looked on, he saw dive buddy Louie Devaliex spear a 20-pound amberjack near the reef about 140 feet from the surface.

Competing in the third annual Big Bang Open spearfishing tournament, the jack wasn’t a remarkable score. But what happened next took both men entirely by surprise.

As Devaliex’s fish began to battle deeper against the reel on his speargun, a hulking warsaw grouper emerged from behind a ledge on the reef and swallowed the speared jack.

“It was insane,” said Ciulla who had never seen a warsaw grouper before Saturday’s dive. “To see how big the grouper was, it was huge.”

Ciulla knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to shoot the grouper. But what diver in his right mind, diving at a depth that was his physical limit, would think he could win a tug of war with a 100-pound class reef fish on its home turf.

Ciulla did.

And before he could really think it through logically, he saw the fish turn broadside to give up the perfect shot location. And he pulled the trigger.

“I was able to get a perfect shot at him, hit him right behind the gill plate,” he said. “At 160 feet, I was already at the deepest depth I ever dove, and the grouper tried to tear back into his ‘fort.’ If he did, it was way too deep for me, so I wasn’t about to let him pull me into the reef.”

The fish took him to 175 feet as Ciulla questioned his choice. Bu he knew if he could win this battle, it would be the biggest fish he ever shot. By far.

And to do it during a tournament would be sweet.

Ciulla, 46, of West Palm Beach has been diving since 1989 and began spearfishing not long after. Over the past year and a half, he has become more inspired to spearfish by watching videos on the sport, many of which are produced during dives on the Treasure Coast and in the Palm Beaches.

Ciulla said some of the world’s best spearfishermen and women dive these waters.

After getting plunked, the grouper immediately peeled off about 60 feet of his reel’s 250 feet of line. Ciulla attempted to tighten the drag setting on his reel, but the handle was spinning too fast for him to get his hands on it.

As a reflex, Ciulla grabbed the line with his left hand, let go of his gun, and put three wraps around his right wrist. He then gunned his underwater scooter towards the surface, but soon realized, he wasn’t moving.

“I looked down and saw the big fish shaking his head, pulling me down,” he said. “He was so strong, we were both at a standstill in the water column for about three minutes.”

Devaliex floated above Ciulla keeping a watchful eye on the struggle in case he needed to render aid. Finally, the fish began to succumb to its injury and Ciulla was able to get it under control. The men then sent the fish to the surface to Capt. Mike Neumann on the boat Dykoke while they went through safe decompression procedures.

After climbing aboard, Ciulla realized what he had accomplished.

“It was the fish of a lifetime,” he said. “At the weigh-in Sunday, it weighed 82.625 pounds gutted. That means it was every bit of 90 pounds.”

Ciulla won the 81-diver tournament’s biggest grouper award and set the tournament’s record for its biggest fish speared. Ciulla, who is on the verge of opening a restaurant in downtown West Palm Beach, said he will have a mount of his worthy adversary on the wall with the trophy and photo.

So what’s next on Ciulla’s spearfishing “bucket list?”

“I’d love to shoot a bluewater fish like a big wahoo,” he said.

With a lot of luck, perhaps it, too, could be another “fish of a lifetime.”