Chay Ochoa is an expert spear-fisherman, but is as humble as can be.
Chay Ochoa crossed off the number-one fish on his bucket list a few years ago when he shot a 273-pound yellowfin tuna. But that is not something he gloats about. In fact, the first impression Chay gives off is of a soft-spoken, friendly neighbor.
When asked about his cow of a yellowfin, he finally opens up about what a catch it was. And what gall it took to bring it up.
Chay and his wife, Linda, have a spearfishing touring company called Sea Sniper Baja in El Sargento, Baja California Sur, complete with incredible accommodations. Chay grew up in nearby La Paz and has been fishing his entire life, but became fixated on diving; spearfishing was the obvious combination of passions. After graduating with a Marine Biology degree and becoming co-partner in a custom spear gun shop, the original Sea Sniper in San Carlos, California, Chay returned to his home waters. Sea Sniper Baja was born.
Chay quickly reinstated himself into the fishing community in El Sargento and began to dream about certain fish he wanted to go after. While other captains’ main goals were marlin, famous in Cabo San Lucas, big tuna are rare farther north in the Sea of Cortez. A yellowfin tuna cow (200 pounds or heavier) became Chay’s dream fish.
One morning, Chay head out with a group of divers. Chay was the specified chummer for the first dive. While the spearfishermen free dive 30-60 feet in deep water, someone above throws fish chum in what is called a ladder, basically multiple layers of chunky squid to attract the big boys. Soon afterward, Chay’s friend brought in a 233-pound yellowfin. Chay knew it was going to be a good day.
It was then Chay’s turn to dive.
Chay went down to about 30 feet, which he stays at for about two minutes. He then returns for air and repeats. As the chum rained around him, he saw his cow looming in the deep. The giant yellowfin turned broadside, gave him the perfect shot, and he took it. The shot was perfect and the buoy, that the spear is attached to, dove past him as the tuna tried to escape.
Chay returned to the surface and told his fellow divers he shot a big one. He then looked from the boat for the buoy to resurface and then returned to the water. He was fairly sure he might have shot the spearfishing world record tuna and to make it a valid record in the fair-chase category, the diver must reel in the fish from the water.
For the next hour and a half, Chay followed the buoy, that was attached to his fish 50 feet below, and pulled it up to the surface. He finally pulled it near enough so he could get another clean shot with his second spear. Another clean shot later, a fatal one that broke the backbone and bent the spear, Chay brought his fish into the boat. After weighing it, the 273-pound yellowfin was 80 pounds shy of the spearfishing world record shot by Julian Allen-Ellis in 2007. Allen-Ellis’ record still holds.
But the record wasn’t what Chay was after. He kills to eat and he said that the gratitude that he felt after bringing in his cow was just as powerful as winning the record title.
Chay and his wife are content as can be in their little villa just feet from the beach, and running spearfishing trips so that other anglers can experience bringing in their own cows of a lifetime.
If you’re interested in going on a spearfishing with Chay, check out the Sea Sniper Baja website to plan your trip. Here is a teaser of what you can expect on a trip with Chay.
Next on Chay’s fishing bucket list is a bluefin tuna. But they swim in colder water so he isn’t rushing.
All photos via Mateja Lane