Interview with Evan Leeson
An analytical fella obsessed with the best parts of spearfishing is how I would describe Evan. We had a great conversation in this interview about thinking about hunting species, being the master of your own spearfishing gear, staying cool in spite of shit happening and a whole lot of other cool stuff. Super cool chat with a super cool fella! Listen in to ‘Evan Leeson the Thinking Spearo!’
03:10 Evan Leeson Introduction and Background.
19:30 How do you plan to find and hunt a new target fish species?
23:50 Gear Fanatic: The Obsession to get your gear right
31:00 Most Memorable Fish
37:00 Determining the quality of your shot and how hard to fight the fish
45:00 What is the cleverest fish you have tried to hunt?
51:00 What is your take on spearfishing competitions?
57:30 Scary Story: Grey Reef Shark Attack in Fiji. Takeaways, the event in detail and how he is 9 months later.
76.30 Funny Moments: Tony Heugh Story
80:00 Spearo Q&A
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More Q&A with Evan Leeson
Where did you start and how long have you been spearfishing?
“2008 was the first time I was invited out to go spearfishing while I was visiting family in Sydney, Australia. Upon returning home to California, I started buying equipment and diving regularly after that point.”
When was the first time that you found yourself unable to turn away from the ocean?
“I was always around the ocean growing up near the beach but that first experience spearfishing is what really drew me in. That was when it started becoming a big part of what I was thinking about on a regular basis.”
Tell us about where you live, where do you dive, vis, benthos, common fish species, temp,seasonal variations. I decided to allow myself to get stuck in Bali in the middle of all the virus drama, but my real residence is in Sydney, Australia. I’m still recovering from an injury last year and I was only able to get a couple dives in here before they blocked off access to the ocean for non-locals. Prior to this I spent most of my time diving in between Sydney and Coffs Harbour, NSW. It’s a heavily dove part of the country so I’m sure a lot of listeners are familiar with the region. We normally dive in visibility from 3-30m with temperatures from 16-27C throughout the year. We are fortunate to have a really wide range of species to target. There are a lot of great eating fish and plenty of species that will challenge your equipment and your skills. I always keep my eye for the staple fish and the less commonly speared. Snapper get my attention, but they generally notice me first. I find it difficult to let a mackerel swim by me, but I always do my best to get a mixed bag. I think it’s better for the ocean to spread out the pressure and it’s better in the kitchen. Getting one nice reef fish, a small pelagic and a lobster is always a great catch to come home with.
What was getting started like for you? After being introduced to spearfishing on holidays, I spent my first couple years of my diving in California which was frustrating as it was difficult to find many people to dive with and the conditions did not allow you to get in the water very often. I thought about diving much more than actually diving. My university flat mate, Andy, and closest friend introduced me to scuba diving which was a great way to meet like-minded people and get way more time in the water. He was far more experienced than me, so I joined the university scuba diving class to get my certifications. In between spearfishing and scuba diving together we slowly explored the parts of the California coastline that we could access. It quickly became my top interest and eventually my only hobby. Like most of us, starting out is always a challenge financially. Acquiring gear and saving money for car fuel was always a topic of discussion. We had a lot of fun with the basic gear we had. Diving with scuba fins, surfing wetsuits and hand spears will always have a special place in my memory.
What made you want to get into spearfishing? Being completely honest, for my entire life I wanted nothing to do with spearfishing or any water deeper than waist high. I was petrified of sharks and the unknown. I had irrational fears, I even thought of sharks when I was in swimming pools. The only reason I got into spearfishing was as a result of my cousin, Derrick. He took me out to experience Sydney night life which was more my cup of tea at the time. The following day I was pathetically hungover. He convinced me to go spearfishing with him which I believe he only got me to agree to because I was in between spews, still drunk and I wasn’t exactly thinking straight. Getting into the ocean was exactly what I needed. I was distracted quickly, mesmerized by the size of the fish and amazed by how comfortable I was in the water.
What fish did you target starting out? Initially it was whatever we were legally allowed to catch: surf perch, rockfish, ling cod and cabazon. We quickly learned to skip on the surf perch and focused more on ling cod and cabazon as they were the tastiest fish around, we had a reasonable chance of catching.
What gear did you start out with? A surfing wetsuit from when I was a teenager, small scuba fins, 6ft fiberglass handspear and a positive attitude.
From shore or boat? Shore for the first few years.
Did you have a mentor? I’ve been very fortunate to have multiple mentors who are great teachers and highly accomplished. From my scuba teacher, Frank Degnan, to my cousin, Derrick Cruz, and finally Simon Trippe. I couldn’t imagine or ask for a better three people to guide me through my first years in the water. I can attribute so much of what I’ve done and been fortunate enough to experience to these three.
What was your biggest obstacle starting out spearfishing and how did you overcome it? Time, water access and funds. I overcame these problems with patience and taking a job in my family’s business in Australia which initially gave me more time and water access. I had to wait a while before I could gather the money I needed to dive in the places I wanted with the gear I needed. Trying to spend as much time as possible in the water and keeping your employer happy so they
will pay you more so you can spend more time in the water at all the places you’ve dreamed of diving is tricky to say the least.
What is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done and what did you learn from it? I had only drove a boat a few times in rivers and lakes in California. My confidence and experience did not do me any favours the first time I was allowed to drive a boat in the ocean. I think I had the steering wheel for only 60 seconds before I cut around a headland a bit too close. I quickly found myself in shallow water with a wave cresting much higher than the boat itself to the left. I knew if I kept going, we would get overturned by the wave and I couldn’t exactly turn around. My instincts told me to turn into the wave and add a little throttle for fun, I guess? To this day I’ve never been so high in the air in a boat and I hope I never am again. The fact that no one was injured when we all slammed against the deck of the boat as we landed back in the water or I didn’t sink the boat is a miracle. It was a good story for the boys and the story traveled far enough that I wasn’t allowed to drive anyone’s boat for a few years.
What is the best day you’ve ever had out spearfishing? It’s tough to say what was the best day out as I’ve been really fortunate and had some great experiences in the water. I’d have to say that best day out for me was with Al Lewis and Shane Fitzmaurice launching out of 1770 in Queensland. They’re two of the happiest easy-going people I know and that carries over into their spearfishing. They’re extremely talented divers who know how to have a good time as well. I always learn a lot with them. We had absolutely zero marks and found every spot that day with a bit of guesswork. We found a lot of bare sand, but we found one reef that was just alive with quality fish, great water, trickle of current and a very friendly dwarf minky whale. We were able to anchor up and slowly swim around together finding all the fishy spots. We saw huge schools of giant GTs moving in and out of caves pushing jacks and tuskfish out of the way as they moved. There was a big school of 20-30kg cobia keeping a close tail on the school. All around the edges of this particular spot was filled with leopard and barcheek trout of 3-5kg. After we picked up one of the big cobias, a couple tuskfish, some jacks, a few mackerel and some trout we swam around with the minky whale for nearly an hour. It loved playing around with the throw flasher. As we ate lunch on the spot, it stuck around coming up to have a look at what were doing every few minutes. That night we ate really well back at the house, listened to music, had a few beers and still had a week of diving to go before we had to drive back to Sydney.
What about the one that got away? There are two fish that got away from me that I spent a long time thinking about. They were both big mulloway, both in important competitions. The first was in NSW State Titles in 2014. I was having a good day and started diving a deeper sand line with large boulders everywhere. I was looking for both drummer species and spotted a few from the surface. I dove down and found a bunch of high scoring silver drummer in a cave. I found the biggest and just as the spear hit the fish a large mulloway swam out of another cave across the gutter. I think it was watching me the whole time. I got enjoy to watching it swim away as I got my hands on the drummer. That haunted me for a while. The other mulloway that got away from me was a really good fish around 25kg that I found in shallow water in the Blue Water Classic in 2016 I think. It was an awesome comp, nearly everyone had a good bag of fish, lots of wahoo, mackerel, cobia shot and big fish too. There was a bit of current and I could see the mulloway sleeping in bowl maybe 3m deep which was a little awkward so I decided I would not move and drift over it to see if I could shoot it from above or maybe dive past it and swim up to it on the bottom into the current. I spotted it a bit too late to dive before it. It switched on pretty quick and ended up having to swim after it into the current. It just kept moving. Needless to say it was a really close competition between a lot of great divers and that fish would of made a big difference for my score.
MEMORABLE FISH STORY
Could you share with us the story of the first memorable fish that you speared? What species was it, weather, vis, who were you diving with, time of year, where were you? The first memorable fish I speared was a kingfish in Sydney. It was the first fish I was proud to take a photo of. It was a fish we talked about often but never speared. We launched out of Botany Bay on the boat I almost sank. I think it was my second or third boat dive which was excited on its own. I think it was in September or October, 2011. It was a really nice day and we had 10-15m viz. I was diving with my cousin Derrick, who was always by my side in the water for the first few years of diving in Australia, and Ben Bayfield. Those two were my only diving friends at the time and they always looked after me despite being an annoying yank who nearly sank their boat and didn’t know much at all about diving or the ocean. They were babysitting me essentially. We checked most of the headlands in the Eastern Suburbs without much luck. We eventually found a big school of kingfish which completely caught me off guard, I think I was in between panic and staring at the school. Derrick was not one to waste time and quickly secured a fish. This was my first time seeing a reasonable size pelagic speared and landed. I was amazed. I thought I’ll get my chance one day. We pulled anchor and went to the next headland South. I stuck by Derrick and watched what he was doing. It didn’t take much time in the water before I had a school of king fish swimming towards me. I dove down erratically, and I’m amazed they didn’t spook but I was able to shoot the fish closest to me with ordinary shot placement. Pulling that fish in and landing in was exhilarating and the whole time I was fighting the fish up Derrick had shot another kingfish. We fought and landed them at nearly the same time. Something we ended up repeating quite a few times over the years that followed but nothing was quite like the first.