No fish is worth your life; period!
Before we get too involved in this discussion, let’s begin with one simple thought that should guide everything else. No fish is worth your life; period! We need to front load the discussion with a few absolutes. First, boat owners need to keep a scuba tank on their boat and encourage its use by anybody certified to use scuba. If you are a boat owner and not scuba certified, take a class. Those of you on Kayaks should keep a small tank available. With few exceptions, YOU are primarily responsible for those you take diving. USING SCUBA IS THE SAFEST WAY TO LAND A FISH THAT HAS TANGLED CLOSE TO ONE’S ABILITY TO SAFELY RETRIVE IT! Use a spotter whenever you are diving on a fish that has tangled close to your ability to safely retrieve the fish, regardless of depth. Finally, if the above are not options, don’t hesitate to CUT YOUR LINE and LIVE to hunt another day!
I recall an incident years ago where I had shot a 35 lb. WSB that had tangled about 30’. Although the depth alone was not an issue, the kelp was extremely thick and I could not find the fish because it was severely tangled. Added to the situation was the deteriorating, very poor visibility; less than two feet in the middle of the kelp. The rest of the divers were on the boat, and I yelled for one of my boat partners to swim over and spot me. However, they ignored me for reasons unbeknownst other than it was a long swim. They didn’t want to move the boat and/or they knew it was shallow and I should be able to handle the situation. Coincidently another dive boat arrived and spotted me while I landed the fish. Needless to say, I later had a serious discussion with my dive buddies. The point here is that DEPTH is not the sole consideration; you can drown in only two feet of water. Carefully assess everything!
The elephant in the room
This discussion brings up the elephant in the room that we do not like talking about: DIVING ALONE. I hate to acknowledge it, but I dive alone about one-third of the time and it really pisses-off my wife. I’m getting better at not doing it, but honestly…I’m still in recovery. Bottom line is that it’s really stupid; don’t do it! One of my “near misses” was recovering a 55lb WSB 60’ deep, a quarter-mile down current from my boat. I did not want to swim back, move the boat, grab a tank, etc. I had made repeated dives against the current to find & recover the fish. I was more exhausted than I realized during the final dive, and it nearly cost me my life.
Get rest before a dive
Always remember that sleep, how well you feel THAT day, and conditions all impact dive safety. Making a 75’ freedive in the warm, clear waters of Cozumel is far easier than making even a 50’ So Cal dive in cold water, against a current, encumbered in a 5-7mil suit & heavy weight belt, and in low visibility conditions with an accelerated heart rate after spearing a prized fish.
Consider the drag of a larger fish while you’re ascending.