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At the southern tip of Florida three years ago, in the middle of an afternoon in Biscayne Bay, fishing skippers came upon Donald Pinder. Though he was within a mile of the nearest land, where much of the water is only shoulder deep, Pinder was swimming toward Miami 10 miles away, leading a disorderly procession. Behind Pinder came a friend, Bernie Fried, who was having a floundering time of it at the moment, since it was his turn to manage the rest of the procession on a rope. Twelve feet behind Fried a 200-pound jewfish strung through the gills was splashing up a storm. Six feet behind the jewfish a 70-pound loggerhead turtle tied by one flipper rolled in the water; and at the end of the rope a 12-pound snapper was twisting and diving like the rag tail of a kite.
This odd sight of men and fish was the end of a very successful but otherwise fairly average day of spearfishing for Don Pinder. The boat he expected had not yet arrived and, seeing that nothing lay between him and Miami except water, he was swimming home. If he had completed his water trek towing friend Bernie Fried and the fish, it would scarcely have rated as conversation in his own family. Don Pinder has spent his life on the water and a large part of it hunting fish with two brothers, Art and Fred Pinder, and a first cousin, Charley Andrews. Separately or together, the men have the rare distinction of having never lost a spearfishing championship in Florida; and last year against teams from California, the Midwest, the Navy and the East, the three Pinder brothers won the national championship. As California champion Frank Hops put it, the Pinders can "dive deeper, stay down and work longer than anyone I've seen." They are generally considered by divers who have competed against them and fished with them to be in a class with the seals.
Physically speaking, there is nothing seal-like about the Pinders. They seem cut more to fit the Cleveland Browns' line. Twenty-eight-year-old Fred Pinder, a quiet blond with the chubby face of a Dutch burgher, is 6 feet 2 and 210 pounds. Twenty-seven-year-old Don Pinder and 26-year-old Art are 6 feet and about 195 pounds. Cousin Charley is just a little fellow about 185 pounds who can still get a large-size sport shirt over his chest without spreading it like a fish net.
Any novice can go hunting underwater on even terms with the Pinders in one respect. For all their hunting they use only the most basic equipment: medium-size flippers, close-fitting face masks, and a simple sling and spear—total cost about $15. "A snorkel or an under-lung," states Art Pinder, "are very good for photography or exploring or seeing the world; but try moving fast with all that hardware and a good fish has you beat."
While spearfishing on their own and while serving as guides for other spearfishermen and marine laboratories and museums, the Pinders have hunted a vast range of reefs and deeps and shoal waters from the tip of the Florida Keys to the northern Bahamas and 600 miles southeast to the Caicos at the other end of the Bahamas. Their technique is in the tradition of the best hunters. While other spearfishermen are wont to leap into the water with a splash as if the hunt was a last banzai assault, the Pinders slip in easily, scanning the top water for any barracuda worth taking.
On a recent trip, Art and Fred eased over the side of their boat. Just below the reeftop they leveled off, and after a glance at a cero mackerel pacing the open water, started along the dark side of the reef. After two minutes they slowly surfaced, hung there for a minute taking air and watching a 15-pound Nassau grouper nosing behind the coral prongs, then moved down again. Eighty feet ahead of them a large black grouper came out from the ledge near the bottom. Art rose for a breath and dived. Holding his spear in line with his body and his free arm straight back along his side, in 30 kicks he was near bottom. Swimming 100 feet almost level after the grouper, he gradually closed the distance. When he was 20 feet from it, as if all action were jammed in an instant, both Pinder and the fish were suddenly moving double speed. A faint streak of light shone between them, and the instant ended. The spear was sticking in the grouper, Art was swerving up to the surface and Fred remained on the bottom. As the grouper boiled the sand with its tail, Fred let the second spear fly. Then he followed it under a ledge, and for two minutes braced his feet on the coral face and tugged at a spear. Every two minutes, passing each other in mid-water, one Pinder went up and the other down; and a half hour later they brought in the 50-pound grouper.
There are a number of reasons why spearfishermen of less experience might not have taken a black grouper from the reef. For one thing, many do their scouting on the surface, giving the fish some warning with their splashes and giving themselves a poor view of anything in the shadows of a reef. For another, many not knowing the behavior of different species might never have made their shot before the grouper was gone. The black grouper is generally much faster than others of the genera, but Art knew its habits well enough to get close to it without frightening the fish away. Though he hit the grouper an inch higher than he aimed, it was a fair enough shot considering that at 20 feet the weapons most hunters use will not always penetrate a fleeing fish of such size. The Pinder sling, however, a double strand of surgical rubber, exerts a pull of 80 pounds; and with this power has taken fish 30 feet away. Still, it is hard to use, and as a few divers attest, who have wrestled with the Pinder sling underwater with the hand bent awkwardly in line with the arm, it takes some doing.
Though now, after 20 years at it, the Pinders may dive 80 feet to spear a fish and swim over half a mile on the surface and under water in pursuit, they remain believers in the basic buddy system. As Art Pinder puts it, "Where I go or how deep in a hole depends on what I'm after and who's with me." In his interlocking careers of life guard, Coast Guardsman and spearfisherman, Art Pinder has delivered several dozen gagging tourists from the surf, rescued over a dozen more wreck survivors from stormy seas; and, when boat motors failed, has swum over six miles through open water from the edge of the Gulf Stream. Since there are not too many water buddies around capable of rendering equal service to a Pinder in trouble, the brothers have done most of their hardest hunting with each other and cousin Charley. Between them the four have taken 10 of the 43 record fish currently listed by the Florida Skin Divers Association, including a few that will be hard for anyone anywhere to beat. Working alone for over three hours in compliance with the rules, Don speared and brought to boat an 804-pound jewfish. Art has speared tiger shark up to 337 pounds and is the only diver ever to get a sailfish.
TROUBLE IN A CORAL CORRAL
Considering all the hunting they have done, the Pinders have not been bothered too much by sharks and other kibitzers. Most of their trouble comes when they are after speared fish holed up in coral. A shark tried to get in a hole with Art one day. "I got out," Art recalls. "It's a wonder I didn't beat him to death with my flippers going for the boat, but he kept on coming—a 10-foot mackerel shark—and with a little help from him I shot halfway out of the water."