Matthew Brueckner grew up on Marathon Key and has always been in and around water.
But all his diving and spearfishing abilities were in Florida: in Tampa Bay, the Gulf and the Atlantic. Waters are warm there, and fish come in tropical breeds.
With the help of his friend Jon Michael Degidio, a graduate student at the University of Florida, Brueckner recently took a “crash course” in North Atlantic species. He also studied northern fish by researching on the Internet.
Brueckner, an Apollo Beach resident who moved to South County from St. Augustine nine years ago, and his 15-year-old son Barrett qualified for the National Spearfishing Tournament held Aug. 1 in Rhode Island by winning the Florida Free Divers Spearfishing Championship.
“The fish are different up north,” Matthew said. “And the water temperature was in the 60’s.”
Matthew has been taking Barrett spearfishing and diving for years, and in this tournament, the two competed in the Mixed Team Division, which means one adult is male, and the other team member must be either a teen or a woman, Matthew said.
“I started diving with my dad at 7 and spearfishing at 13,” Barrett said. “I fished my first tournament in 2011 in Tarpon Springs. It was the Fall Free Dive Classic.”
There, he won the title of Top Junior Shooter, and then in early 2013 he won the Big Fish Tournament for catching a 58.6-pound black drum.
Barrett and his dad practice at least twice a month. Matthew’s other son, Joseph, dives with them but does not enjoy spearfishing. His wife, Jennifer, however, to whom he has been married for 19 years, is the daughter of a commercial spearfisherman.
“She’s really used to the lifestyle,” Matthew said.
Matthew and Barrett went to Rhode Island a week early so they could check out the local waters for themselves.
The fish were different, and so were the waters.
“You only have about five feet of visibility underwater,” said Barrett. “The speargun shoots about eight feet.”
But Matthew explained that people don’t shoot near each other. “You have to be still for awhile, or you’re just chasing fish from one person to the other.”
There were 79 people in the national tournament, each in a kayak and diving gear. They were each given a list of fish that could be harvested and winners were declared based on how many fish were caught and the total weight of the catch.
“We had to go by Rhode Island laws, which of course are different from Florida,” Matthew said.
The U.S. Underwater Society is the governing body for the sport, as it includes both diving skills and spearfishing. The Council (territory) to which the spearfishermen belong is governed by the Florida Skin Divers Association.
But people from all over the country, many who usually spearfish in fresh water, qualified and competed in the Nationals.
“We had six-and-a-half hours in the water to fish,” Matthew explained.
All contestants were restricted to a four-square-mile area. When asked if that was dangerous, Matthew said “We were packed, but you have to remain still and be close to the fish awhile in order to get them. You aren’t just shooting blind in the water.”
When they spear in Florida waters, they mainly get hogfish, grouper and snapper.
The family eats a lot of fish. Barrett said he could eat it seven days a week if he had it.