For the first time, Apneapassion followed live the World Freshwater Spearfishing Championship (2023 WFSC) held at Lake Powell, Arizona, USA, and organized by National Freshwater Spearfishing Association from May 16 to May 20, 2023. This fourth edition of WFSC brought together 57 athletes from 9 countries that were competing in 4 divisions Men, Women, Mixed, and Masters, both individual and team ranking.

Athletes had two different days of fishing. On day 1 they could catch only three different species of game fish, Catfish (max 8), Walleye (max 8), and an unlimited number of Stripers, with 3 points per fish. On day 2 was only allowed to catch an unlimited number of rough fish Carp, invasive species, with 1 point per fish. Athletes could choose one biggest fish for weighing each day for big fish awards.

The best three individuals

Darvil McBride (USA) was the best in individual ranking in the men’s division of the 2023 WFSC, in front of his teammate Fernando Gutierrez and Kenny Western. McBride and Gutierrez had the same score, 115, but McBride had bigger fish. Between the first 5 athletes were also Mike Kennedy and Mike Livingston, all five from the USA. Kennedy had the heaviest rough fish Carp had 10.25 kg. The biggest game fish caught by Ken Lee was 4.62 kg heavy.

I can’t believe it! We spent four days scouting here. We were lucky as we live only 8 hours away driving, so we have been here before. Last year we were scuba diving. Luckily we came into the area knowing some spots we needed to scout, but we got lucky. It didn’t come down to the scouting for us. We found all Carps in one place; it was not very deep. Conditions were not very good, murky and hard to see the fish, but we found the spot where they come to mate. You shot one and ended up having three. They didn’t react at all just, but just came by. We were shooting them again and again, and I knew I would have been a contender, but didn’t know how everyone else was doing”, explained Darvil McBride, who made an amazing catch in day two that brought him the individual but also the team title.

The best woman athlete was Julie Higgs, USA national team member with 74 points. Second was Shelby Peterson (USA), who also won a prize for the biggest rough fish, an 8.44 kg heavy Carp. Third place was won by Feena Arey from Great Britain. She was the only European woman athlete and it was the first time for her on WFSC, the same as for Julie Higgs. The biggest game fish was caught by Cavell Carpendale (USA), a 3.88 lbs – 1.77 kg catfish.

“This is my first World Championship and my first World Title. We did a lot of scouting and I ended up with 7 game fish. I lost some catfish and every time you question yourself was that the fish I needed? Saw a lot more fish scouting, so we were a little worried that others had done better. But at the end of weighing I knew I was in the lead. Even though that doesn’t mean anything in two days tournaments, but it was a good feeling and I knew that I wss going to work hard on the second day and at the end that paid off”, said Julie Higgs.

The winner of the Masters’ division was Darren Shields (New Zealand) with 114 points. Shields, who also was first on day 1, won ahead of Gerald Lim and Ken Lee (both USA), the latter catching the biggest game fish that was a 4.62 kg heavy catfish.

“ I expected such a good result. If you come to an event you have to expect to win, otherwise you got the wrong mindset. We did five days of preparation and had a good feel for the lake. My partner Ian Warnock and I did well in New Zealand in Freshwater, we won the last three years tournaments. Here were amazing divers and you are always unsure, but still think that you need to have that belief in yourself to win something”, said Darren Shields, whos 99% of fishing time at home in New Zealand is in the ocean, and only one day in the year in the lake.

McBride and Gutierrez jump on day 2

The best team in the Men’s division of the 2023 WFSC was Tres Leches, with first and second individual athletes Darvil McBride and Fernando Gutierrez. They had in total 230 points, 14 more than the second team Bahia Bros created from Mike Livingston and Kenny Western. In third place finished team Stars and Stripers with Mike Kennedy and Justin Lee, both national team members that will represent the USA at CMAS World Championship in Laredo, Spain in September.

“We didn’t have a good day 1 as we weren’t even on the leaderboard, not even close. We scouted a really good spot, but the lake was changing a lot. When we got back it was just trash, the fish was not there and we finished with only 9 points for the day. So finding that one spot with all that Carp and being only one boat there, was just exactly what we needed to have any chance”, said Darvil McBride. His teammate Fernando Gutierrez finished second in individual ranking on day 2.  

“We are 100% satisfied. My partner is my best friend. He put a lot of work into scouting when I was not able to make it because of work. He shot game fish on the first day, I shot zero fish on the first day. To be honest, I was so embarrassed after day 1 that I didn’t even want to come to the weighing, but Darvil wanted me to come, so I sucked up and talked to my wife overnight, came out, and said we didn’t win yesterday but will gonna win tomorrow on the Carp day and we did it. Didn’t think we would win the tournament because of it, but we did, and that is awesome”, said Fernando Gutierrez.

FeeAnna team with Feena Arey and Anna Hilton was the winner among women’s teams of the 2023 WFSC with a score of 72 points. Cavell Carpendale and Anne Doherty, team Scale Skewers, finished second and third position is won The Gill Girls, Ariana Huffmyer and Jessica Evans.

“I didn’t expect this at all. It is a completely different environment, and the fish was different. I am happy, so pleased that we won and couldn’t do it without Anna and the other women on the boat. We were very lucky. It was murky, visibility was changing, the lake is so massive and you can have different spots where you got ten meters of visibility, and in another spots you can’t see your hand in front of your face, and that was where the fish was. But I had murky water in Finland last year, so that prepared me well”, explained Feena Arey.

Anna Hilton added: “I am a saltwater spearfisherwoman and this was my first time diving and spearfishing in freshwater. I scouted for three days, and think it was helpful, but everything on competition days was different. We found fish in different places. Feena found a “honey hole” with fish that we didn’t expect to see. I never dove on the walls, but it was interesting and beautiful.”

Second and third in the Masters individual ranking Gerald Lim and Ken Lee were the winners of the Masters team competition as Team Makule. Lim and Lee had 173 points, and the second team New Zealand 1 with Masters individual winners Darren Shields and Ian Warnock got 157 points. Third place reached FSDA Red Tide team with G.R. Tarr and Ben Fertic.

Lim and Lee both came from the sea, and both after a very long pause from spearfishing.

“It was kind of hard because I stopped spearfishing 17 years ago and now I am very rusty. All the things I used to do automatically are no longer automatic. So I did some mistakes that before I have never done, but now yes, and some fish was gone because of that. I originally came from Singapur, where I grow up, and there the water is very dirty like in the lake in many ways. So in somehow, we needed to readapt but in some ways, it came back to my roots of dirty water diving”, said Gerald Lim.

“Same thing for me too, I was the last time competitor 18 years ago. It was a long break. A very hard tournament with two different days that required different skills, and different strategies, so it was very challenging. We didn’t expect such a good result. We also thought that it was a chance to get embarrassed after such a long layoff, as we are old and rusty”, added Ken Lee.  

The best Mixed team of the 2023 WFSC was Always Down with Julie Higgs and Javier Verdaguer ahead of Freshwater Fish Slayers, Ryan and Shelby Peterson, and the Salty Swells team from Guam with Michael Genereux and Carmela Tyquiengco.

“We haven’t fished together since last year. Although we live about an hour away, and we fish with the same people, but not together. Jesse, our captain, was the Boss and we were working as a team. I expected to win as a mixed team as we put a lot of work into it. With that work, we hoped to win. We won the mixed team in nationals last year and with that experience knowing that we had Jesse as captain and improved our gear a little bit specifically for this tournament. We knew that we could be better than last year so we hoped to win. A second time at the Freshwater championship the hardest thing to adapt to was fish behavior and the environment where they live”, said Javier Verdaguer.  

“We put some work in, we have been for a week scouting, waking up at 4 am every morning, and soon as the sun comes up we went out and return at dinner time. That scouting paid off. During the tournament we spent as much time in the water as was possible. Did definitely a lot of work”, explained Julie Higgs.

Justin Lee won on Day 1

Day 1 of the 2023 WFSC was harder, as athletes needed to find and catch three different species. The lake changes every day, so a lot of competitors did not find fish on the spots that they marked during the scouting days. Also, conditions were different in each part of the huge and very beautiful zone. At some places, visibility was excellent, on some it was hardly half a meter.

In the end, all the fish from the tournament was utilized at best. The game fish was donated for eating and all the Carp fish went to local farmers for fertilization. The winner of day 1 in the Men’s division was Justin Lee, but in the end he finished sixth.
“It is a totally different environment compared to the sea, but water is holding your back, so it’s all fun. Day 1 started well, but I am best for today and you need to be best after tomorrow too. I got 11 fish within the first hour and then it slowed down to a snail’s pace after that. We went to the other side of the lake compared to other athletes as we find a place with a lot of walleye and catfish. I picked up 8 walleye, one catfish, and 7 stripers. The visibility went down from when we were scouting. It was murky, the thermocline was down at 9 meters and that was where I found most stripers. Walley was all in shallow and dirty water. Luckily walleye have little white areas on the fin that just stand out. I was lying down in dirty water where you can see two meters and then see a white fin pass”, explained Justin Lee.

The best in the Master’s division on day 1 was Darren Shield from New Zealand.
“We had a place where we wanted to go first after the start, but there were two boats on it and we decided that we would stay anyway. I caught three fish there. We did not have a lot of good spots, so we moved a lot, and we tried a few places that we did not scout, and found fish. I was working on the edge of the thermocline. The top layer was maybe two to three meters of visibility at the most, down under four to five meters. I would move up to warm water and come down to colder water”, said Shields.

Except for the organizers from National Freshwater Spearfishing Association, and some athletes that put their time and effort to organize such an excellent event, a lot of volunteers joined and took care that everything would go smoothly. Without them, it would have been extremely hard to organize this big event.

(Text and photos Valentina Prokic)