“The sharp-toothed barracuda can weigh over 20 kilograms,” said 41-year-old Nguyen Van Dieu, a resident on Con Co Island, Quang Tri Province.

“You have to shoot right in the deadly spot, or else it will drag you forward like an engine.

“It’s even more treacherous trying to get hold of enormous stingrays weighing 150 kilograms.”

Huge creature and tiny deadly spot

According to Dieu, a crossbow is his hunting tool under the sea.

He used to be dragged along by gigantic creatures over dozens of meters and had to cut off the string to set himself free. 

“That day, I shot the 150-kilogram stingray right at its deadly spot,” he recalled. 

“It took two people to pull it from the deep waters to shore. It was exhausting.

“The local people came together and helped us carry the fish over to my home.

“We shared the catch and everybody could get as much as they wanted.

“The military officers came and took about five to seven kilograms of stingray flesh for their squads. I gave it all away for free.”

The giant stingray is an extreme source of danger due to its strength and venomous tip of the tail, which can cause an excruciating sting, prompting urgent hospitalization.

“It was the first time I had ever caught such a heavy fish. I was diving deep to the seabed when I caught sight of it coming up right over me like a passing roof,” he described the experience. 

“Out of breath, I swam to the surface and called for reinforcement in case of danger. The stingray’s eyes only pointed downward, so I was swimming above it and I aimed at his deadly spot on the head.

“The creature stopped dead in its tracks. If I had missed, it would have pulled me through the water with ease.”

Each fish has its unique deadly spot, one that will completely stupefy the animal when being shot at.

Nguyen Van Dieu caught a giant queenfish by shooting its right in ‘the fallen leaf’ – his term for the deadly spot on the body of a fish.

Nguyen Van Dieu caught a giant queenfish by shooting it right in ‘the fallen leaf’ – his term for the deadly spot on the body of a fish.

The otterman Dieu calls this spot ‘the fallen leaf,’ as if to compare the motionless moment of the creature to a yellow leaf dropping from a tree.

Con Co sea boasts very strong currents and fast-moving fish, while the deadly spots can be as small as a fingertip. 

“Once I was facing a barracuda about 30 kilograms in weight. It was staring at me in the face, but I couldn’t get ‘the fallen leaf’ because it was too close to the gills,” he added.

“I had bait fish tied to my body, so I was hiding myself behind some rocks and awaited the hungry creature, with my crossbow in position.

“The fish lost sight of me and immediately dashed to my hiding spot, making its turn. I took my chance and shot it right at the deadly spot.

“I took it to shore and it turned out to be the same length as my whole body.”

Dieu has a dagger with him every time he faces a barracuda, so that he can free himself instantly by dissecting the string connecting the arrow to his crossbow the moment he misses ‘the fallen leaf.’ 

Without this prompt move, the giant fish might lose its mind and bump right into the diver with enormous force. 

The Con Co sea is full of sharks as well, and it is also Dieu’s hunting grounds. 

The bait fish on the diver’s body attracts the creatures and he at times faces them at a close distance. 

“I have encountered great whites swimming right above me. It’s best to avoid an assault, so I tend to push myself quickly to shore,” he said.

Every species of fish has a different level of intelligence. The bigger the fish, the smarter it is and harder it is to attack. 

“There’s a grouper about 30 kilograms in weight that will immediately duck me when it spots my presence,” Dieu said.

“Once it flew into a rocky cave with me on its tail. I got stuck and almost died from zero oxygen, but fortunately I got out in time.

“I tried waiting for it at the entrance to this cave a few other times, but still could not get it, so I decided to back away for 20 days at a stretch hoping it would forget about me.

“Then, I came back and ambushed it. I sent out some sound signal to lure it to the cave entrance. The moment it appeared, I shot it right in ‘the fallen leaf’ and had a hard time taking it to shore.”

An undersea gunman

“The fish that I catch around Con Co Island are quite delicious. I often hunt on demand to meet the customer’s need for proper sizes,” Dieu said.

“Yesterday, I earned VND4 million [US$169] after a two-hour dive. On a calm day, I could simply dive down there, wrap my body with fish and come back.”

Nguyen Van Dieu trains other people on the island on how to dive and hunt underwater.

Nguyen Van Dieu trains other people on the island on how to dive and hunt underwater.

The diver insisted that he strictly followed the legal regulations on using crossbows. 

Interestingly, he is a keen protector of the aquatic ecosystem. He is well aware of the values that the sea holds for humans.

Born and bred in Cam Thanh Commune, Cam Lo District, Quang Tri Province, Dieu was only familiar with rice fields in his youth. 

He did not get a taste of the sea until his 2000 military trip to Con Co Island when he met Nguyen Hanh Nhan, a female volunteer who worked to protect the place. 

They got married and registered themselves as residents of Con Co. 

It was a tough life for the newlyweds. 

“I learnt how to dive with a worker at the port. He taught me how to catch fish underwater, but for the crossbow, I taught myself,” Dieu said. 

“Its arrows are made from six-millimeter metal bars and the trigger is from a used grenade. On my first crossbow hunt, I got a 400-gram lobster,” he added.

“I got so excited that the crossbow fell out of my grip.”

Dieu gets to pursue his passion for diving while making money along the way. He does not want to replace his self-made weapon. 

On his first diving days, he would not get past two meters deep down and only aimed at small fish the size of three-to-four fingers. 

The man, however, hung out with other divers and they recommended a more professional crossbow for his job. 

The financial burden prompted him to hone his diving skills. 

For the last 20 years, Dieu has developed an accurate list of deadly spots of each type of fish and their precise position on the body. 

Thanks to this, he has become an old hand at hunting big fish. He has also trained other islanders on diving and hunting fish, but most of his students are not well-prepared to deal with fish weighing 30-50 kilograms each. 

According to Dieu, these people need to practice with the smaller catch first to enhance their sensibility and quick reactions underwater. 

He stresses that haste can mean perils in this line of work. 

According to Major Ngo Xuan Phuong from Con Co military base, Dieu is truly a top fish hunter. 

“I have worked at numerous military camps along the Quang Tri coastline, but I’ve never seen such a skilled hunter. He can get fish that weigh over a hundred kilograms. That’s awesome,” he said.

“Diving is in his blood, and he gets his fish home every time.”

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