As Manny grabs his hand-made trident spear I can’t help imagining him, with his flowing hair and beard, as a modern-day version of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.
Okay, that’s a lie. I was really picturing King Triton from the little mermaid, but you get the idea.
I was lucky enough to get a personal introduction to spearing with his hand-made spears two nights ago at Manny’s house with fellow Instructors, Grant Hogan and Jake Bricker. Of course we weren’t actually using the spears since we were just at Manny’s house, but even just holding one of the ten-pound, hand-made weapons makes it very evident that some specialization is necessary to use them.
Though he may be best known for his appearances in the Jackass shows and movies or for his television show on the Outdoor Network, Savage Wild, Manny Puig has long been something of a retro spearfishing guru, bringing the sport back to its simplest form. Even though he started out as a speargun fisherman at the age of 14, he long ago abandoned his guns, preferring polespears and basic spears to band-powered weapons.
“I just like the idea of spearing the simplest way possible,” he says.
Manny actually trained some of the earliest freedivers in Florida, including Mehgan Heaney-Grier, who reached depths of 50m/165 feet long before that feat became something attainable in advanced freediving courses.
But whereas many of us freedivers prefer competitive style diving, Manny focuses on shallower depths, spearfishing and interacting with wildlife, as he does on Savage Wild. He is well-known for interacting with sharks and alligators and can often be seen performing “alligator lifts,” where he uses his experience and knowledge of these animals to touch and even lift from from the swampy water.
Manny says he had his first experience with large animals when he was spearing in the Bahamas. He’d just shot a good size Nassau grouper when he felt a tug at his fins that began pulling him backwards in the water. A shark had grabbed hold of his fin tip and was pulling him as it investigated the scent of fish blood in the water. Manny says that this experience was the first time he realized that sharks aren’t just big fish and that they are large, powerful animals to be respected.
In addition to his spearing, both in-water and out, Manny also specializes in hand-fishing. You’ve most likely seen this on television where fishermen go “noodling,” by diving into murky, shallow water and use their arms as bait to catch catfish. Once the catfish bite, the “noodlers” grab ahold and pull them from their hiding spots.
Manny takes this a step further and will go after fish that most of us would use a speargun to hunt, like goliath groupers. While at his house he told us a story about catching a red grouper with his hands alone. I have enough trouble holding a fish AFTER I’ve speared it so I can’t imagine the finesse a hand catch would take.
In addition to spearing, hand fishing and making his own spears, Manny also spends his time crafting various forms of artwork, from bronze sculptures like this hammerhead, to authentic-styled Viking helmets, like the one being modeled by Grant Hogan here.
So while I probably won’t be a very effective spearfisher with Manny’s spears anytime soon it’s extremely interesting to see what folks can do when they specialize in something and have the ingenuity to reshape a sport that we think we already know.
If you’re interested in Manny’s stories or artwork I’d encourage you to check out his website. But if you’re thinking of picking up some Manny originals beware, some of his amazing pieces have gone for as much as $30,000 in the past!