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Vicious Fishes

October 18th, 2010 by Raymond

Hey There Skippy’s Crew;
I am submitting this post because my writing has been well received here in the past, because some of the Skippyites are devoutly interested or involved in these sorts of shenanigans, but mostly because the creature described in the story, once skinned, looked remarkably, nightmare inducingly, similar to Skippys recent Hugs-n-Penetration artwork. Pictures of the beast are on my FB page (Raymond Kemp) which is open and doesn’t require a friend request to examine.

Introductions complete, the main feature follows:


I debated long and hard over taking this shot. I really did. At least, in the relative sense that while free diving alone forty feet deep in a kelp forest, a long hard debate is allocated about half a second. In that time, while already ascending through the canopy, what passed through my mind was, approximately; What the Hell is that thing? Is it good to eat? Can it hurt me? Is it big enough to be worth shooting? Is it legal to shoot? I’ve had good and bad experiences trying to eat searays before, do I really want to go through the hassle? Can that fucking thing hurt me?

Well, there is only one way to answer questions such as those, so Blam! I shot it in the head. Good shot, too. Only, unlike most of the fish I shoot, this one fought back. Effectively.

This cat didn’t have a stinger. Unbeknownst to me, until after such knowledge would have caused me to swim rapidly in any other direction, it had spines. Rows of them. Vicious, hooked, needle sharp outgrowths of its spine sprouting from all around its tail and back. And mere skin or scales would be entirely insufficient for this beast. No. This thing being a Ray (specifically, a Thornyback Ray (Platyrhinoidis triseriata), I now know), it, like sharks, doesn’t have scales. It has denticles. Denticles are, literally, tiny little teeth that sharks and rays line their skin with. They’re shaped just like the teeth sharks line their mouths with, and just as sharp. This makes shark and ray skin smooth as velvet in one direction, and rougher than sandpaper in the other, which is why ray skin has been the premier grip for swords all through the ages. It’s a rare, sought after material called “shagreen”.

Also unlike most of the fish I shoot, Mr. Thornyback had a clear understanding of the utility of those spines as weapons, and a specific strategy for their use.

During the initial contest of sheer power immediately following the shot, I bolted for the surface per SOP and Mr. Thorny bolted for the outlying sand channels, both of us connected by the spear tether. Overwhelming mass and good shot placement won that one for me, Mr. Thorny having a spear embedded in his skull during this conflict.

Once on the surface, I started pulling in the spear tether to see what sort of mess I had just shot my way into. Mr. Thorny had been circling and pulling relentlessly downward until I yarded him in close enough that he could clearly perceive me as the source of his woes, and then he immediately set about expressing his displeasure with the situation. He would charge in and wrap around me like an Ananconda, digging in all those rows of hooked spines, and then quickly unwind in the other direction, dragging all those teeth point first across my legs, and then my arm. Good thing it’s fifty degree water and I’m covered head to toe in wetsuit, or that beast would have been flaying skin and muscle like a living chain saw.

What freaked the both of us out, though, was that his dentically skin and my wetsuit were like mating halves of Velcro, so that every time he tried his charge and swipe maneuver he stuck to me like David Letterman vaulting onto the Velcro wall. Neither one of us liked that even a little bit. Several punches in the head and butt strokes of the speargun encouraged Mr. Thorny to break the clinch so that we could retire to our separate corners and reevaluate the situation.

After a quick check for shredded wetsuit and flesh, I yarded in Mr. Thorny a bit more carefully, slowly enough that I could get a hand on the spear itself without him turning into a living flail again. Once I had a hold on the spear, I could flip him over, and then I saw that, although the spear had indeed gone all the way through Mr. Thornback, it hadn’t gone through far enough for the speartip wings to expand on the other side. Without the tip wings extended, any little flip or wriggle could be sufficient to shake it off the spear, and I realized my hold on Mr. Thorny was tenuous indeed. I was amazed he hadn’t shaken off already.

I gently slid my hand up under Mr. Thorny’s belly and grabbed the bit of protruding spear tip. Not a really good hold, but at least something. Mr. Thorny responds with violent thrashing of his spike laden tail. Every time his tail hits me, the Velcro Effect engages and he’s stuck there for a moment, writhing about, confusing and frustrating the hell out of both of us, then he’d get free and smack me again. Now we’ve got something of a détente going on, I’ve got a hold of the spear coming out of his throat and we’re literally eyeball to alien eyeball as I’m trying to figure out my next move and he’s just waiting for his breakout moment.

The next step in the puzzle is to get him on the stringer, and for that I need to deploy the stringer, which is tied to the back of the speargun. I’ve already used up one hand, holding on to the spear that’s stuck through the ray, and putting the speargun itself between my thighs uses up both my legs, leaving me unable to swim as I utilize my one remaining free hand to undo the half hitches holding the stringer to the gun. That part’s easy, and I quickly get the stringer ready for Mr. Thorny.

Then I take a closer look at Mr. Thorny and I realize he’s not set up at all like a normal fish. He doesn’t have the normal gill plates and rakers that I usually pass the stringer through to secure the fish, so I have no idea how I’m going to secure this thing to the stringer, which means it’s time for another one of those long and hard debates.

The time window for this particular debate is framed by the fact that I am now floating out to sea, past the kelp beds outer boundary, which is where the bigger-than-me monsters live. Both hands are full, one with a bleeding and violent fish, and with my gun clenched between my knees I can’t swim, or even see much besides my own knees and the baleful eyes of Mr. Thorny, just waiting to explode into spines and violence again. Hypothermia has begun its insistent knock. My motivation to solve the puzzle is acute.

The only solution that offers itself to my rapidly deteriorating cognitive process is to tie the stringer to the ray. You’ve seen the pictures. The damn things tail tapers to a slickery, velvet smooth point. How the hell am I supposed to tie off to that? Well, motivation starts fading into desperation, and with the one hand I have available, I start trying to throw half hitches around Mr. Thorny’s tail, wondering all the while if those spines have some particularly nasty neuro-toxin on them.

By this time there’s a rats nest of cordage in the water: stringer, and tether, and leash, and they’re all made of 550 cord, and they all look identical, and they’re all floating around each other in a big confusing ball, and I’m trying not to drop any of my kit into the irretrievable abyss while I’m trying to untie a floating multi-thread knot with one hand, and trying emphatically not to think about the attention my bloody little circus is drawing from the deepwater audience. So, it takes a while to sort out the situation, and meanwhile Mr. Thorny’s off in the other hand, giving his occasional violent input, and reminding me that we’re moving ever further into his big cousins turf, and letting me know that payback’s gonna be one real kinda bitch.

Desperation now clearly overriding motivation, or any other rational thought really, I flip one hitch over Thorny’s tail. It doesn’t hold and it comes right off, but now I know I can do it. Mr. Thorny voices his encouragement by giving me a spiny one in the head. But I flip another hitch on in short order, then a second, then a third, and redundancy is achieved. I flip on a fourth just ‘cause I’m a baddass.

I’m feeling good enough about the situation now to try tugging on my marine macramé. The hitches snug up and it pulls tight, right up between those last two fin blades. Intellectually, it looks like it has no chance in Hell of holding, but it feels as good as I’m likely to get and it seems to hold, so I gladly let go of Mr. Thorny and try to back up to admire my handiwork, forgetting that the spear itself was still embedded in Thorny’s head. Mr. Thorny didn’t forget, though, and did a quick flip around the spear shaft, then beat me about the head and shoulders for my negligence. I riposted by punching him in the skull repeatedly until the spear dislodged and fell out, at which point Mr. Thornback shot off like a rocketship.

Good Riddance, I thought. Frankly, I was hoping he’d hit the end of the stringer and pull right through it, blasting off into the haze and out of my life forever, because at this point I’d had about enough of this game and it was starting to get out of hand, and I really didn’t relish the thought of the trip back home with this thing. It would be a violation of all my hunter/warrior ethos, and I would have felt really badly about all the torture I’d put the beast through, but I’d done my best with the half hitches so if it got away I could blame it all on Nature and go shoot some more tractable fish. Hypothermia makes you think that way.

Sadly, though, Mr. Thornback hit the end of the stringer under full way and it stopped him short, so now we’re stuck with each other. This did, however, pretty much signal the end of the hunting portion of the diving day. I did try several more dives with Mr. Thorny in tow, but Mr. Thorny is a big fish, and he wasn’t all that cooperative.

Mr. Thorny liked going down. He was cool with going down. He’d even help out, sometimes wedging himself up under my gun and acting like a hydrofoil, turning the gun into a planing device something like one of those big blue water guns. He wasn’t cool with going up, though. Mr. Thorny didn’t like going up at all. He’d turn himself into a big sea anchor and wrap up a whole big ball of water that I would then have to drag to the surface, fighting every kick of the way. This had a significant effect on my composure. And then, every so often, Thorny’d suddenly make one of those sweep-n-slash runs, just to remind me he was still in the game, and that would further rattle my cage. A couple times I ran into him on my way down, causing him to stick to me like writhing, spiky Velcro and sending us both spinning off into the water column, and that just put an end to the whole thing.

To free dive effectively, and especially to hunt while free diving, one must be a paragon of calm and composure. Free diving, for the most part, is a calm, meditative activity that promotes relaxation, deep breathing, and inward focus. Placid composure becomes hard to maintain once you’ve shot a spiked, fangy sea monster through the head and then tied yourself to it, though. After a few forays back to the bottom during which Mr. Thorny and I couldn’t agree on a dive plan, I gave the day up as finished and headed on back.

It was a fairly uneventful swim back through the kelp bed. Mr. Thorny went pretty much quiescent, like he’d been beaten down. During a couple exploratory dives along the inside of the kelp bed, however, he quickly showed me he was just biding his time and could snap to with alacrity, putting an end to any more buddy-team exploration.

Now, all this action was going on at The Hook, a local Santa Cruz surf spot at the base of a sixty foot cliff. This particular day was beautiful. The sun was out, the surf was up, and the tide was high. This meant that there were a ton of people on the cliff, ranks of surfers in the water, and the waves were breaking right up on the base of the cliff. It’s the total Locals Scene. At this moment, there was no beach and the base of the stairwell was awash.

I make my entrance to the scene by paddling my boogie board in from the outside, around the periphery of the surfer line up, and then along the inside of the line up right up next to the stairwell. I catch a small inside wave and ride it right up onto the wash rock next to the stairs. I’m cool. I’m stylish. I’m groovin’. People are catching on that I’ve got a sea monster.

Sitting on the wash rock awash in the receding wave I just rode in on, I take off my fins and put them in one hand along with my boogie board. With my speargun in the other hand, I stand up and start to take the one stride it’s going to take to get my supercool self and my giant sea monster safely onto the landing. At this point the lashings on Mr. Thorny’s tail, which have stoutly held up to our prolonged mutual combat underwater, are exposed to Mr. Thorny’s actual full weight in air as I heave up on the speargun to fling Mr. Thorny onto the landing.

My eyes are on the landing and perceived safety, so I don’t see it, but -NINJA POWERS ACTIVATE (the whole rest of this story happens in less than a second)-

I feel the half hitches pull tight on Mr. Thorny’s slimy tail as gravity enters the equation, and I sense him slip right through the knots, plummeting into the calf deep water rushing back to sea over the algae-slick sandstone wash rock.

Just as Mr. Thorny is waking up to the fact that his moment has come and starting to bolt for open water, I flip the speargun over and jab it point first into Thorny’s head, momentarily pinning him to the slickery wash rock. That’s why you can see two holes in the pictures. There’s no way he was gonna stay there, though, because the receding water was catching under his wings like a kite, pulling him up and off the rock.

I start to make a big awkward lunge toward Mr. Thorny, thinking to stomp on him and bluntly terminate any heroic escape attempts, temporarily forgetting about all those rows of spines I’d just been having so much fun with. Just as I set out on this ill advised maneuver, an incoming wave knocks one of my collectors-item-don’t-make-em-anymore-had-em-twenty-years fins out of my hand and into the froth, in the complete opposite direction of my awkward lunge toward the escaping devil fish.

In a complete no-mind state, except for a tiny astonished observer consciousness, my awkward lunge turns into a committed thrust onto the arm holding the speargun on Mr. Thorny’s head. Throwing my full body weight onto the spear, I slam Mr. Thorny into the wash rock good style, and use the compression to launch myself off Mr. Thorny’s back into the air, back in the direction of my rapidly receding heirloom fin.

With a desperately outreached toe, I manage to land on the fin and pin it, also momentarily, to the wash rock. I am now stretched out across the algae-slick rock in a bizarre, sadistic game of Twister. My left arm is outstretched off over there, still holding the spear that’s still holding down the devil fish. My right leg is splayed out behind me, trapping the irreplaceable fin right on the edge of the wash rock and infinity. My other two limbs are jumbled up in the middle somewhere, trying to balance it all out and stand fast amongst the incoming waves and receding wash that are chaotically battering the whole fantastically precarious assemblage, threatening to knock it all fin strap over snorkel over sea monster right off the wash rock and into the froth any second.

After a split second of anguished eternity, there was a lull in the sets and the sea receded from the wash rock for a brief respite. I collapsed to my knees, which allowed me to grab my errant fin. I rolled over and in some unknown manner managed to get the speargun into my hand with the fins, and a good solid hold on the sea beasts tail with my other hand. I suspect the leash to the boogie board ended up in my teeth, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

I stood up for the second time and initiated another lunge for the landing, trailing streams of kit and kelp and dignity, all pretense of local cool guy status abandoned, just sniveling for dry land at this point, but with a firm damn grip on that frikkin fish.

NOTE: Since the bulk of you who will be reading this are of the newly named “Millenials” generation, I am sure there are those among you who are frothing to bust my chops about referring to my aquatic adversary as “he” and “Mr.”, as if I might not be capable of admitting a female adversary as a worthy foe. Turns out, my PC little Millenials, that Thornyback rays have bony disks underneath those nasty hooked spines, called Bucklers. In female Thornybacks, the Bucklers are large and pronounced, especially if they are gravid. Male Thornybacks have small, inconspicuous Bucklers. The beast I did battle with had small Bucklers, so I am biologically correct in my reference to him as a “he”. So there.

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22 Responses to “Vicious Fishes”

  1. Raymond Says:

    It was better with the pictures.
    But thanks, Skippy.


    SKD reply on October 18th, 2010 4:59 pm:

    A link to your facebook page would make it easier to find you and let us see the pictures.


    SSG Hay reply on October 19th, 2010 9:30 am:

    I concur. I tried searching FB on my wife’s account (me? no, no FB, MySpace, or any of that other nonsense for me, thanks) for your pics Ray, and came up with 5 or 6 Raymond Kemps. And once I’d clicked on one, the wrong one, it wouldn’t ever let me see the others.


  2. Isaac Says:

    That made my day! Thanks for the awesomeness.


  3. Tyr Says:

    There’s a lot of people named Raymond Kemp on facebook. I didn’t see any one with a big fishlike thing as a profile pick, so I have no clue which one was you.
    I’d like to you the beast though.


    Todd reply on October 19th, 2010 7:52 am:

    I searched for Raymond Kemp and then refined the search by putting Sanata Cruz, CA in the city search box. Found only one Ray that way and he had the pictures. Had to go through the wall posts but they were there.


    Gwenyvier reply on October 19th, 2010 11:58 am:

    Here’s to hoping the link works…



    Gwenyvier reply on October 19th, 2010 12:00 pm:

    Guess not. Copy and paste the entire thing and it will take you to his FB page. The pics are easy to find from there.


    Shadowydreamer reply on October 19th, 2010 6:26 pm:

    I fail at search. That doesn’t pull up anyone for me.

    Think I’ll blame the anti-Canadian FB search engine. ;)


  4. TheShadowCat Says:


    Not to be nitpicky, but it’s called a thornback guitarfish. The one photo I found on your page doesn’t really do the spines on that bad boy justice.


    Raymond reply on October 19th, 2010 1:45 pm:

    According to the exalted Wikipedia source, the monstrous beast goes by many names. I picked the name that made the story sound the best.

    The thornback guitarfish, Platyrhinoidis triseriata, is a species of ray in the subfamily Platyrhininae of the family Rhinobatidae (some authors elevate the platyrhinids to full family status)… California thornback, guitarfish, round skate, shovelnose, thornback ray, or thornback.

    I’ll try to put up some more photos here in a minute. I have some that show those spines in all their pointy glory.


  5. lukazaz Says:


    so what did you do with it?? Soup, Tacos, Salad, Pet /swimming buddy??


    Raymond reply on October 19th, 2010 1:47 pm:

    Ceviche. With home grown tomatoes. Absolutely yum.

    And tsuka wraps for my ninjato with searay koshirae, tanto, and shuriken. Also a kote set. Then I ran out of hide…


    lukazaz reply on October 19th, 2010 3:56 pm:

    Nice ;)
    I really want to try tacos made from manta even do I’m in Tijuana there not so easy to find…


    David B reply on April 13th, 2014 11:13 am:

    Damn. I don’t like fish, but I’d give that a try! It always seems better when you work for your meal, doesn’t it?


  6. Raymond Says:

    I apologize for the buffoonery regarding the pictures that go with this story.
    Seems that Todd and Gwenyvier have found the best approximate solution. Thank you both for the interest and the effort.
    Another search designator you could use is “UCSC Ninjutsu Club”, which has some of the pics in the news feed, as well as one and only one Raymond Kemp in the members list. The page is fully open, as well.
    I put out a request to my FB literate pups and they claim there is a designator I can use to create a unique link to my FB page. I’m working on that now, as well as uploading some big high-def pics across my extreeeemly slow wifi connection. They’ll be going into a photo album called “AquaNinpo- Sea Hunter”.
    There are some other albums there that Skippyites might find disturbingly amusing as well.


  7. Matt Says:

    After an adventure like that you might want to avoid White Whales.


    Raymond reply on October 19th, 2010 8:32 pm:

    The Laws of Seaborne Predation are simple:
    Avoid anything larger than yourself.
    And especially avoid small, inviting, brightly colored things. They’re worse than the big things.


  8. Raymond Says:

    Ok, Skippy Folk;
    I have posted a bunch of representative pictures on my FB with explanatory captions, in a photo album titled “AquaNinpo- Sea Hunter”.
    There’s a special shout out and especially disturbing sequence for Skippy and the Skippyites.
    I still haven’t sorted out a direct link, but Raymond Kemp/Santa Cruz seemed to work, or use UCSC Ninjutsu Club.
    Both the personal and club profiles are completely open and viewable, so no need to “friend” to see them. My FB page has become the defacto comms center for the ninpo taijutsu club at UC Santa Cruz, so unless you are actually interested in the day to day organizational antics of the UCSC Slug Ninja Clan, I wouldn’t suggest actually friending it.


    Shadowydreamer reply on October 19th, 2010 11:39 pm:

    I am computer geek – hear me type.


    Raymond reply on October 20th, 2010 12:37 pm:

    Well done, Shadowydreamer.
    I bow in respect to the euphony of your keyboard.
    The link:
    goes straight to my profile page, no messy news feeds involved, or at least it did when I clicked on it. How’d you figure that out?


    Shadowydreamer reply on October 20th, 2010 1:19 pm:

    Mostly .. familiarity with how links work and the gibberish attached and what was safe to remove. :D

    ..Which sounds way cooler than ‘I spent way too much time on Facebook’ ;)

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