How To Kill A Big Fish (And Be Mentally Ready For It)

I was 30 when I put a knife through a big fish’s brain.

I was 15 hours south of the US border, floating by myself in the Pacific Ocean. I had just finished a seven-minute rodeo with my largest yellowtail trying my best not to get tangled in my reel line. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins. I had pure tunnel vision locked on the fish, totally disregarding my safety and surroundings. When I placed my hands in the fish’s gills, it gave its final thrashing trying to break free. 

I grabbed my knife from my inner calf and placed the point right between the eyes on the top of the skull. With a thrust, the blade broke through the bone and down about 3 inches, piercing the brain. A little twitch exited the body, and the jaw loosened open.

It feels different taking the life of a large apex predator. I wasn’t ready for it.

“The first step is the steepest.”


Staring at the fish in my hands, I was struck with disbelief. On one side, I was thrilled that I had found what I was looking for. On the other, I took the life of such a powerful creature. The eye just looked back at me. Empty.

After calling over the pangadero, I handed him the fish and hopped in the boat. He congratulated me and I told him I got lucky.

Growing up, I always had my dad kill my fish. We’d be in the backcountry of Yosemite, and I’d catch a few trout for dinner. He’d take it over to a rock and give it a good smack – killing it instantly. He’d handle the gutting and cooking. I just watched with no natural desire to do it myself. I just liked catching fish.

Now I was the adult.

I had killed plenty of reef fish before this, but this felt different. It was the way the knife felt in my hand as it entered the skull. It took significant force—a force reserved for a fish that has done its fair share of killing.

This fish solidified me as a hunter.

Before, I was still that little kid wishing my dad would take care of the yucky business. After, I had the desire to do it myself. I was ready to be my own man. I’ll kill my food.

It’s been years since I thought of this moment. Maybe being in a hairy situation in the middle of nowhere heightened the feeling. But, the feeling was there, and I want you to be ready for it. Taking your first big fish will transform you. It’ll be the fish you remember forever.

How To Kill Big Fish

  • Big fish are powerful and can hurt you. Admire them before killing them.
  • Have your knife ready for business after you secure the fish by placing your hands in its gills.
  • When the gill plates are open, grab the collar and squeeze tightly.
  • Put your knife either through the side or top down into the brain. It takes force, so be careful not to hit the hand holding the fish.
  • If there aren’t sharks, go ahead and bleed the fish by cutting the gills on both sides.
  • Once the fish’s mouth opens, you’re clear to admire the fish you just speared.
  • This is when I like to admire the fish. Something about the way it sways in the water accentuates how magnificent it is.

I recommend saving the memory of the fish in some way other than just video and pictures. Paint a gyotaku or save the tail and make a mount. I had my buddy turn this yellowtail into a tail mount that sits on my desk while I work. I love glancing at it when I need the inspiration to keep pushing myself to grow.

Your first big fish will be the one you remember forever. Be ready.

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler
Jon Stenstrom is a fishing enthusiast. He has over 25 years of fishing experience, and 6 years of spearfishing experience, and is currently learning how to boat. Jon has his Open Water PADI Certification and FII Freediver Level 1 Certification. Jon has traveled the world to fish and dive, most notably in the Great Barrier Reef, Baja Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia. More Articles
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