Attack of the Trigger Fish

Objects may be bigger than they appear…

Diving is a past-time, like golf.  Not a sport.

And while I am partial to sports over past-times – I do like both diving and golf.  Interestingly, I enjoy these activities for similar reasons.  Both are infinitely variable and personally challenging.

With diving, I find it a challenge to surrender myself to the idea that I am relying on pieces of equipment that others have breathed through and had their mouth on. I am not a neat freak, but eeewww.  More seriously, I also find it a challenge to surrender my existence to some dive geek who filled my tank, assembled my gear and put it on the boat.  Is the guy a partying pot-head with substantially reduced brain cell count who forgot to tighten a valve or put the right type of air in my tank?  Not fair, I know – but it has crossed my mind.

The night before I dive I dream of fish and sharks and natural disasters.  Always colorful, usually exciting and often the dreams don’t end well.  Anxiety, perhaps?

Once on the dive boat I am fine.  It’s getting into the water that makes my heart race and makes my mouth go dry.  I focus, I think of yoga, of pristine sunsets.  I concentrate on breathing normally, slowly.  And usually I think I am doing just fine.  But then something unexpected happens and I lose control of any and all composure.  Bad dive etiquette, but I just can’t seem to help it.

On my most recent dive, there was a really strong current.  All the divers hurried off the boat once we moored to avoid getting sea-sick.  But jumping from a swaying dive boat into turbulent waters was not an upgrade.  My nose and mouth were instantly filled with briny water and I was hacking and choking while filling my BCD (buoyancy control device) with air to more easily float and get my bearings.  All of a sudden I heard a strange pop, pop, fizz coming out of my tank and I was sure there was a problem with my equipment.  I am going to drown, to suffocate.

Heart rate no longer resting… I may as well have been rounding the last turn in a quarter-mile sprint.   I screamed back to the dive master, “there’s something wrong, there’s something wrong”.  He laughed and said I’d just over-inflated.

Duh.  Of course it was nothing.  I had merely over-inflated the BCD and it was letting out air in a self-preservation maneuver.  All was in fine working order, save my racing heart.  I decided it’d be best to quickly descend to escape the current and get my brain off the spectacle I’d just created.  So down I went.

Once under, it was a smooth and easy dive.  We saw some beautiful fish and coral and I marveled at the unique landscape undersea.  I thought I was calm and I thought I was breathing deep, slow breaths…

I still had to ascend a solid five minutes before the next person and a good fifteen minutes before Armon.  Clearly,  our dive styles reflect our approach on life.  Me erratic and overly anxious and Armon calm and take-it-as-it-comes.

I do think the trigger fish may have gotten his heart rate up though.  Maybe.  Or at least I hope it did.  Just a little.

The trigger fish attack happened earlier this week on one of our first Fijian dives.  There were about 6 of us on this dive and I was clearly the amateur in the group.

I didn’t mind, however.  I was the novice, but the experts diving with me made me feel more secure.  If something went wrong, I was with half-a-dozen well-seasoned divers who would surely know what to do.  If I needed more air I could grab one of their regulators with ease.

Yes, I’ll admit to imagining this and to diving within proximity of another regulator (at all times).  I do this just in case something goes wrong.  My brain is warped that way.

Anyway…  There were some big, colorful fish were playing with us near the bottom of the dive.  We were perhaps 80-90 feet below the surface and the ocean floor was soft and powdery-white, like sugar candy.  Remember Fun Dip?  Yum.

These fish were strikingly poetic and I was having fun watching them dart here and there and all about.  It was an under-water ballet.

All of a sudden and without warning one of these fish darted right at a diver and started attacking his blue foot-fin.  My eyes nearly bugged out of my mask and you guessed it, my heart rate sky-rocketed.  My fellow expert diver (Sven) was being attacked by this fish and the slimy bugger meant business.  Sven kicked as hard as he could, the fish retreated.  Phew!  And then F*$(#, came back with a vengeance.

The fish was biting and attacking and the diver was kicking.  And I was freaking.  Like really freaking.  It wasn’t a shark, but it may as well have been.

Finally, the fish turned and let Sven go.   Deep breath.  Count to ten.  It will be okay.  No problem.  100 feet below the surface, fish attacking us…  No worries, this is fun.

I’d already determined that I couldn’t rise to surface on my own.  I’d be better off surrounding myself with divers such that the fish would attack one of the experienced guys first.  They mostly had full suits on to my shorty (stopped at the knees and short sleeves) anyway.  And surely they’d know what to do if  attacked whereas I’d probably spit my regulator out and drown.  Or so my thought-process went.

So I was intently focused on getting into the crowd and saving myself.  No one else seemed alarmed by what had just transpired.  I learned later, no one else saw.

Surrounded, I began to feel better.  I was safe, like a baby bird in her nest.  And then it happened again.

Now it was Armon’s turn to feel the wrath of Trigger.  Once, twice.  Mouth opened, biting and pulling and tearing at the fins.  Armon kicked as hard as he could and again the fish momentarily fled.

But that was enough.  I had pretty much downed my oxygen like a frat boy at a chug-fest.  Time to head up to the surface and not a minute too soon as far as I was concerned.  I actually ascended along with Sven.  He was bleeding and worried about attracting sharks – so we rose together (although I would not have climbed with him had I known he was masquerading as shark bait and I was joining his party).

Fifteen minutes later we were all in the boat.  Armon turns to me and says – did you see the fish attack me?  And I spat back, “are you kidding?”  I saw one fish attack him and another attack you.  It was insane and I was freaking!”

And Armon laughed in his way.  Then he added “yeah, the first thing I thought of was holy s#^$! get this guy off of me, the little F!(#@)*$.”  And the second thing was “I sure as hell hope Rebecca didn’t just see that”!

Yeah right, no such luck.


  1. Rufers

    You are an amazing writer! I think your next career should not be renovating houses but writing lush novels. So fun to read your thoughts – its almost like I’m sharing the trip with you. Miss you and much love! Rufers

  2. Grammy kate

    Loved, loved the attack of the Killer Trigger Fish and the novice diver…..
    So, so funny. I was giggling and, yes, I realize that it’s easy to laugh from this distance, high, dry and looking at the lights on the Empire State building….
    Love you all,
    Gramma K

  3. James Tyrie

    Hi, the Trigger fish that attacked you is known as a Titan Trigger fish. It is the largest of the common trigger fish, the Stone Triggerfish is larger but is only found in the Eatern parts of the Pacific, and by far the most aggressive. This is normally the case when they are nesting and protecting a clutch of eggs, they protect an area in the shape of a cone so swimming up can actually take you more into their protection zone you are best to swim horizontaly away kicking out at him!!. They are persistent and fearless as you found out! Their bite is really nasty and they can easily remove a semi-circle of plastic from your fin or flesh from your leg/arm. It is unusale for them to attack though, in all my dives (200’ish) I have seen them many times and never been attacked by one, although i am always aware of them and keep my eye on them. Good to see you are getting the dives in, any chance you will swing through Java on your trips? Would be nice to see you. We could even go for a dive out at the islands we go to. It is a bit rustic but the diving is easy and the beach at the house we rent is great for the kids. Take a look at my Facebook photos, the islands are called Karimunjawa there are lots of photos on there. Glad you are having fun. Take care and safe diving, James Tyrie

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