Spear fisherman Taras Poznik dived alone into the chilly waters off the Southern California coast last week in search of an elusive white sea bass.
He had spotted it during a dive days earlier, but he couldn't get a shot with his spear.
Poznik and a friend caught a 30 pounder that day, but Poznik set his sights on the big one on Thursday.
But hours went by that day and friends never heard a word from the experienced waterman who always checked in after a dive.
"I had an eerie feeling," said Matt Meistrell, who heard Poznik was missing Friday night. "It was out of the norm for him not to turn up."
Poznik's body was found Saturday about a mile off the Palos Verdes Peninsula in nearly 50-feet of water.
Friends took solace in the fact that the buff man with the tattoos who was "in the best shape of his life" died doing what he loved in the ocean he called home, friends said.
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"Taras was itching to get out there and catch that big boy," said Robbie Meistrell, Matt Meistrell's uncle, who owns Dive N Surf, the shop where Poznik worked. "You don't think a guy like that would have an issue in the water. This is a guy who spent half his life on or in the water."
As tributes poured in and friends planned an ocean paddle-out memorial in his honor, an investigation was underway to determine how Poznik died.
Friends, meanwhile, speculated.
Lifeguards said he had fired his spear gun and the line was frayed, suggesting he was trying to cut it loose, Matt Meistrell said.
"We don't know if he blacked out or he shot a really, really big one and it got tangled up in his gear and he got dragged down," Matt Meistrell said.
"I hope it was the big fish that took him down," said Dick Acker, a longtime friend and fellow fisherman. "If one had to go that was a way for a waterman to do it."
Friends also wondered if Poznik died from shallow-water blackout, a common way for freedivers, who hold their breath unassisted by scuba gear, to die.
Robbie Meistrell said Poznik worked hard to shake lifelong demons.
He had been sober for at least eight years, had earned a captain's license, and doted on his two young children.
Poznik credited the ocean with keeping him on a straight path.
"The ocean was the biggest part of his life," said Robbie Meistrell.
Robbie Meistrell remembers when Poznik interviewed to be a skipper on a charter boat a couple years back he told him about his criminal past.
Poznik told him he was arrested in 2000 for stealing a 50-pound halibut named Big Mama from a hatchery fish tank in Redondo Beach, before barbecuing and eating it at a party in a drunken stupor.
Robbie Meistrell hired him despite the rough edges.
"He was in redemption mode for the last decade," Robbie Meistrell said.
He had an impact on Matt Meistrell, who set up a gofundme account to raise money for the family.
"He was like a big brother to me," he said. "I really, honestly think that's where he wanted to be."