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After almost another week of typical Florida Summer weather with afternoon thunder storms a possibilty on any given day, the wind started to lay down around Wednesday and the forecast really started to shape up for the weekend with calls for 5-8mph winds out of the SE and less than 1 foot seas. Of course my typical cynicism kept me thinking that at any minute (most likely on Friday afternoon) the forecast would flip from optimal to abysmal and we would be fighting wind and seas in our efforts to get back out on and under the water for some spearfishing action this weekend. Luckily for me, it was all in my head and the forecast stayed true as we arrived to nary a flying flag in the keys or the campground on Friday night.
With a forecast this good we immediately started talks about how to best take advantage of the time and we decide we will take the bay boat out for some dolphin and then work some spots on the way back home. So we head out early and this morning with a somewhat unique passenger/fisherman (or should I say fisherwoman?). My wife decides that she's going to join us today since the forecast looked so promising and she had never been dolphin fishing before. After a quick visit to the FWCC site for a new license, we board up and head out.
Based on some intel we had gotten from Rob, the campground's perpetual dolphin fisherman, we decided to head SouthWest as he had some good luck in this general direction over the past couple of days. With the seas at 1' foot or less, we made excellent time in heading offshore to our first weedline in about 280' of water. We started trolling the weedline and got a hit, but the excitement was short lived as after 2 or 3 fish in the cooler, the action cooled off and so did the bite. So we head off into the wild deep blue yonder looking for birds or any other flotsam or jetsam that we might find. This went on for a while until we got out to almost 700' of water where we found a couple of other boats working a weedline that also had some birds diving and feeding on it.
We decided to troll in the opposite direction of the other boats and were soon rewarded with a bite. We tried bringing in the school (if in fact there was one) by the usual method of trailing the hooked fish behind the boat but no other fish came in so we quickly picked him up and decided to troll passed the same weed patch to see if there was anyone else home underneath. We did this for 5 or 6 passes, rewarded each time with one or two bites. We never did see the school, but we were able to get to about 10 in the cooler before decided to move back on in to see if we could hit a couple of our spots on the way home.
Our plan to head Southwest coincided with the second part of our plan to find the snappers. You see, last week was the full moon and the mangroves usually head out to spawn in the latter part of June after a full moon so we wanted to visit our western snapper spots (Clumps, #36, Horseshoe, etc) to see if they had moved out to the reef as we expected. Upon arrival at the Clumps, we're greeted by the first green water of the Summer. At first we're totally disappointed, but then we realize the although green, this depth was workable so we jumped in anyway. Disappointingly we didn't find the mangroves we were looking for.
Determined nonetheless, we pick up and move on. We arrive at #36 to find yet another ghost town. No snappers anywhere! We swim the length of the patch just to be thorough and move on in short order after seeing only one nice sized black grouper that bolted as soon as we tried to drop in on her. By now, we're getting a little frustrated as the dolphin weren't as plentiful as we had hoped and now we were finding absolutely no snapper. Was the water warm enough? Had we miscalculated the spawn? We were starting to question a bunch of things.
When we stop at the Horseshoe, we were no longer disappointed when we didn't see any big snappers. We saw a few, but nothing we would pull the trigger on. My brother in law spots another black grouper (rare for this spot) but she's camouflaged pretty well and I don't spot her until I'm too close and this one also takes off into the distant murk. So we decide we'll make one more stop on the way home and hoped it wouldn't disappoint... #113!
Since we discovered this spot last year, it has shined again and again. We don't like to over fish our spots so we always give a gap between visits, but this spot has been a real hot bed of grouper activity for us. We jump in the water and start to look for the hole in the reef that most of the fish we chase or wound end up in hoping to find someone is already hiding out there, making this a little easier for us. We find the hole and I drop in on it finding only a small red grouper and a nurse shark that measured somewhere around 15 inches. I have to admit, I was starting to get a little bored so decided to try and catch the nurse shark to show the girls. Little did I realize that this little distraction would keep me from some of the only action we would see here.
While I'm grabbing the nurse shark (yes, with my hands) and I surface, I hear my brother in law's speargun go off but based on the little life we'd been seeing, I figured he shot another porgy or a snapper. I surface with the shark and before I can show my catch off, my brother in law boats the first grouper of the day. Damn! I was glad #113 hadn't skunked us, but I hate missing out... So after showing the shark off and letting him go on his merry way, we start to swim again literally having said that we would give this spot a few more minutes and we would head in. Independently but still cohesively, we both decide to go back to the method that yielded the groupers on this spot last summer which was patrolling the edge of the patch and finding grouper laying up under sea fans or next to rocks thinking they're invisible.
Not two more minutes go by as I'm making a drop that I spot a black hiding behind a sea fan. She's all curled up thinking no one can see her. Unfortunately for me, I'm still in my inverted dive position and shooting from this position is very disorienting so I aim my muzzle at the fish while waiting for my feet to drop beneath me. While I'm waiting for this, I realized that her tail is coiled up like a loaded spring and if she gets spooked by anything she will take off so as soon as I felt right side up, I pulled the trigger and strike home. I reel her in and call in the boat. At least I wasn't going to get skunked in front of my wife... :) 2 nice fish from this spot in probably less than 30 minutes, not too shabby.
After finding relatively dirty water to the West, we decided we would spend Sunday to the East in search of cleaner water and once again, hopefully those spawning mangroves. Our first stop #30 (with nearby 120 and 121). The water is cleaner than yesterday but not crystal but yet we're not discouraged because this is a spot near Hawk Channel that is too dirty to dive on most days. As we scour the reef, we run into a few decent sized snappers and take a few because hey, bird in the hand and all that...
Almost as soon as I jump in I spot a nice black that I don't even hesitate with. I drop in, line up and take the shot. It was a pretty long shot, but I really thought I had it in the bag when the grouper takes off with my shaft in tow. Unfortunately she sheds the shaft and swims off and I don't get the opportunity to give chase. "Ok" I thought to myself, "I just can't make those shots a habit..." As we continue to fish the reef, my brother in law proceeds to land two stud mangroves but was actually complaining that he hadn't really seen any grouper to speak of, just some juveniles. I was still thinking about the one that got away but I didn't want that to get too deep into my head.
A few minutes later, after landing a couple more mangroves, I spot another grouper laying almost out in the open among some spread out sea fans. Once again I don't hesitate as I could easily tell she was legal but this time I get a much closer shot that strikes true. The shaft however, goes through the fish and lodges in the sand. The fish proceeds to swim up the shaft and onto the shooting line and swims away unreeling line from my gun and bending my shaft in the process. Thanks to the line from my reel, the fish was still on and she holed up about about 40 or 50 feet away. I was upset that the fish had now potentially turned into a $70 fish (the cost of a new shaft) but I wasn't going to worry about it until everything was in the boat (fish included). The fish had holed up pretty well and with the reel line threading the rock, we proceeded to spend the next 20-25 minutes trying to extract her without having to cut my line before giving up and doing just that. Luckily once back in the boat I was able to both straighten the shaft and re-tie my reel line without a whole lot of incidence.
Just before we were leaving, I decided to make one more dive as I had seen a few "just short" groupers and thought it was worth just one more try. I drop and spot a very nice black grouper swimming in from my right over the edge of the rocks. In my mind, this fish was already in the boat... I line up, take the shot and hold on as I see the fish take off like a bat out of hell. Only one problem, the fish swam away without my spear. I somehow had missed this fish clean. In total disbelief, I gather my gear and surface to let them know on the boat that I was going to see if this fish had holed up in the big rock that was very nearby. I reload and drop in to take a look. I peer under the near side of the rock and don't see anything. My hopes aren't exactly high as I decided to go over the brain coral instead of around it. As I come over the top, I see a black grouper sitting about 10 feet away watching me come over the rock. I stop moving at the top of the rock, line up and land my second grouper of the morning. As I surface with the fish in tow I proclaim "Now I'm happy..." to my brother in law. He knows why...
We finish out our snapper limit at #58 and #99. Both of these spots had much better numbers of fish along with more numerous shootable fish as well. Since we already had 2/3 of our grouper catch I wasn't looking to land another when we got to #99. We weren't there for long. On my first pass down the relief I see a few snappers that I wanted to chase when a black grouper comes right down towards and under me. I guess the water was playing tricks on my eyes because I wasn't going to chase this one but when my brother in law saw it, he immediately followed it until it holed up under a ledge back in the direction we had just come from. He was positive it was legal so after quickly locating it in the rock, he proceeded to shoot it.
The explosion of silt that ensued was coming out of every single orifice in that rock so we figured it would take a few minutes before it would clear. Assuming the shot was solid considering the close quarters, I go down to try and extract the fish but when I grab hold of the spear, I don't feel anything. No motion, no tension, nothing. I give it a small tug and the shaft comes out cleanly. We can only assume that the flopper didn't deploy completely because of it striking the rock behind the fish so it didn't penetrate far enough to deploy. While waiting for everything to clear up, my brother in law notices that the head of the grouper is actually just sticking out of a hole on the opposite side of the rock and it's floating. The shot may have come back out, but it had definitely struck it's target effectively.
This Summer continues to impress with the number of sightings and landings of nice sized black grouper that we've been enjoying. Now with the first snapper sightings, we're hoping to get the opportunity to land some monster mangroves too. We can't wait to see what the next trip has in store for us!