|Seas: 1-3 feet||Winds: 10-15 S/SE||Viz: 45 feet||Temp: 84 F|
Don't get me wrong. Regardless of my title for this article, I wouldn't trade the worst weekend in the keys for one sitting at home. And it wasn't the weather or the fishing but the fact that my ear has pinched up on me for 2 straight weeks making it extremely difficult to dive as long or as deep as I want to, so it's pretty frustrating (and painful). On the up-side though, for the first time that I can remember in my years of spearfishing the keys, I actually made it to the campground before 11:00p. It was such a shock that I wasn't actually sure what to do when I got there. I'm so used to putting the kids to bed, unloading truck, walking the dogs and hitting the sack, that I couldn't believe I actually had time to do all that as well as sit around and have a beer while having a conversation with someone who wasn't dying to go to sleep because of how late it was. Who knows, maybe I should start shooting for 10:00p arrivals...
I'm not expecting it to become a regular occurence (years of negative reinforcement conditioning have taught me to deal with regular dissapointment), but it sure was a nice change of pace to be able to relax after that drive instead of worrying about who I might wake up while I'm unloading. Of course, that didn't mean that I got to sleep any earlier... I just stayed up watching a downloaded German subtitled copy of Fast Five (I paid for that the next morning).
We wanted to dive slack high tide Saturday morning but unfortunately upon checking the tide charts, the forces majeure that make those tides happen would apparently keep us from doing so since slack was supposed to happen about 25 minutes after sunrise and that's still feeding time at a lot of the spots we were hoping to hit if we could have. So we head out to the reef and are suprised to find boats fishing 2 out of our first 3 spots (and even a couple of others doing the same on some spots we hit later). Not exactly on our spots, but close enough to where we could have been in danger. Either the danger of being too close to their boats or the danger of them marking our actual spot if they see us throwing fish over the side of the boat that are bigger than those they were catching on hook-n-line :).
So we keep heading West chasing fish, clean water and open spaces with limited success. We hit a couple of spots with big numbers of snappers, but not very many were of any considerable size. We were able to pick out one or two good sized fish but never seemed to run into any schools of monsters. So we decided to keep searching and come back to those spots if we haven't limited out by the time we were ready to head home. We stopped at a few more spots as we head West, the Horseshoe, 8, the Clumps and even a new spot that we had marked last year, but we couldn't recall what this spot was like. As soon as we hit the water, my brother in law calls for me to head over to his side of the boat. There, about 45 feet away straight down is a very nice black grouper, but before we could even breathe up to make a dive on her, she starts swimming away. She wasn't swimming at a very hurried pace, but it was still fairly difficult to keep pace with her (you know, with her being a fish and all).
So we give chase for at least a hundred and fifty yards when she finally takes a rest among some rocks and a very small ledge. She's still out in the open so we needed to be careful as she is obviously easily spooked. We both breathe up at the surface and although I'm waiting for my brother in law to take the first dive, he doesn't seem to be making any motions to drop, so I feel I'm ready and I take the first plunge. I close my eyes, invert and give my six kicks after which I'm freefalling to the bottom. I drop in on her over the top of the ledge hoping not to let her see me and startle her. When I hit the bottom I slowly swim up towards her. I can just see her head over the top of the ledge and I make a couple of mental mistakes that lead up to a no-shot situation. My mistakes in order (even though I know I should be taking the shot):
- My first hesitation was from questioning her size because her head doesn't look as big as I expected and that's all I can see of her from my vantage point.
- My final hesitation from my thinking that maybe her head appears smaller because I'm not as close as I think I am, so I wonder if the shot might be too long. So I think I need to get closer.
As I'm pondering these doubts, she moves out of her resting spot and as I see that she is at least 15 lbs as she swims away and the shot is definitely too long now, I curse my brain for overriding my instinct and make for the surface to give chase once more. This time the chase is short as within about 150 feet she takes refuge in a large coral head. This time, since I screwed the pooch, it's my brother in law's turn to take the plunge but before he can even take his final breath to invert, the grouper leaves the coral head and this time there's no keeping up with her. I chase her for another hundred feet or so before losing sight of her completely. Back on the boat, my brother in law tells me how he was surprised I hadn't take the shot I had. "It was a long shot..." he said, "but Adrian would probably have taken it 5 feet earlier!". We laughed, but she might have been in the boat if I had taken it. The way I look at it, maybe writing out the things I did wrong can be cathartic and I won't make the same mistakes next time I have the same situation (yeah right, like I learn from one mistake!). By the time we turn to the long trip home from some of our farthest West spots to start getting dinner ready, my ear has pinched on me completely to where I can't equalize at all but we close out the day with our limit in mangroves, a mutton, a red grouper, a margate and some nice sized ocean tallies.
Sunday morning we head out early with a full boat to go on a hogfish hunt since high tide is a little later this morning and high slack tide is always a good time to find hogs. I still feel like I can't equalize so I decide I will be the designated driver while Roly, Rudy and Adrian see if they can shoot some of those delicacy fish everybody loves. We get to the first spot a little later than planned and the tide as already switched but these guys were determined to land some hogs so they stay in and fight the current as long as they can and we end up with about 10-12 hogs in the cooler as we head home. All this before 10am.
We finish out the day with a late afternoon run to the sand bar to meet up with some friends to have a few beers and grill up some sausage, burgers and hot dogs on the boat while everyone tells fish stories. It's a great but very long day as we don't even head back to the campground to clean fish and clean up until after 5:30. The day gets a little longer by the time we pull out, flush, clean and put away the jet ski and the boat. By the time all the work was done and we head out, we don't even make it home until after midnight. I think about how hard the workday's going to be since I'm going to be so exhausted but the unfortunate reality is that I can't have one without the other. I guess if I had to get really zen about it, work is the yin to my diving yang.