|Seas: 2-3 feet||Winds: 10-15 S/SE||Viz: 50+ feet||Temp: 84 F|
After spending nearly a week in Cat Cay, most people would have been satisfied to get home and vegetate for the rest of the weekend. But truth be told, I've never been lumped in with "most people" by anyone so after making the crossing Saturday morning, unloading and picking up the boat at the ramp, it was time to pack up for an overnight trip to the campground in Marathon! Honestly, it was only out of hating to disappoint my daughter that I found the energy to drive down to the keys on Saturday only to return on Sunday. She had been looking forward to the latter half of our vacation that was supposed to be spent in Marathon but due to weather conditions that delayed our return from Cat Cay I was only able to eek out this last night's stay to appease her.
While the day spent trying to get to the campground was frought with trials and tribulations, the biggest one was having the oil pump go out on the truck while towing the boat down and having to turn around and go home to load up the car and head back down (sans-boat) one more time. It was a little crowded seeing as we were bringing the dogs too, but we made it down that night after making sure I made all the necessary calls while enroute to ensure there would be enough food waiting for us since we were getting there so late. I still had to chip in and cook my famous (at the campground anyway) blackened dolphin but dinner was great even in spite of the carrier class mosquitoes that kept trying to carry us off into the night (a wonderful fringe benefit of the week of rain the tropical wave had created in the keys while we were in Cat Cay).
Finally Sunday morning arrives and it's time to load up the boat with my dive gear still covered with salt from Cat Cay to get back into my South Florida groove. As much as I enjoyed diving Cat Cay, it was really tough (and stressful) being the only diver and I was looking forward to getting back in the water with some friends and doing some diving on my home turf.
We head out around 9:30a even thought we should have gotten and earlier jump because the high tide was supposed to slack up around 8:45a. After coming to grips with the fact that we wouldn't be diving the slack tide, the choice to head out to the reef line was sort of made by ommission. So we start out by deciding we're going to hit some of our spots furthest West and pick a few spots to stop at along the way. #36 was loaded with Mangroves but only a few were of considerable size. Even so, by the time we left, we had about 15 in the cooler. We left a little space just in case we found some larger fish we didn't want to pass up on along the way. The Horseshoe didn't hold anything worthy of chasing or mentioning so we kept moving West.
After hitting a few spots, we had a Black and a Gag Grouper, a couple of muttons and about 15 Mangroves in the cooler. We had lost a couple of other grouper at one of the spots so we were determined to fill our bag limit for that species since we had spotted more legals today than we had on any other day before this Summer. While we're discussing where to go next, Adrian decides it's time for us to go a little deeper and breaks out his gps. He picks one of his spots and tells us "Head here".
As we approach the spot, my brother in law notices the bottom dropping... 40, 45, 51 feet. He asks Adrian if he realizes the depth we're moving into and Adrian starts joking with my brother in law (and ribbing me by association) that the new depth finder I helped him install didn't have the right offset and it must be reading incorrectly. I wasn't paying much attention at the time and didn't get the gist of the conversation while it was happening, but that didn't stop Adrian from thinking it was really humorous. By the time the boat finally comes to a stop the depth finder is reading 52 feet.
At this point we really only had room in the cooler for a couple of Grouper since the limit is now only 1 Black/Gag per person (and we weren't targeting Red Grouper in this depth) and a few Snapper but the water was clean and we figured this was our last stop on this whirlwind tour before heading home so we were really just hoping to fill the Grouper bag limit for only the first time this Summer (a very disappointing thought).
We swam the reef for what felt like a really long time. As we swam, none of us could believe we hadn't run into more fish as the reef was an excellent habitat for everything we usually like to hunt. It had multiple extremely large patches with plenty of relief for fish to take up residence and it extended on for what seemed to be an eternity because no matter how many times I thought we had reached the end of the reef, there would be another patch just at the edge of visibility. Even so, we weren't discouraged (not too much anyway) and kept going. I had actually made my deepest dive of the day to 52 feet to retrieve a Black Margate that I had shot. That dive had me feeling pretty good since my ear had pinched on me on my last two weekends down here, which kept me from diving very effectively due to my inability to equalize properly as well as keeping me worried about losing even more hearing in my right ear. I can tell you that the mental distractions wreak just as much havoc (if not more) on your bottom time than the physical ones.
After nearly giving up more than a couple of times and heading home, Adrian bags the biggest Mangrove of the day as it lied in a sandy patch between two rocky reliefs in about 48 feet of water. The fish thought it was so well camouflaged that it didn't even budge as he neared it dropping in directly above it and pulling the trigger before it even knew what had happened. Of course, one fish (especially a nice one) is usually enough to renew everyone's energy (both physical and mental) and interest just enough to encourage us to keep working the reef line, so we keep going.
After another while has passed, Adrian and I are swimming along when we hear an excited "Over here! Over here!" from just behind us. We turn around to see my brother in law waving us back to his spot, telling us there's a big Grouper he shot that has torn off and holed up. I peer towards the bottom to see his gun's shooting line entangled on a sea fan at the bottom with his gun floating about mid-water column. He points out the rock he saw the Grouper hole up in. So I breathe up and drop down 46 feet to peer into... an empty rock. Unfortunately, the Grouper had apparently moved while he was calling us over. But thankfully Adrian spotted it shortly after I started my descent and dropped in and got the good shot on it. It was actually within short sight of my dive, but I was so focused on the rock that I didn't even notice it sitting about 15 feet away next to another ledge. Hey, as long as it gets in the boat! So I drop one more time to recover the entangled speargun and we're off again. Only one more Grouper left in our bag limit and we were pretty determined we would fill it.
Luckily the last Grouper wasn't too far off as we swam down the reef line. I was actually about 50-75 feet away from the other two when they called me over, asking if I was interested in shooting the last Grouper of the day, supposedly a Gag. Most likely the offer came from some generosity as well as some exhaustion as well as we hadn't really gone too far since the last one. But never let it be said that I'm too proud to accept charity, so I accept the offer and drop down the 48 feet to the bottom to peer into the coral head where I could make out the mottled pattern of a very nice Black Grouper. Right about now, a couple of thoughts enter my head. "They said it was a Gag, could this be the wrong fish?", "How big is this Black?", "Is the Gag here somewhere and bigger?" But after contemplating those questions and more, I decide the Black is a very nice catch and take the shot.
I gave her a decent shot considering her head was facing away from me. It went in on the left side and I figured it had toggled well on the other side somewhere. As soon as I pulled the trigger, she thundered away from me so fast I couldn't even get a grip on the shaft as it disappeared into the hole. By this time, my air is pretty much depleted and I give a last tug on the shooting line as I give up and surface to assess the situation. All the while the guys watched from the surface and saw what I had not in all the commotion. The Grouper had exited the other side of the rock and circled back into the hole I shot through, the whole time dragging the shaft and shooting line along with her. Adrian and I both dropped with him leading me by a few seconds to get a hold of the fish and extract the gear.
He was able to extract the fish, but with the line wrapped around the rock, he was unable to do everything that was needed before needing to surface. We were all pretty pooped by this time. As he surfaces and leaves the fish just outside the rock, I grab it in a bear hug and am able to close the toggle on the spearpoint and extract the shaft while holding on to the fish and surfacing. Good thing too, because although I had been feeling great all day with respect to my ear, that last dive was just that, my last dive. My ear closed up completely on that dive to the point where I couldn't even equalize, but I was already almost at the bottom and I wasn't going to be able to make another dive, so I had to make this one count. After that it was a simple matter of someone picking up the gear and making way to the boat while making sure to give Adrian a hard time and point out that the fish was in fact a Black. He wasn't very appreciative of the lesson, and he made sure to remind me that he was the one that offered the shot. Guess I shouldn't spite the hand that gave me the shot. What can I say, we're a fun group. Not an easy group, but a fun group! It's all in good fun.