- < June 22-23, 2013 - A grouper of my very own (actually, two)
- July 27-28, 2013 - Two-fer-Ones and scouting pays dividends >
After having endured 11 straight days of high wind and rough seas which rendered only 1 barely worthwhile dive for me, this past week was my brother in law's shot at an extended diving stay. Luckily for him, the weather was perfect for 4 days in the middle of the week (starting the day after I left). His picture updates of the phenomenal conditions and catch all week while I was incarcerated at work were giving me mixed feelings of envy and hope for the upcoming weekend.
The forecast wasn't looking good but I had hope that those weather witch doctors would get it wrong by at least one day so I could get a shot at the fun too. Unforunately they nailed the forecast this week and I arrived to endure my 12th and 13th straight day (but who's counting?) of the same type of horrible weather. Friends that had also stayed this past week were quick to mention the coincidence of my arrival and that of the bad weather. I really need to do something radical to get my weather mojo back because I'm getting the rep of being a "Bad Weather Schleprock" (a Flintstones reference for you babies of the 80's and later) and I'm starting to believe it myself.
We dropped the bay boat in the water Saturday morning (I still had some repairs to finish on my boat back at home) but couldn't get motivated to do anything, with each glance at the milky horizon prompting me to find yet another task to complete on land. In the end, the day was spent putting together my new fins (Thanks to Captain Nemo fins and Niki and Martin Stepanek) and puttering around the campground until we all went to Sunset Grille (affectionately, "Crappy's") for a few rousing rounds of cornhole and Mojitos. As I told someone else I know who was also worried about the weather... "You can't control the weather, so drink up." And I always practice what I preach (well, almost always).
So Sunday morning arrives altogether too soon and after my brother in law's early departure, I'm left to my own devices for the remainder of the day. After spending much of the morning watching everyone else give up and either take out and clean their boats or depart completely, I finally get the whole family up and going and start heading out around 12:30.
With the tide come and gone and the water closer to shore still that frothy pale blue color that's usually a clear indicator of about 3" of viz, I didn't even hesitate when coming out of the marina and point the boat South to weather the break and check out the reef line. At first no one is complaining but that's only because we were still traveling through water that was partially shielded from the wind by Boot Key and we hadn't entered Hawk Channel yet either. As soon as we clear Boot Key and get into the channel's deeper water, the demeanor of hte water changes almost immediately. We're suddenly in 3-4' seas with the less than infrequent 5-6' rogue wave, all while navigating the 22' bay boat... The look on almost everyone's face changed at least a little, but I figured we had gone this far, I wasn't turning around this time (ok, I did try to check out the water yesterday and failed).
The good news (at least for me) was that the water was cleaning up as we moved into the channel and the now visible reef line was seemingly clear. I was only hoping I wasn't simply seeing shadows of the clouds on the water. Fortunately, in spite of the rough seas, the water continued to clear up as we proceeded through and out of Hawk Channel and I set a course for #25 on the gps without even backing off the throttle. The next 3 miles took longer than I would have like to travel but we made it, not too much worse for the wear. As I pulled back on the throttle within 500' of the spot, I could clearly make out the reef line we dive here and by the time I came to a stop even my daughter proclaimed how clean the water looked.
I handed over the helm to my wife and geared up, knowing that these waves would push us off the spot in the blink of an eye. By the time I was ready to jump in, the gps was once again registering us 500' away from the spot. A quick course correction and an even quicker gps tutorial for my new driver and into the water I slipped. At first sight, the spot seemed to be a hotbed of activity so I drop down and immediately pursue the first mangrove school that happens by. Unfortunately, the fish I find at the bottom are apparently not the fish I spotted from the surface because these were much smaller... Disappointingly it's the same for every school I come across. Not a monster mangrove in the bunch.
I end up spotting 3 black grouper at the edge of the reef and head over hoping there might be a bigger one holed up in the area. I inspect every nook but don't find any larger specimens to pursue but 2 of the 3 grouper are still hanging out and one of them seems to size up, so I give chase. She swims on for a few hundred feet but never pulled out of my sight so I finally drop to get a closer look at the size of this fish. I drop twice on this fish and don't take a shot because of my uncertainty of her legality but every time I surface and get a top down view of her thickness across the shoulders, I continue to think that she is bigger than she appears.
Many times a fish that might be a little skinner than we are used to will appear to be shorter due to it's smaller mass, but legal black grouper typically have a broadness to their shoulders that is usually a good hint as to the fish's true size. Finally, after convincing myself this fish was legal, I drop, pursue (second-guess myself again) and take a good shot that goes into the shoulder behind the gill plate and out the mouth. I surface with my first decent fish of the day and after double checking my measurements on the boat, my first legal black of the day. It's at this point in time that I realize that in my rush to get everyone else going, I had forgotten to prepare a cooler with ice for fish! Doh! So now the pressure was on to not stay out too long because of my lack of a way of preserving the catch properly (I later fill the live well and toss the fish in there just in case).
From here I head to #41, a spot in about 35' of water but find a boat anchored a little too close for my taste to the actual spot, so after jumping in and taking a quick look to find that the water gets cleaner as it gets deeper, we depart. On to #68 where I boat a couple of mangroves and then on to #8 where I find nothing of interest. By now my first, first mate was a little queasy so my second first mate (my son) has taken over the helm and doing a very good job of navigating the waves and keeping a good eye on his spearfishing old man.
About now, I started to feel bad (both for the catch so far and for my family) about being out in these conditions so I promise "just one more spot" and head over to #19. This spot is quite literally a small patch about 100-125' across in the middle of absolutely nothing. It's one saving grace is an excellent red grouper/lobster hole right in the middle of it. We've occasionally taken red grouper from this spot but hadn't had any luck here for quite some time, but it was the closest spot to our position so I figured I would take a chance.
As I slip into the water I notice that I am directly over the hole and as I look down, I immediately see a very nice red grouper sitting out in the open looking back at me. I immediately take my breath and drop in directly above the fish still looking back at me (red grouper are dumb that way). I take a second look at the fish which only confirms my view from above and take the shot. By the time I pull her in and bear hug her to get control, I truly realize what a nice specimen this is.
As I'm removing the shaft from the fish, I spot a larger mangrove on the bottom. I'm somehow able to reload my gun while holding the grouper in one hand and pursuing the mangrove as it swims along the patch. Once reloaded, I drop on the mangrove and only a trigger pull later have actually doubled my catch so far. So I call over the boat to drop off the two fish and decide to spend a few more minutes checking out the area (I said it would be the last spot, not the quickest). Surprisingly, this spot doesn't typically hold mangroves for us, but I was able to bag three more fish in my waist-bound catch bag (otherwise known as my shorts) and a fourth on the shaft before calling it quits and calling in the boat to head for home after what I'm sure seemed like forever to my family but had actually been only 2 1/2 hours dock to dock by the time we made it home. It just goes to show, you never know when you're going to hit it as long as you keep trying. (Disclaimer: Once again, I will insert the disclaimer here about diving/spearfishing alone and the dangers inherent with doing so and how I don't recomend or condone anyone else doing the stupid things I do out of frustration from bad weather - no excuses)