It was a little upsetting for me to realize as I sat down to compose this week's blog that I hadn't even gotten around to composing my usual "Foreward" blog at the beginning of this year. It was even sadder for me to think that it was because I hadn't been in the water since December 26. So in efforts to combat my sadness and keep up my word count on my blogs (like anyone else is counting - or even reading) this one turned out a little long (which is particularly odd since I only got to dive one day... but more on that in my excessively wordy blog). Enjoy!
So I wasn't able to dive for the official opening of Atlantic & Gulf grouper on May 1 (or any time thereabouts), so I was hoping for something good on this, my opening day. We all wake up early on Saturday morning and after helping to put in a friend's boat to make sure everyone had a means to dive (we couldn't all fit in one boat now, could we?) we pile into the Angler to head out to #69 (insert sexual pun here...). My brother-in-law had arrived on Thursday so he had an extra day to shoot before the rest of us got there and he had told me he left a grouper at this spot so we hoped it would still be there today.
He hadn't wanted to take the shot because this spot is in about 45' of water and has one coral head that every grouper will head for if you don't make the perfect shot. He didn't want to chance having to muscle this grouper out of the coral head in this depth since he was diving sans-buddy (as I've said in so many posts, don't do as we do. Always dive with a buddy). So we arrive at the spot noticing the great viz along the way hoping that the resident hadn't moved on since yesterday. We suit up and my brother-in-law let my nephew and me get in the water first (I'm convinced it was because of the chilly temp) to survey the area and check to see who was home.
As I make my way to the part of the reef where the coral head is, I spot and pursue an obviously legal black grouper that immediately leads me to the coral head making this part of my job easy. My nephew dropped in first and peered through the openings in the rock and made his way back to the surface. I breathe up, invert, tuck my head and drop to the bottom to peer in through the main opening where I can see the tail of the grouper on the left side with her head pointing into the rock and away from me so I decide to surface and make another drop so as not to pressure the fish into making a run for it.
I no sooner break the surface from my ascent than the grouper comes out of the rock of her own accord and is hanging out calmly just outside the rock. I almost couldn't believe it and not wanting to waste the opportunity, I make one of my shortest breathe ups ever and dive bomb to the bottom with gun extended towards the grouper. As I get about 8 feet off the bottom, the grouper turns and starts swimming back into the rock. Luckily for me she's swimming pretty lazily and I have an opportunity to close the gap with a last couple of kicks and take the shot that lands solidly in the shoulder. I can see that the spear has toggled on the other side so I immediately start to pull on the shooting line trying to keep the grouper out of the rock but not before she pinches my shaft in a nook on the rock and proceeds to turn her body upward and turns my previously lower cased "l" shaped stainless steel spear into a capital "L" with terrible ease.
I'm able to work the spear out of the nook and start to head for the surface with the grouper in tow (or so I thought)... Before I can get too far, the grouper is able to tuck just her head under the lip of the rock and open up her gill plate to anchor up on the rock. By this time I didn't think I had enough breath to drop back down and possibly have to wrestle her out if she's able to make it all the way in (remember, I didn't get to do a full breathe up and had just surfaced from another dive before doing all this) so I continue to try and muscle her out and up. Much to my chagrin, I'm unsuccessful in doing so before finally surrendering the tug of war and heading for the surface, while watching her tow my now bent spear into the rock below me.
So after surfacing and performing the requisite chastising of my nephew for not dropping to assist in the battle, I breathe up (properly this time) and make another drop to finally retrieve the hard fought prize (as well as my spear that is now good for shooting around corners) and return to the boat for spear un-bending and some instagram pictures! I was feeling pretty good for my first drop of the year.
So we move on to the next spot in shallower depths of about 30' (which makes it seem like we did the warmup dive second...) where my brother-in-law picks up a very nice red grouper that I wish I could write about more descriptively, but I wasn't close enough to observe the action (besides, red groupers are notoriously curious and will typically give up the easy shot).
So on to our next spot (we do that a lot) where my brother-in-law spots a very nice black grouper and follows her until she holes up under a very small rock (at least in comparison to the grouper). We make a couple of drops and after picking the side to shoot through, my brother-in-law offers me the shot because he was worried that he would bend his spear on his new Wong speargun with a shot in such close quarters (and that would make two spears he had bent). I had been able to straighten (a very loose application of the word "straighten") out my shaft on the boat, so I figured I had much less to lose and took the shot for him. And with that, we had our second black of the morning on the boat (which as it happens, was almost the first's identical twin).
On to the next spot where it's my nephew Ryan's turn... He finds his, and true to form it holes up in a rock before he can get a shot off (I want to know where these other spearfishermen I see in videos fish when they shoot these typically skiddish fish in the open and don't have to spend the next 30-40 minutes figuring out how to get the fish out of the rock...). I arrive on the scene to find them surveying the rock to find the best angle to shoot so the fish can be easily extracted and the shot doesn't tear up half the meat on the fish. After a couple of dives, we instruct our nephew to take the shot right in the fish's nose that is sticking out of a smaller nook. Unfortunately, our nephew takes a shot through that same nook but at an angle that keeps us from being able to extract the fish because of the angle of the spear. After our trying multiple times to extract the fish backwards, I realize the fish is blocked in the front by a rock that was easily moved and proceed to do so, coming up with the fish and everyone's gear in tow to save them a trip down to pick up the other guns we had rested on the bottom while evaluating our options. Interestingly enough all three blacks were within 3/4" of each other at around 30". It would seem the grouper season closures are working...
We close out the morning (which is now the afternoon) dive with a shallow dive around the 7 mile bridge to pick up some hogfish just for good measure before heading back in around 2:30 in the afternoon. After a snack and a few drinks we decide we would head out for a late high tide dive to see if we can land a few more fish to fill our bag limits for the day. So we head out to Hawk's channel to dive for some snapper and more hogfish. This trip came up almost empty with only 2 hogs to show for our effort. I had spotted two 8lb muttons swimming along the bottom and was able to take and land a long shot on one of them, but he was able to spin off because my spear hadn't toggled through-and-through. It was starting to get near dusk so we headed home because we had a crapload of fish to clean and we hadn't even planned dinner yet.
While cleaning fish well into the evening, I got a call from work that turns out to be a report of an issue I needed to address immediately. After multiple attempts reaching out to my local resources without success, I ended up having to leave for home (work, actually) at 3am to resolve the problem that had come up, cutting my weekend short. After a long drive and a sleepless night at the office, I headed for home around noon. What can I say? The unfortunate circumstance that is work which subsidizes my spearfishing endeavors periodically becomes an obstruction instead of a benefactor of my pastime and unfortunately for me, this was one of those times. Or for the texting crowd, wrk sux.