|5-15mph SSE||2-3 SE Swell||40-50'||86F|
The past couple of weekends were plagued with algea blooms and low viz thanks to the higher surf temps and a West wind that always seems to wreak havoc for us. But right around Wednesday of this week, the wind started to turn more Southerly with an occasional Easterly influence so we were hopeful that it would be enough to clean up the water in time for the weekend. We got some conflicting reports about viz from friends, but luckily we noticed that some of these friends were working drastically different areas. So when we woke up Saturday morning, we were still optimistic about the conditions we were going to find.
We pull up to #78, #79 and #98 to find dirty water in less than 10' of depth. This was a little disheartening but it was the outoing tide so we chalked it up to dirty Bay water and jumped in. After having no luck and starting to get a little more discouraged about the lack of clean water, we decided to do like people in old pioneer movies and "Go West, young man!" We moved on to #08 and The Clumps. Even though it took us a while because we were being so selective, before we knew it (3 hours later), we had limited out and were heading home with a few mangroves over 20". We got lazy that night and decided to leave the fish on ice instead of cleaning them. That night we feasted on pasta with shrimp in Francese sauce and pan seared veggies. By the time we finished dinner, we barely made it to the showers before falling asleep.
Sunday, we wasted no time checking out any of our closer spots to try and give ourselves as much time as possible where we found clean water yesterday and we ran even further west. As we cross Hawk Channel, the water turns into our favorite shade... "Bahama Blue". The clarity from the boat was absolutely incredible and we were getting excited at the prospect of what was waiting for us when we would finally get in the water. With the viz as good as it was, we also spend time scouting. It's good to have your spots marked on your gps so you can always check them out, but taking advantage of good (or great) viz and scouting is how you build up that waypoint list on your gps with those spots you want to go to again and again.
Unfortunately we didn't find any new spots worthy of taking up a slot in our waypoints list, so we kept heading west. We started out at #101, where there were a few boats anchored nearby line fishing but we thought there was enough spacing to dive safely so we jumped in. As soon as we hit the water, the mangroves started swimming towards us up and into the water column. My brother in law takes off in chase of one of the bigger fish off to my right and I start my descent as soon as I spot a worthy victim. As I do, I see a legal black grouper start to swim away from his hiding spot (which wasn't a bad spot because I hadn't seen it until it moved). I decide the grouper is a much nicer prize and smoothly ascend without ever making it to the bottom. Thanks to the viz, I spend the next 20 minutes or so chasing this fish all over hill and dale waiting for it to hole up so I can rest up and take a shot.
The fish does finally hole up and I make my drop to see if I can spot it with the flashlight. I make my first drop, which doesn't last very long because I'm still winded from chasing this fish all over the reef, but I'm able to spot a grouper in the back of the rock. Wanting to make sure this was the same fish, I surface to rest up, breathe up and do it all over again. While I'm breathing up, the fish decides to vacate the premises and almost backtracks over the same path it followed to get to the hole in the first place until it finds another spot to hole up in. Once again, I'm back to breathing up but this time I decide to take a little longer and make this the dive I would take the shot on if I spotted the fish, rather than potentially give it another chance to hightail it to yet another spot.
This hole is deeper than the last and as I navigate past the large lion fish at the opening, I can see the dorsal fin of the fish along the back wall with the flashlight. I don't waste any time or opportunity and bring my gun in to the hole, line up and pull the trigger. I know the fish is in a tough spot, but I was hopeful that I would stone it and be able to extract it easily... NOT! The explosion that almost immediately ensues sends silt pouring out of every orifice of the rock and I settle in on my ascent for what I was sure would be a battle. On my next drop I simply try to investigate the situation to find that the shaft has lodged in the back wall of the hole and I can't budge it because I have no leverage. I call over the boat and my brother in law just in case anything gets complicated (line tangling, sharks, eels, etc) while I'm down there trying to get my prize. I head down with a pair of pliers which makes quick work of dislodging the shaft, but the fish is wedged between two rocks and I'm unable to work it free so it's back to the surface to concoct a plan (having to breathe really sucks sometimes).
While we're sitting at the surface waiting for everything to settle down, I notice that the shaft is moving about and actually backing out on it's own. As soon as I see this, I dive bomb to the bottom and brace my feet against the rock as I decide that this fish is coming out now. I feel a little give and continue to apply pressure as by now I'm pretty sure I've got a solid holding shot. A few tugs and seconds later, I'm able to break the fish free and I'm happily making my ascent with the prize in hand. We stay at #101 for a while longer and pick off a few more mangroves before deciding the school has thinned out and it was time to move on.
From #101, we head to the Staghorn and #71 where we land a couple more fish, but things are definitely going slower than we'd like. As we leave #71, I don't ask where we're headed next and lay down on the back of the boat to get some rest before we get back to work (the only work I truly love). We arrive at the spot and I don't ask where we are, I just gear up and get in the water. As soon as I do, I see a grouper swimming along and I consider dropping in on it when I see to it's left a beautiful Mutton Snapper. I try to calm down but excitedly breathe up (more like "gasp" up) and drop on this gorgeous specimen. As usual when you're dropping on a big fish, you (at least "I") start to think about everything that can happen, good and bad. It's amazing how much your mind can think about in the 12-15 seconds it takes to descend on your dive. Of course, primary among those thoughts is, "I better not miss". For some reason the larger the target, the more the anxiety and the more likely you are to take a crappy shot, unless you calm down shut your brain off and let your instincts take over.
For me on this particular dive, I was thinking about every shot I had taken throughout the day that didn't strike it's mark. I had been struggling with high shots all day because after my encounter with the Goliath a couple of weeks ago that cost me my shaft, I had re-rigged my gun with a brand new 140cm shaft as well as 2 brand new slings. On the surface this might sound like less reason for concern, but as any good spearfisherman knows, changes in your gear usually means changes in your shooting, at least until you've had time to dial it in again, and I hadn't had time to do that coming into this shot.
So as I'm pondering all these things in mere seconds, I'm letting myself drop through the water without even kicking as I didn't want to alarm the fish by creating disturbances that might make him run. As I near the bottom and the fish, I'm elated to see that he's not only not running but swimming calmly side to side actually looking back at me with each turn. I try to find that switch in my head that turns off all the negative voices, line up and take the shot... STONED! I'm so incredibly excited that I not only landed the shot, but I won't have to worry about fighting the fish or possibly having him tear off because I put him to sleep with the one shot. Needless to say, I'm fist pumping all the way to the surface.
I've barely cleared my gear from the fish and my brother in law is calling for me as he has a grouper holed up and he wants some backup. I jump back in the water with the flashlight and the rock gun that I'd borrowed from my friend Adrian for a few days. As I'm swimming over, I look below and to the left of my brother in law and here comes another mutton, even larger than the one I just shot! I start to grunt underwater but luckily the fish has already been spotted and my brother in law makes his descent. I watch as he's able to get close enough to land a solid shot (although not a stone shot) on another prize fish. I yell back to the boat that he's shot another mutton "and it's even bigger than mine!". We're so excited as we get back to the boat to take some pics with our beautiful fish.
As we're leaving the spot to head for home, I ask my brother in law "So what spot was that?" and he replies "I've got it marked as 11G. This is the spot where you had that one grouper get stuck years ago." Believe it or not, a fish that I remember well. "Well," I said, "so now the 'G' is for mutton..." We all had a laugh (okay, more of a chuckle) as we cracked celebratory beers for the more than 15 mile trek home. A ride that was definitely made shorter by the feelings we enjoy when we get to land fish like these.