The text from my friend Carlos Casal comes in the day after Christmas with two simple words... "Bimini Saturday?" (there may have been more words, but those stood out) and all of a sudden I feel like it's Christmas all over again. That nervous anxiety that comes over you when you know the present you're getting, but you can't open until Christmas morning grabbed hold of me from that moment. I've never had the opportunity to head over to Bimini with the sole intention of spearfishing for the day with no other distractions. A vacation in Cat Cay a few years ago afforded me my first trip to the Bimini Islands and I even landed some fish, but this would be different, and I was stoked.
The plan was to meet at 4:30a in order to get underway before dawn. After a quick final check and a short drive, we were heading out of Crandon Park marina and setting our course Eastward towards Bimini under a cloak of total darkness thanks to a new moon. The seas were mostly as forecast with 2-3' of chop thanks to the 10kt Easterly winds but the added Northerly swell at about 4 seconds made the going a little sloppy especially with no light at all. The 27' Ameracat handled the seas well and our arrival at the Bimini Big Game Club for the purpose of clearing customs is timed perfectly at just before 8:00a (the time the customs office is "supposed" to be open).
As is pretty well known however, the clocks (and life) don't seem to run at the same pace here in the islands and we're forced to wait for the local time to catch up to us before we can clear customs. I make use of the downtime to "illegally" (since only the captain is supposed to go ashore before clearing customs) use the facilities ashore and shoot some b-roll for the vid I was hoping to put together from this trip. So I took a couple of walks, shot some elevated video from my selfie stick and a short while later, we have our paperwork in order and we're heading out of the marina to our first spot.
It was great to make this trip with someone that has spots to hit since with only one day, I didn't want to spend a lot of time scouting. We arrive at the first spot and we gear up to drop over the side of the boat. After scouting the area for a very short while, I spot the first grouper of the day. She looks good from the surface and I give chase, which is when I realize that in my excitement, I forgot to put on my headcam. Although disappointed that I wouldn't be able to record this first fish, I pursue regardless. I make my first drop on the fish and as I approach, I realize that it's considerably larger than it appeared from my first sighting. As I draw close for the first time unfortunately, she proves to be more weary than I hoped and takes off with a single thud of her tail. I continue to pursue as I surface and continue to do so until she luckily holes up in a ledge. I watch possible exit points to make sure she hasn't escaped before resting up to make my next drop, but not before I signal for the boat and my buddy to come over.
Once my buddy arrives, I let him know where the fish holed up and he goes down to verify. He resurfaces to let me know the fish is exactly where I said it was and asked if I was ready to take the shot, my first shot on a Bahamas grouper with my Riffe carbon fiber pole spear. I think it took longer for me to calm down at that point than it did to rest up after chasing the fish all over the reef. Needless to say, I breathe up and make my drop with flashlight and pole spear at the ready. I take my time, line up the shot and release! The pole spear strikes home as evidenced by the cloud that explodes from underneath the ledge. I felt I had a good holding shot and start to back out the pole spear. At first I feel resistence, but then I feel the slip tip come free and I get that sinking feeling in my gut. "How did I not get him?" I surface with an empty pole spear, disappointed and upset, but positive we would have another chance. We make numerous drops waiting for the sediment to settle, when Carlos is lucky enough to make out the fish at the back of the ledge and land the stone shot on this grouper. As far as we were concerned the trip was off to a great start with our first grouper on the deck from the first spot. It's nice to make the shot, but it's better to have fish in the box!
At our next spot, Carlos and I were still in the water together when he spots a nice Cubera Snapper while dusting up the bottom trying to bring some fish in. I spot it from the surface as well and I watch as he approaches to attempt a shot while the snapper sits just under a ledge but then bolts off as he is just about to release the sling. We keep the snapper in sight and he makes another drop on the fish. He tries approaching the fish from a blind side and expertly draws and releases the sling shaft in an instant as he spots the snapper under the ledge. The shot does strike the fish, but unfortunately not mortally and the snapper takes off like a bat out of hell with the shaft in it's tail. Once again, I was lucky enough to keep the fish in sight from the surface and pursue it to it's third hiding spot as Carlos picks up his shaft from the bottom and makes his way over to where I am.
I make the first drop but am unable to locate the fish. Carlos makes the next drop and spots the fish, but it comes out the back door of the ledge where it immediately tries to hide under a very small outcropping. Carlos surfaces telling me to take the shot, so I descend and am able to make a holding shot on the fish from directly above it head. Still being a novice with my pole spear, I was very glad I didnt' miss and we didn't have to chase this fish further.
At this point I offer to drive so Carlos' dad (Carlos Sr.) can get in some dive time with his son. They've been doing this together for decades and I was very glad that they afforded me the opportunity to do this with them. Once up in the boat and behind the helm, you might imagine my storytelling has to get curbed a little, but luckily for you (and me) there was still enough excitement to go around.
We move on to yet another spot and aren't there for too long before I get called over to pick up a smaller pole spear that Carlos and his dad had been using because the fish that Carlos had found under a ledge and shot had broken off the spike of the slip tip, leaving him with only a broken piece of stainless steel as the end of his pole spear. It's at this point that Carlos asks me to anchor up so I can get in and help them locate the fish. Fortunately, by the time I get the hook set, Carlos has already found the quarry and was merely trying to decide on the best shot to take. He points out the fish's hiding spot to me but before I can breathe up and make my first drop I see Carlos drop with his sling in hand, draw and shoot into a tiny crack without too much ensuing chaos. I was already dropping before he drew his shot and was able to retrieve the near 25lb yellowfin without getting too beat up thanks to a very well placed shot in the head.
I hand off the fish for some photo opps and then Carlos heads back to the boat with our latest prize. This is when it got interesting for me... We had dropped in a float line with some weights to make sure we didn't drift off the spot too much and while handing off some gear to retrieve the float line, one of the extra pole spears (with only a paralyzer tip) was dropped. Wanting to make quick work of this, I hand off my pole spear and breathe up quickly to make my drop and grab the extra pole spear. As I grab the pole spear and begin to surface I see one of our flashlights making its way to the bottom. I raise my hand to point it out not knowing if anyone had noticed that it had been dropped when all of a sudden I look down and there is about a 6-7' reef shark coming up the float line directly beneath me (check the vid). I immediately take a quick look around to see where everyone is and use the pole spear to keep the shark at a distance since his curiosity now has him turning torwards me.
We fended him off (obviously easier because the catch was on the boat), but he refused to leave the area. Carlos jumps back in the water and I point out the shark in the distance asking him to keep an eye on it while I retrieve his flashlight (it was an expensive flashlight). So I make my last drop with my head on a swivel, grab the flashlight and break for the surface. We swim back to the boat laughing it off (it's scientific fact that laughter is a nervous response... I'm just saying). No harm, no foul. The only animal on the boat with extra holes in him is the fish, so we're good.
I continue driving at our last spot (well, the last spot we catch fish at...) when Carlos tells me to anchor up again because he's wounded a grouper and needs help finding it. So I anchor up once again, gear back up and jump in to search the reef. We scour the reef for about 10 minutes when I find what I at first assume is the wounded grouper under a ledge and call Carlos over. I didn't even have my pole spear at this point so I tell him where the fish is and let him know that I didn't see any holes in it so I'm unsure if it's the same fish, but it's a big one. Carlos goes down, takes one look and then goes under one side of the ledge. I hear the shot hit the grouper and I see Carlos come out of the other side of the ledge. The grouper instinctively tries to go deeper into the ledge but Carlos' very quick thinking lets him loop the sling of the pole spear around a small outcropping on the top of the reef which kept the grouper from going too much deeper and keeping us from losing a pole spear. After this it was another matter of great teamwork where I go down to grab the grouper by the jaw where it had holed up deep in the ledge and Carlos releasing the sling so I could pull the grouper out. Our biggest fish of the day!
I figure I should be invited back again if for no other reason other than my excellent retrieval abilities... Hey, I don't mind.
By now we were all exhausted, ears pinching and calves and hammies cramping but Carlos Sr. and I dove for another while longer until it was time to go home. We didnt' land any fish, but I did see what was probably the biggest yellow jack I would have ever shot as well as very likely the largest mutton I've ever seen in the water. No chance at landing either without my float line, but still awesome sights to see. All in all, one of the hardest working days of spearfishing I've had but like I said that day, "I'm willing to work this hard for this much fun any day of the week. When are we coming back?"...