As 2017 was drawing to a close, I decided it was time to get back on the water and give it one last try before grouper season closed on January 1. With the Christmas break upon us, my kids were home and off from school, so we decided to make it a family day on the water (with the exception of my wife that was unfortunately at work today). Throw in my daughter's oldest friend for good measure, and we were off! The forecast wasn't exceptional, but definitely tolerable especially since all the kids had basically been raised on boats. So with my hopefully good luck passengers aboard we headed to one of my local spots that have been very productive over my last few trips and I was hoping for more of the same today.
As usual, conditions don't appear as rough as they might be while heading out of the Gables Waterway, but the sun was out and the boat was running, so it was full steam ahead towards Stiltsville and then on to my spots. The trip was a little bumpy as promised by the weather forecast but luckily not too much so and we're still able to cruise at 30+mph and we're able to make excellent time in spite of the seas As we draw closer to the first spot, I have my son take the helm and so I can suit up to jump in. Thanks to his great efforts driving the boat and watching my GPS, he's able to drop me within 25' of the mark. As I enter the water I'm happy to find that the viz is pretty good and I'm able to spot from the surface in this depth between 30-35' and while I'm sure it was a little worse for my passengers being stuck on board, the surf wasn't pushing me around too much.
As I make my first descent on what has proven to be a very fruitful spot for me in Miami, I'm disappointed to find my first resident of the day is a large green moray that like most, is fairly curious and keeps coming out to investigate me every time I peer into a different nook. I spot a couple of invasive lionfish so I decide to try and take at least one or two of them out as I typically do when I find these nuisances on our local reefs. I hate unloading my speargun into these relatively small prey, so often I will just stab at them with my gun. Interestingly enough, I'm fairly productive with this method as long as the fish haven't had too much interaction with humans as they will usually sit still.
On this particular occasion, I'm not as productive as I wished I was but just as I miss the lionfish and my spearshaft strikes a rock behind it, a large mangrove snapper darts out and begins to circle. This is quite honestly the largest mangrove I've seen in the Miami area in a very long time. I quickly size it up to be around 24" and immediately ilne up for the shot, but it's so close that I don't get to properly extend my gun and when I pull the trigger I immediately realize that I've hit this sizeable snapper too high and as he starts to thrash, I already know what will happen next. As expected, the snapper tears off and I watch as he makes his way back into the same rock I had originally startled him out of.
Confident that it had holed up, I start to breathe up at the surface to start my nook by nook and hole by hole search for the injured fish on this one rather large coral head. I proceed to spend the next 45 to 60 minutes diving repeatedly and inspecting the rock as much as I am able to wth the same nuisance of a green moray continually poking her head out at me on almost every dive. Unfortunately for me, the fish either found too good of a hiding spot in this rock or it exited through another hole unnoticed by me. Either way, even though this snapper came out of hiding and I was able to get a shot off, it still didn't end up in the cooler. Discouraged but not giving up, I move on to inspect other spots on the reef.
I proceed to check out every spot I have on this reef at least once without seeing much more than barely legal mangroves and school masters, neither of which I had any interest in shooting.Dinner was looking bleak. After scouring the reef fo another hour and a half or so, I decide that I would give the first rock one more look just in case the snapper had holed up there and hopefully had decided to come out of hiding since I hadn't been there applying pressure for a while. I quickly inspec the rock with the same results as before but this time as I ascend, something catches my eye to my right. As I ascend and look over, I'm glad to see a well over legal mutton snapper lazily swimming off. I follow briefly from the surface, before taking my last breath and diving on the fish.As always, I take my time to make sure the fish gives me a good view, first to make sure the fish is as large as I think it is and secondly to make sure I get a good holding shot, as mutton snappers are notoriously strong but soft fleshed and anything short of a very well placed holding shot will usually end up with the fish tearing off the shaft regardless of how wounded it may be.
I have seen mortally wounded fish make runs that cause even the best spearfisherman to lose his catch. Luckily for me, this time, my shot stones the fish completely and it immediately drops to the bottom, lifeless. Finally, I got the skunk off! I'm not one that has to catch a ton of fish to be happy, but getting skunked is something I don't take well. I can handle it if I just don't see fish, but after losing the first beautiful mangrove I've seen i a very long time earlier, getting skunked would've hurt. I was glad to be rid of the bad juju.
As we had spent quite some time on this reef, I promised the kids I would only stop at one more spot on our way home and it was only a few miles out of our way on the route home. I board the boat and we make way North about 15 miles towards home and our final spot. This last spot (The Rubble Pile) I decided to go to is not one that always produces large fish, but there's usually enough worthwhile fish and I had been rewarded on my last couple of visits with a beautiful gag grouper and some beautiful hogs too (in season, of course) so I decided to take a chance. If this didn't work, I wasn't sure if the mutton was going to be enough to feed the party that was now starting to gather for dinner.
The rubble pile is typically loaded with tiny snappers... mangroves, schoolmasters and even little muttons, but I've occasionally gotten lucky and landed some pretty decent fish here so I figured it was worth one last try before heading home. Although this spot is very shallow, most of the time, you can't spot from the surface at all and today was no different, I start scouring the bottom, swimming through hundreds (maybe even over a thousand) small fish, all congregating around the only real structure for a fair distance. By my second pass, I was starting to get a little discouraged with no fish to show for my effort. Luckily, as usually is the case, my perserverance pays off and I'm rewarded with a decent 18-19" mangrove (hey, it's a dinner hunt now...) darting in and around the smaller fish. He tries to get lost in the school, but I'm able to keep an eye on him and take a bit of a long shot to land him. This is good news for dinner.
Encouraged by the catch, I convince myself to check the area out again. I had noticed some lesser amberjacks and some yellow jacks swimming around with the school on just about every pass, but I don't typically shoot these for dinner with other folks so I had held off... until now. I really only make one dish with these types of jacks and that's something I like to call Black Jack, which I only make as an appetizer. Since the dinner crowd had grown, I decided we would need an appetizer. On my next pass, the school of mixed jacks comes by me once again so I just pick out the biggest yellow jack in the group and take my shot. BAM! Appetizer take care of. I still thought I could use a little buffer , so on my last pass I find the biggest mangrove I can see and toss him in the boat too.
With dinner take care of, it was time to head for home. Luckily, home today was in the water behind my friends house, which meant I wouldn't have to worry about taking the boat out of the water today. This always makes for quicker cleanups! We pass Virginia Beach and just as we come under the bridge into Biscayne Bay, I'm greeted by a sight that I wish was my office view every day of my life, so I snapped a quick pic to motivate myself towards that end. We make the last leg of our journey home to clean fish, shower and have a fresh seafood dinner with family and great friends. But all the while, I was thinking about the one that never made it into the cooler.
Until next time, smooth sailing and deep diving!