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July 14-15, 2012 - Wanna see a $600 grouper?

Bob Diaz | SpearBlog 2012 | July 16, 2012 | Print
riffe, 2012, stuck truck, lost and found, first grouper
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15-25 SE

This week I was hoping for something a little extra. At the start of this weekend I hadn't shot a grouper yet all summer and I was hoping I would get the first one in spite of the fact that the weather forecast was pretty horrible and I was only going to get to dive Saturday because we had to get back home early this weekend to make it in time for a friend's daughter's birthday. So with little time and an unfavorable forecast, I was going to see what I could make of it. When I woke up Saturday morning, I figured I would make the best of my early rising and top off the boat even though I probably wasn't even going to put it in this weekend as the bay boat was already in the water.

After getting back from filling up the boat, I have issues parking the boat trailer in the field because of all the rain over the past few weeks. The field had turned into more of a monster truck rally arena than anything else and after giving up on parking the trailer where I needed to due to tire slippage, I proceed to get the truck stuck in about 12 inches of water, sod and mud. Luckily a campground neighbor with a 4 wheel drive van was able to strap up to the hitch on my truck and give me a pull out of this temporary swamp. A situation whose humor was not lost on the friends of this Gator (a Gator stuck in a swamp, come on...).

I should've figured that the morning's happenings were a harbinger of doom, but being my usual determined (stubborn) self, I kept on keeping on regardless. After getting the truck unstuck and cleaning it off, we decided to get underway. The seas looked horrible, but we figured we would make at least one attempt to get to the patch reefs to the East. That attempt was terribly short lived as soon as we rounded the South end of Boot Key harbor and were faced with 4-5' seas even before entering Hawk's Channel (entry into which would only guarantee higher seas) so we turned tail and headed for the bridge (7 mile, that is).

 My brother in law was on the tail end of his vacation so he was ok with just letting me work these shallow spots to see if anyone was home (that and the fact that the tide had already switched to outgoing). Jumping in at the Special Spot first, I'm faced with 3-4' seas within half a mile of the bridge and just about 10' of viz (at best). The lack of viz was unfortunately making almost all the inhabitants of the area extremely skittish which invariably led to my missing opportunities on at least one legal black grouper and a couple of nice hogfish. I was really starting to get frustrated. The seas were consistently keeping the boat outside of shouting range especially when you took into consideration the wind noise from the 20-25' winds blowing from the SE, so it was laborious to work this area to say the least.

After a couple of hogfish, a porgy and a small (legal) mangrove were in the cooler I decided to make one more attempt in the area and asked my brother in law to drop me off in front of the Glory Hole for me to make one last drift through that area before calling it quits and heading home. Upon jumping in the water, I almost immediately startle 2 legal black groupers as I drift over a couple of ledges leading up to the ledge we call the Glory Hole. It was obvious to me, that the only shot I had at a black grouper in these conditions was going to be if I could find one holed up. Any fish hiding in the open were just too skittish with these conditions.

The current had switched a little more, but I could still maintain position and dive the spots thanks to the relatively shallow depth. In the Glory Hole, I find a couple of short black groupers (insert pun here) and about a 6 foot nurse shark all cozily co-residing but there was obviously nothing to shoot so I stop fighting the current and drift back a little more to the Half Moon. At the Half Moon, I see a little bit more activity and momentarily think about taking the shot on a legal hogfish cruising this relatively small crescent shaped ledge, but decide I would rather spend my time checking the ledge to see if anyone was home.

On my first couple of drops I shine my light under the ledge and immediately startle a grouper that was sitting under the ledge, but she was doing it so quickly that I couldn't really gauge her size. By now, I'm getting a little tired as I've been fighting the increasingly outgoing tide for a while but I don't want to miss out on the one grouper I had found holed up that may be legal so I keep kicking just to maintain my position over the ledge below (a feat that was not made any easier by the fact that the ledge was actually difficult to spot from the surface while breathing up). I decide I've only got another couple of drops in me, so I'm determined to get a good visual on the fish this drop so I can make a final decision on whether or not to take the shot. Luckily for me on the very next drop, I'm able to clearly make out the eyes and outline of the fish against the back wall of the ledge and she's calmed down enough to where the light isn't startling her every time. I realize I won't be able to take the shot on this drop, but take my time sizing her up to be as certain as I can be since I don't have the advantage of a second opinion on the size of the fish.
 I decide she's a keeper...

On my next (and last) drop, I work to get into the best position possible to line up the light and speargun as quickly as possible because by now, I'm practically spent but determined to land my first grouper of the summer. I drop, and am able to shine the light directly on her head and line up the gun to take the shot, take aim, pull my trigger and strike home on my first grouper of the summer. She battles to bury herself in the recesses of the ledge, but this particularly small ledge doesn't give her much opportunity to hide herself. Even though, I'm still unable to extract her on this one breath so I surface to breathe up as quickly as possible as I now have all my gear either in the fish on the bottom or floating behind me in the current. If she were to have a burst of energy and swim off upcurrent, there was a chance I could lose my gear if I couldn't keep up with her. By the time I'm ready to drop in on her for extraction, she has started to come out of the ledge on her own as my shot struck home through the gill plates and she was weakening fast so I dive quickly and grab the shaft on either side of her head to get a secure hold and surface with my hard fought prize.

As I surface, my excitement is obvious and I wave the boat in with a few nods of my head as I hold the fish out of the water exclaiming to my brother in law, "I sure hope she's legal after all this work" as I toss the fish and spear into the back of the boat to let myself climb up and take a breather. After extracting the spear and verifying the fish was legal, my brother in law throws her in the cooler and I feel like I can finally relax because I finally got rid of my bad grouper mojo (or so I thought).

This feeling of relief was altogether too short lived as I look around the back of the boat and exclaim "Where's my gun?". In my exhaustion, I had paused to rest and not pulled in the rest of my line and gun from the water thinking it was securely attached to the fish while floating behind the boat. A mistake it would turn out, that would cost me dearly. As a result of the rough conditions and my lack of attention, the shaft, once removed from the fish must have fallen out of the back of the boat while we were otherwise preoccupied.

We scan the water looking for the stock of the gun floating in the surf and my brother in law luckily spots it about 75 feet off the stern of the boat. I had already removed most of my gear and with the current moving as swiftly as it was by now as well as the lack of viz, jumping in with no gear to attempt to retrieve it was out of the question as I probably wouldn't be able to see it once in the water anyway. For a moment, we think everything will be ok as my brother in law starts to turn the boat into the waves to get to my gun that was now drifting further away. Unfortunately, before we can get the boat turned around, I watch as the flopper on the spear must have caught on the bottom and just like the sinking feeling I immediately got in the pit of my stomach, I watch the now switfly moving current make the gun disappear below the surf. With the minimal viz, the gun disappeared from sight within seconds.

My disappointment, frustration and anger kept escalating as my brother in law tried to keep me calm telling me he knew where it went down, but as it usually is on the water, every wave looks the same and we are unable to spot the gun from the boat at all. By now, I'm thinking that this was the worst $600 grouper ever! We jumped back in the water and searched for over an hour making multiple drifts in the outgoing tide to see if we can spot the gun but came up totally empty. By now, I'm telling my brother in law that the continued search (and coming up empty) is only fueling my anger and that I'll get to acceptance quicker if I give up (not that he hadn't tried coaxing me into trying more).

The trip home was a terribly quiet one as I sat in the back of the boat angry at all the things that had gone wrong. Upon our arrival, it was only the other spearos in the park that really understood the gravity of the situation I was feeling. I have other guns, but in addition to the difficulty of spending the money required to replace the gear (no small obstacle), there's the frustration of losing it as well as a loss of comfort as well. It's sort of like having a couple of close friends of which you consider all to be excellent, but only one with which you've shared experiences with and have the history with that puts you at ease.

After a couple of beers to calm down, my brother in law convinces me that it's worth the effort to go back out at slack tide to look once again with a couple of additional fellow spearo volunteers to aid in the search. We head out with our friends Rudy Sr. and Rudy Jr. to help us with Sr. trying to encourage me by proclaiming "We're going to find your gun, I'm positive of it". Of course, while appreciating his positive attitude, being the analytical type-A that I am, in the back of my head I'm practically calculating the odds of the impossibility and futility of this endeavor, all the while mentally visualizing my gear skipping along the bottom being taken out to sea by the outgoing tide.

As we near the area, we all get terribly excited when we spot somethinng floating in the water and we immediately think (and hope) that we've found it! Unfortunately, it was nothing more than a bottle bobbing along in the surf, only adding to my increasing frustration.  So I drop off the three volunteers to begin the search thinking I'll drive for the moment. After a minute, I figure I'll get in the water to drift along and search with my friends and leave my brother in law's wife to drive for the duration. As I enter the water with my second gun, I tell her, "I'll f$#!%ng drown before I let go of this one" (a statement my wife didn't appreciate later).

As I'm drifting along contemplating my anger and frustration, I think to myself that the only thing better than finding the gun would be for me to find it myself. I guess I felt like if I found it myself I would have turned the corner on a series of events that have plagued me over previous couple of months. I decide my time searching is better spent drifting about mid column so that I can spot the bottom as well as the surface to better my odds of spotting what I was looking for. We're barely 10 minutes into our first drift as I float along scanning the bottom and surface when for some reason I decide to look back and scan the terrain behind me. It's at this time that I spot a piece of what looks like fishing line originating from the bottom. I visually follow the line to the bottom and to my surprise, it's attached to a spearshaft lying on the bottom! I immediately follow the line to the surface to spot my gun bobbing vertically in the waves above me! I shoot towards the surface with shaft and line in tow and grab the stock as I break the surface screaming out that I've found my gun!

phoca thumb m IMG 3761-2I still can't believe that we found my gun. The odds of the gun still being in the area were minimal at best and the odds of any of us (much less me personally) drifting within 10-15' (the approximate viz) of the gun if it were in area were abysmal to say the least, but it happened and I'm happy to say that I wasn't allowed to give up by my friends and family (in spite of myself). Needless to say the attitude on the boat was instantly improved and we were able to finish out the day by shooting some dinner before it getting too late and heading back to our home port.

Regardless of my attitude and behavior in this situation (in my defense, it was my attitude that caused my behavior :), it's important to note that a little faith (in my case, very little) can sometimes buck the odds and give you a push in the right direction (even if that push is your friends kicking you in the ass!), letting a situation work out in a way you wouldn't have thought possible.
 I've been having a crappy summer when it comes to my expectations and goals in spearfishing, but I feel like maybe this truly was a corner turned and fun times lie ahead (geez, I hope I'm right).