Disclaimer: No matter what I do or write, it is NEVER a good idea to dive alone. I do know better, but I'm old and stubborn (no excuses, just stating facts). No matter how cautious I am with staying in shallow depths, watching currents and waves, it's extremely dangerous to dive much less spearfish alone. The possibilities for life threatening situations are too numerous to count, so please don't follow my very bad examples.
Since October of last year, the weather has been pretty disagreeable, at least on the weekends. Week after week, I would watch forecasts that predict calm wind and seas for Wednesday but every week, those forecasts would turn ugly just in time for the weekend. So after suffering since October of last year and accumulating too much vacation time at work, I decided that the very next weekday that showed promise would be mine. As luck would have it, this past week had just one of those days.
I made a quick trip to Austin's dive shop on the Saturday before (which I hadn't visited in at least a couple of months) and after picking up a new dive knife (what can I say, spending money on my hobby makes me feel connected), I got to talking with Luis. We talked about the crappy weather lo' these past few months, but then he mentioned that he was planning to make a dive in the middle of the week. A quick check on my phone and we verified that Wednesday was in fact calling for 5kt winds out of the S/SE with less than 2' seas. I quickly declared that this was the day I had been waiting for and I was not going to miss it! (It's at this point that you might ask, "Why not jump on with Luis?", but I honestly can't keep up with his depths and would not dream of imposing)
Monday and Tuesday, the forecast maintains for Wednesday so I make plans and gather gear to head out that morning. To avoid traffic on the way to the marina, I don't head out too early, but I had the whole day so I wasn't in much of a hurry. As I make way out of Matheson Marina, the day is looking as promised, so I send off a quick pic to make some friends jealous. I was looking forward to getting in the water even if the spearfishing was a bust.
My expectations were pretty low because I knew I was staying shallow because of the fact that I was going alone. Even though shallow doesn't guarantee safety, diving alone is already pressing my luck and going deeper wouldn't be safer (besides, I promised my wife). I haven't had a lot of opportunities to scout in Miami since we always focused on the Keys for over 20 years, so when in Miami, I typically stick to our lobster spots which lately (and by lately, I mean the last 6-7 years) haven't been very fruitful. So like I said, low expectations. Regardless, I was going to get wet (insert sexual pun here) so I was looking forward to whatever the day held in store for me.
As I arrive at a spot I found back in 2014, the water is clean enough to spot from the surface (even though I'm only in 20 feet) so I look for the dark spots, heave the anchor and wait for it to set before starting to don my wetsuit. A few minutes and a couple of double-checks later, I'm ready to go over the side for the first time in 2017. The water was a little chilly but thankfully my Omer 3mm open cell suit made it a non-issue (I love that suit). A quick breathe up on the surface and I was on the hunt.
As I neared the bottom, I couldn't believe the first thing I see is a legal hogfish. I wasn't looking for barely legals and even though this guy was clearly a couple of inches over the minimum, I wasn't going to take him. I decided to follow him around the spot for a bit to see if he led me to his harem or better yet, the real boss of the area. Hogfish usually hang out in groups with a large male pretty much controlling the area and a harem of females. There are typically other smaller males around and that's what I hoped this guy was, one of the smaller males, so I was patient. As I hoped, he led me to an area about 40 feet away that had a much prettier larger male with the large brown stripe down his head and the big lips that let you know this is a mature male hogfish.
This guy was another few inches larger than the first, but I decided to wait even a bit longer. Luckily for me I did, because as I'm watching this hogfish forage on the bottom, I spot a third male as he approaches. This was the guy I was waiting for. This is where it got interesting however. You see, there are proposed changes for hogfish regulations that are going to considerably tighten up the limits for hogfish. I had read about the proposed changes, and was familiar with them, but I had not read anything recently that led me to believe that they had actually enacted the proposed changes. The issue was, that if I was wrong, it meant that hogfish was actually closed right now, and I could be shooting a hogfish illegally. I consider myself a fairly diligent person when it comes to following the regulations, but the FWC isn't known for it's public relations and communications so I was just a bit nervous.
Trusting myself however, I decide to take the shot. I drop, line up and make a perfect stone shot on a 19" Miami Hogfish. Once I had this one in my hands, I knew the male with the brown markings was also of good size by comparison and took him as well. Back on the boat, I start to second guess myself and decide to make a call to my brother in law to ask if he would contact the FWC for me to verify whether or not the new regulations had been enacted. I wait a few nervous minutes for his return call, and after pranking me and telling me the regulations had been enacted and hogfish was closed, he lets me off the hook and tells me that I was correct and the changes were still only proposed so I was good to go.
Already having two nicer fish than I expected to have all day, I decide to pick up anchor and move on to another spot. This spot was unfortunately not holding fish but instead of moving on right away, I decided to venture a little further away from the boat (keeping it reasonable) to see if I could find anything else worthwhile. One trick I like to use whenever I'm in an area that has a lot of sand with only a few spots for fish to hide, is to follow smaller fish and see if they lead me to a hiding spot. This is how fish survive and many times has led me to honey holes (although I wasn't holding my breath for a honey hole in very shallow Miami water). Although I wasn't led to a honey hole, I was led to a nice group of rocks that could at some other time of the year, easily hold lobster and possibly grouper, so after picking up a couple of legal bugs, I dropped a float marker on the spot, got back in the boat and marked my newly scouted location (MIA032-17) on my GPS.
By now, it was getting a little later in the afternoon and I already had enough fish for dinner, so after stopping for a quick bite to keep up my energy, I decide to stop at my last spot for the day. This spot is typically littered with small mangroves and schoolmaster snapper but occasionally will hold lobster and a couple of larger snapper or grouper (at the right time of year) so I head off to the rubble pile to see who was home today. As usual, the rubble pile was holding hundreds of small schoolmasters and mangroves. All barely legals so I wasn't going to take any of these but I decide to hang out for a bit since it was going to be my last spot.
I watch the enormous school of small snappers keeping an eye out for the brute that stands out in the crowd. After a few drops, I see one specimen that fits the bill. The funny part is that he looked like a behemoth among the fish he was hanging out with even though I knew he wouldn't be much more than 16-18". I end up spotting three fish like this using the same method of just hanging out and waiting for someone to stand out in the crowd. The three fish were comparable. No monsters, but dinner.
After playing around with a scorpionfish for my video, I bag one more hogfish and I decide to call it a day. All in all, not a bad day even if they weren't prize fish. I was looking to have a great day on the water and hopefully catch some fresh dinner and luckily for me, I was able to do both. I ended up with a triple triple. 3 Hogfish, 3 Mangroves and 3 lobsters (with a large Lionfish thrown in for good measure). As far as I'm concerned, until they enact the new hogfish regulations, more of these Humpday Staycations will hopefully be a part of my very near future.