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|Seas: 1-2 feet||Winds: 10 S/SE||Viz: 35-50 feet||Temp: 86 F|
All summer long, we've been suffering a grouper recession of sorts. This year was the first year of an experimental close on all shallow water grouper in Florida waters. Unfortunately, along with this closure, we also suffered the longest and coldest winter snaps in the spring that I can ever remember (and I'm born and raised here, so no need for me to check the almanac). This summer has been one of the oddest in recent and long term memory and my personal opinion is weighted heavily towards our unprecedented cold kill from this past spring. We have not seen anywhere near our regular number of grouper or mangroves in almost all of our shallow water reefs. We were lucky enough to get a few nice specimens over the summer, but considering I could count the number of grouper I've landed this summer on one hand, it's still somewhat disappointing.
Our last visit was pretty eventful due to the fact that when we jumped in the viz was only about 15 feet but we were in almost 50 feet. Adrian and I dropped simultaneously and were within viz range of each other as we did so. At the bottom, I went left, he went right. As I scan around to my right, I see Adrian pumping after a target with gun outstretched, but I couldn't make out what he was chasing. All of a sudden he turns to his right and I hear and see his shot. My next sight is that of his 120cm Riffe Euro swimming away without him! I try to give chase, but was just simply out of air and viz and couldn't keep up.
As we surface, he yells out that the fish had taken his gun! I let him know that I saw it, but couldn't follow. He called for the boat and an air tank as I dropped as quickly as I could to see if I could spot the gun or the fish. Once he donned the tank, he immediately dropped and started a grid search pattern as fast as he could, so fast in fact that I couldn't keep up. Luckily he was able to locate the gun and the grouper, so he chased it into a coral. I dropped and handed off my gun to him and he was able to successfully extract this troublesome fish.
So after all the excitement from the last visit, we were obviously hopeful that this spot would produce more good times especially in light of the fact that this time, we could actually spot the bottom. At first, things started out a little slow but decent with a couple of very nice sized ocean tallies (grey triggerfish) and even a nice mutton. On a subsequent drop, Adrian yelled out about another large tally so I headed over to get mine (I had already lost one, so I guess he took pity on me). I drop, give chase, line up and take the shot. So, good news bad news... Good news, I hit my target and land the fish. Bad news, as I pull the trigger the sound of my gun firing startles what I estimate to be a 16-18 pound grouper sitting on the bottom about 20 feet below.
I immediately start to signal underwater hoping that someone is within earshot to give chase while I surface and reload. Adrian is the closest diver as I surface and I let him know what I saw. We search for a couple of minutes, but Adrian is certain he knows where the fish has headed. To a nearby coral where he has shot other grouper. So we head over and Adrian is the first to drop followed by my brother in law. They let me know that they spotted the fish in the ceiling of the coral head. Adrian drops to take another look and I follow. He decides he has the shot, so he takes it as I look on. He gives me the thumbs up and starts to surface slowly as I move over and untangle the shooting line so his gun floats free. As I do, I see the grouper exiting the coral head from a rear exit with a loose skin flap from Adrian's shot flashing like an underwater beacon. At this point, as Adrian put it, I had to decide... "Breathe or grouper shot?". Obviously (at least to us), I give chase, she holes up almost immediately and I get off the shot that lands her before screaming towards the surface that's 50 feet away.
Unfortunately after that, the weekend goes sharply downhill. I wake up sick on Sunday and after a morning dive, we start to pack up (at least until the rain started). It was a pretty crappy conclusion to a decent weekend that symbolized the end of my summer.