Well, it's the end of yet another Summer of diving and spearfishing. I would say that this one definitely seemed to have come and gone a lot faster than other years in the past. Even though it started out pretty strong this Summer (even without the presence of large groupers), it really seemed to lighten up around mid-July when the water just wouldn't warm up like it usually does and with the added inconvenience of the swarms of jellyfish that arrived about a month and a half early. I can tell you that for me, this one literally flew by. Before you know it, it will be January and another blog year is in the archives...
The biggest sore subject for me that I didn't improve my diving at all (if anything I struggled all Summer) and I didn't get to achieve any of the goals I had set at the onset of the season.
- Improve my breathhold times (I was breaking 2:00 regularly at the end of last Summer).
- Target 80fsw this year (with the realistic hope of working 70fsw).
- Be the first of my group to shoot a Wahoo.
Granted, considering the water got so dirty right about the middle of the Summer and the jellyfish moved in so early, it was difficult to get in as much time as I wanted diving. But this shouldn't have stopped me cold. Unfortunately, a multitude of factors weigh in on these goals and this just wasn't my year. I rarely felt at ease diving this year, feeling more like I was constantly pushing myself harder than normal which really only seemed to increase my stress about diving. I knew this wasn't a productive outlook on my part, but it was just difficult to avoid this year. Regardless, it teaches me that time (and tide) wait for no man and you must seize any and all opportunities afforded you if for no other reason than to never look back and wonder "what if?"
Luckily the last official weekend of the Summer did end well for at least one of us. On Saturday we were diving an area East of Sombrero light in the area of Delta Shoal where our friend Adrian assured us there is regularly grouper. Upon our arrival, Adrian and I jump in and start checking out the area to see if there are any possibilities. This section of reef was a great area with tons of relief and large outcroppings of coral rock that had tons of potential for holding grouper and other shootable fish.
We got to one section that looked particularly good and that was familiar to Adrian so we started concentraing on it checking out every nook and cranny to see if anyone was home. The first noticeable inhabitants were very large Black Margates. By my count there were easily a dozen of these patrolling in and out of the ledges we were hovering over. We held off on shooting them for fear of potentially scaring off something better that may be hiding deeper in the rocks. After a while, we give up the search and decide to start taking some of the margates but unfortunately by this time they had moved on to another part of the reef and I was only able to land one nice sized specimen of these fish.
A little more patrolling and I hear Adrian's gun fire as he was just out of my sight. A few seconds later a couple of Yellow Jacks, the first of which is stretching out his jaw and mouth after an obvious close encounter with Adrian's spear. As they fly by me, I give chase and dive on a line to intercept the follower as the first fish was moving on quickly to avoid another encounter. I take a long shot on the latter jack and strike home as my shaft finds it way right to the fish's spine almost rendering him immobile.
After another short while my brother in law decides to join us and is swimming along a short distance away when all of a sudden I hear him and Adrian yelling about something so loudly that it seemed to break through the water to my eardrums. When I poke my head out of the water, they're both calling for me to swim over as fast as I can because they've seen something that might take all hands on deck. "There's a 40 pounder here", my brother in law yells as I approach. Apparently he had found this fish laying out in the open nearby and it bolted over to the area we were in when he attempted to approach it.
We took up 3 positions on the reef as Adrian told us "If she makes it over to that rock line on the left, we won't find her again!" Adrian took the first defensive watch on the left side as we dove once and then twice trying to locate the fish in one of the many holes within the rocks. I then move over to take up the defensive position on the left with Adrian reminding me, "if she gets past you, we won't find her again today" (no pressure, right?). In order to minimize the chances of this prize getting by me, I drop almost simultaneously with Adrian who I can see about 35 feet away from me. My logic being that if I have to give chase, I'm going to stand a better chance if I'm in much closer proximity to the fish when she attempts her break.
As I drop to the bottom and watch for any movement, I hear a speargun fire on the other side of the rocks I was watching. I come over the top of the reef to see Adrian making for the surface and his gun floating just above the rock line below him. I swim over see that he's obviously landed a shot on the fish under a rock but am unable to make anything out due to the cloud of dust formed by the fish's thrashing within. I untangle his shooting line, open the drag on his reel and make for the surface with his gun in tow just in case the fish decides to still make a break for it.
Believing we were in for a battle, Adrian calls for the boat to don his air tank just in case this fish doesn't decide to cooperate when we try to extract her. While he is doing so I drop on the rock and can see the end of his spear just sticking out from under the rock. I carefully pick up the end of the shaft all the time thinking "if this thing is really 40 pounds, I better be ready and I better not get tangled up." I carefully tug on the spear to see if I can get a feel for how solidly the shot was landed. The shot felt pretty solid. But as soon as I try to back the fish out of the hole she instantly tries to get deeper into the crevice but I am able to back her about half way out when Adrian appears next to me with his scuba gear now donned so I let him take over.
He easily pulls the fish out the rest of the way and is able to bear hug the fish as he makes for the surface. I meet him about half way to the surface where I'm able to get a good grip through her gills and he gives me that raised eyebrow look of "Are you sure you have it?" before letting go of his death grip on the fish. This was a big fish! Although she didn't turn out to make 40 pounds, I can easily see how anyone could have thought she was that big underwater.
We get the fish on the boat with all the hooplah and fanfare that a fish like this deserves. We were hooping and hollerin like college kids at a kegger. Even though only one of us got to shoot the fish, we were definitely all thinking "This is how you end the Summer!". We each took turns estimating the weight before I broke out the digital scale. "32.6" says my brother in law, "She feels at least 30" is my guess with Adrian agreeing in between grins. Unfortunately the scale wasn't as kind as our estimates, but 25.4 pounds is still one hell of a Black Grouper and we were all super excited to have been able to land her.