2-3 feet (Sat)
1-2 feet (Sun)
10-15 S/SW (Sat)
10 S-SE (Sun)
10-15 feet (Sat)
40-50 feet (Sun)
82 F (Sat)
82 F (Sun)
I had been looking forward to this weekend for months. My first weekend of diving and spearfishing since last December. Unfortunately it started going a little awry about a week ago when my wife gave me the news that she and my daughter wouldn't be coming along due to some last minute sports team issues. I'm not sure, but it seems that organized sports aren't really very organized... Since it would be a father-son weekend, I decided to take the day off and pick him up from school and take off early for a little bonding time on the boat before everybody else got to the campground later that evening.
It started out well enough. After loading up an entire car trailer with survival necessities (you know, golf cart, paddleboat, jet ski... just the bare essentials) that a friend would bring down for me that evening, we were on our way by 12:30p and in a couple of hours we were pulling in to the campground with boat in tow. This unfortunately is where things got grim.
Apparently, since I hadn't been able to make it down for Memorial Day which is historically the worst weather weekend of the year, Mother Nature decided to postpone the crappy weather until I could make it down to appreciate it. Almost immediately after we pulled in to the campground a large ominous thunderhead formed to the West of the campground and appeared intent on ruining my plans to throw the boat in the water and go out for the afternoon.
After waiting the appropriate amount of time and realizing the weather would not relent, we decided to give up on the boat and head for the shelter of the trailer where we proceeded to sit out the remainder of the afternoon and evening. The rain would stop for short intervals (just long enough to setup satellite receivers, drop the boat and do a little grocery shopping for the weekend) but never long enough to do anything really fun together. Although the forecast was for relatively mild winds on Saturday (SW 10-15mph) many of us that night were extremely skeptical because the wind was howling that night around 25 mph with an almost continuous drizzle.
So off to bed we went with visions of sugar plums in our heads... oh wait, that's another story altogether. We all awoke the next morning to thankfully milder conditions although far from optimal. The winds were probably closer to SW15-20 with gusts in the 25mph range which made for some building seas. Some old friends showed up for the day so we loaded up and headed out to look for clean water and see if we couldn't feed them some keys fresh fish later that day. We headed out full of vim and vigor and hopeful that we would find some clean water where we could snag some dinner (little did we know that experience would soon beat all that optimistic crap out of us).
We hit some usually reliable spots to the East of Sombrero light since we had heard the water to the West was especially dirty. First stop, #58. A nice shallow warm up dive (only about 20 feet) that usually holds snapper with an occasional whopper thrown in for good measure. We swam around #58 and after not being able to find the main landmark of that spot or the usual suspects in the area, we left with only a yellow jack, a cero mackerel, a yellowtail and a mangrove snapper to show for it. But we would not be dismayed... (at least not yet anyway). Eastward ho we headed in search of cleaner water and dinner! Long story short, about 20 miles and 15 gallons of gas later (I told you the seas were building) we were headed home with appetizers and on the way in, my starboard motor starts misfiring terribly. I ended up making my blackened fish with all the ones we caught that morning and pulled out some Mahi from last week to thaw out and fry up for our guests. At least it wasn't raining!
We had pretty much given up on the idea of salvaging Sunday with my boat in the mechanical condition it was in and the lack of promise held for the weather condidtions when we went to bed that night. I was awakened by the ring of my phone to take a call from a friend that had gone out fishing for yellowtail early that morning wherein he told me the water was crystal clear and the conditions had shaped up overnight. So with reports of clean water and calm seas we proceeded quickly to take my boat out and drop in my brother in law's to take advantage of this apparent reprieve from Mother Nature.
As we headed out over what couldn't have been more than 1' of chop, the water started to clean up as soon as we cleared Hawk's Channel.
Of course, now we're getting excited (moreso me because it's my first weekend and yesterday sucked) so we keep heading out hoping the water keeps getting cleaner. We head out in the direction of #25 but good old Sea Dog charters is there as usual (I swear I think they make their clients sleep on the spot to get there first) so we move on. At our first stop, we jump in and spot fish in just over 35 fsw. My brother in law descends first and nails a nice size mangrove. Just as he surfaces and starts to grapple with his fish, I see another and take off in pursuit. So far so good. Two decent fish spotted, two fish in the cooler. Needless to say, we're feeling pretty good (ok, I'M feeling pretty good :) ). So we hang out for a little longer hoping to have more fish come through but it doesn't come to be. So off we go to our next spot.
This time we stop at a spot in over 40 fsw and it's pretty clean. Not a lot of life when we jump in but we start swimming to give it a little time. My brother in law pulls ahead of me (about 30 feet) when all of a sudden I see a mottled black shape swimming along the bottom. It's a black grouper and it's a beauty! Even from this distance I new this was a great fish. So I grunt through my snorkel trying to get my brother in law to turn around (which usually works) but I don't take my eyes off the prize. Without looking up, I breathe up and start my descent. Not wanting to startle this usually skittish species, I don't even kick as I drop right on top of her. My descent is taking a little longer because of my lack of propulsion but I'm determined to get on top of this fish without startling her. As I get closer, I can really appreciate her size and mentally size her up to be at least 20 lbs. As I drop in on her, she tilts her body over to one side to take a peek at this odd looking thing that looks like is going to drop right on her head. As she does, she slowly starts to swim to my left. Knowing it's still a bit of a longer shot but not wanting her to run, I aim at her center mass and pull the trigger.
The spear penetrates right near center mass just behind the gill plate (unfortunately not near her spine) and the fish instantly explodes off to my left with my spear flexing into an arc and leaving a trail of bubbles from the resistance of the water as she makes way. Not wanting to put any pressure on the shot, I merely release the drag on my reel and let her take off. I start to pursue her from the surface when all of a sudden after about 50-60 feet, the spear comes out of the fish! I couldn't believe my eyes. I follow her until she holes up (luckily only about another 50 feet or so) in this very large dome shaped coral. As she enters she scares out 2 or 3 other smaller grouper from her new home.
Now came the hard part, relax (easier said than done), breathe up and try to get a good drop to peer into the coral and hope to get the shot. My first 2 or 3 drops came up short as I was trying to force myself to dive before I was ready. On my next drop I finally get to lay belly down on the bottom and look into the cavern looking for my prey. As I look through, the silhouette of a grouper blocks the light from a hole on the opposite side of the coral and I immediately take the shot! Unfortunately, as I extract the fish, I realize this one is nohwere near the size of the fish I shot a few minutes before (legal, just smaller). After trying repeatedly to spot the fish without success, I give in and ask my brother in law to don his scuba tank to see if he can extract the fish. Much to my dismay, after he investigates, he tells me there is no way to get a clean shot and extract her because she has holed up so well in the rock.
Although I was terribly disappointed to have to give up (which I don't do easily) and leave a wounded fish behind, I am glad to say that I do believe she will heal as I am relatively sure I didn't mortally wound her. Hopefully she will still be hanging around the next time we return to #41. I surely can't wait!
Sadly, we only made one more dive where I missed an opportunity on a torpedo sized mackerel (which reminded me of why you shouldn't get in the water if your not loaded up and ready to shoot). After this dive, the tide switched and so did the clarity of the water so we decided to call it a day and head for home.
So, what can I say? Broken boat, crappy weather, terrible viz and only a handful of fish to show for all our efforts (oh yeah and a broken mask too)... Hey, IT HAS GOT TO GET BETTER! Until next time...