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(82F Thermocline @ 40')
Well, it's been one of those years. The times we have calm seas, we get no viz. The times we have viz, the seas are rough or the fish are nowhere to be found. Saturday morning, with the entire family on board, we decided to head out West without hesitation hoping we could find more of some of the snappers we had found a few weeks ago (even though that wasn't even all that much). We had hit a few spots back then that had some numbers, but these fish swam like they were on mission, not slowing down to give us a shot. Today as we headed out towards The Clumps we were hoping a slight change in the weather for the better over the past week would bring in some more fish. As we neared our first stop, there were a couple of boats that appeared to be in the immediate area which upon closer inspection was a little too close for comfort. We never like to dive in too close proximity to any other boat, fishing or diving for a vast multitude of reasons so we stayed well off to their West to see what we could find. After spending a while surveying this surrounding area, we decided we would continue Westward and try to make a stop here on the way back home.
So we head off in the direction of #36, the Horseshoe and hopefully ultimately the Staghorn. Since the weather and seas were relatively calm we didn't mind going the extra distance today. Our stop at #36 was literally for nothing as we didn't see any groups of fish of anything other than Porkfish and Schoolmasters and only found 2 straggler Mangroves that we bagged and threw in the cooler. After this, we make a very short trip to the Horseshoe. Upon jumping in the water at the Horseshoe, I'm encouraged because I jump right on top of a small school of almaco jacks and a larger school of mangroves running along the edge of the sand. My excitement is somewhat short lived however, because the almacos were smaller than I would shoot and among the large number of mangroves only a couple were bigger than about 16 inches. It took us a good while to bag the few fish we did spot worth pursuing and taking. After that we swam the area hoping to find some larger relatives of those specimens we had seen so many of when we first jumped in. Alas, after spending way too much time looking for more, we ended up leaving with those few.
We made another stop at a couple of new waypoints that I had marked during the week of the 4th of July, and while definitely being a great area there were once again no fish to be found. By now, we had already been out for a few hours and the natives were getting restless. As my wife put it on our trip home that day when I asked her if she wasn't enjoying our family day out on the water, "I enjoyed it for the first couple of hours..." So we headed out to the staghorn. We can usually count on finding a large mangrove or mutton snapper and sometimes even a nice grouper at this spot as long as we have some reasonable viz. When we first got there, the viz was only about 15 feet (which isn't horrible at this spot as it's not that deep) but the tide had already switched and the viz would only deteriorate the longer we were there.
After finding the first large mangrove, my brother in law takes his shot, but the fish tears off and holes up in the ceiling of the large coral head. With getting into the nooks of this rock being my specialty, my brother in law lets me know that the fish has holed up so I can take a look-see if he's in the main hiding spot in the ceiling. After looking for what seemed like quite a while we're unsuccessful at finding the fish and decide he must have run off while we were discussing the situation under the cover of the degrading viz. While I was diving the rock looking for the elusive mangrove, I noticed there were more lionfish on this rock than even I recalled from my last visit. A quick count told me there were at least 5 or 6 of these invasive nuisances on this spot so I decided to take the time out to clean house to see if some of our more regular residents would come back home after evicting these unwelcomed guests. So down I go with my short pole spear, and on my first dive, I'm able to pick off not one, but two of these ravenous invaders. While down there, I spot a large specimen and then another among the remaining fish so I decide I won't stop until I've literally cleaned them all out. After all, we also work this spot for lobsters and we don't need the threat of getting poked and intoxicated by these fish while stirring up the spot when we start pulling out bugs on Aug 6. At the end of the dive, I ended up killing 7 lionfish on this one rock with 2 of them actually being big enough to throw in the cooler to filet and fix up for appetizers (they are edible after all). On our way home we make that stop at the Clumps like we wanted to and are able to pick up a couple more mangroves and I shoot yet another large lionfish for the cooler. By the time we got home I had killed 10 lionfish with 3 being cooler-sized.
Sunday we decide to head out in the morning on Adrian's boat after promising our wives we would be back early enough for a "Playita" day before having to head for home that evening. Today we decide to head East since the water had not proven to be very clean to the West and the Eastern spots are somewhat closer (and we didn't have as much time as we might have liked). The signs are encouraging as we head out of Hawk's Channel and the shallower water seems to clean up beautifully. After a couple of warm up spots (that's what we call spots that turn out to be empty sometimes), we tell Adrian to stop holding out on his good spots on us and we hit some deeper water. As we get to the first spot in about 45-48' the water doesn't look incredibly clean and with almost no one making a move for the water, I jump in to see if it's worth diving. From the surface, the bottom is visible with no true detail, but I decide to make a drop anyway.
As I drop counting my pumps to 30 feet and then coasting the rest of the way down, I notice a strong thermocline at about 35 feet that drops the temperature what felt like at least 5 degrees F. That chill is always a shock to the system and doesn't help my bottom time at all, but I didn't want to waste the breathe up so I try not to hesitate and continue my descent as calmly as I can. By the time I reach the bottom, the water has cleaned up tremendously and I spot not one, but two freight train sized mangroves heading away from me up current and I immediately give chase. These were two of the largest mangroves I've seen in a very long time and I would have been overwhelmingly satisfied to head home with one of them in the cooler to my credit, but unfortunately, I was unable to keep up with them and have to turn for the surface empty handed. Upon seeing nothing else in the area, I get back on the boat and we move on. We finish out the day without too much fanfare, even though we do end up heading West in spite of our word and turn to head for home around 1:30p.
Upon our arrival at the campground, the boats are immediately filled with drinks food and people cargo to head to our regular shallow "beach" spot where we proceed to enjoy the rest of the day (and into the early evening) barbecueing, eating and drinking until it was time (passed time, actually) to start our trek back to reality. What can I say, even when it sucks it's better down here!