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August 18-19, 2012 - Groupers, Hammerheads and more Lobsters

Bob Diaz | SpearBlog 2012 | August 21, 2012 | Print
lobster, grouper, hammerhead, shark
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So this was supposed to be the weekend I get back to spearfishing after lobster season started last Monday. Since we had gotten bad viz reports from some friends that had spent the last week down in the keys and it's the last weekend before the kids' first day of school (meaning Sunday is a very short day), we figured time was short and we wouldn't waste it for wanting. After a quick decision to stay close in search of some hogfish, mangroves and more lobster and forego the reef, we were off. This week we thought we might have a little better viz because we had the early afternoon high tide working in our favor (or so we thought). Unfortunately as it has for the past 2-3 weekends, our preferred high tide has been much dirtier than the low tide (actually a lot dirtier).

We haven't been able to figure out why the low tide has been so clean lately since the outgoing tide from the Gulf usually brings out all the murky brackish water of the back country and the incoming tide is supposed to bring in that crystal clear offshore blue water to clean up the viz. Regardless, we've learned to play the cards we're dealt and head out a couple of hours before the 1:30p high tide even though the tide charts predicted 2 kt incoming and outoing tide (meaning we probably weren't going to get much of a break in between). With all the variables playing in on this, we decided to hit our regular local spots (albeit a little too regularly, lately) starting with the Glory Hole.

Even though the Glory Hole hasn't held a single lobster since the beginning of the season, it's always worth checking out (especially at or around high tide) because of the regular appearance of hogfish and grouper on this ledge. True to form as I jump in and find the ledge I see a legal black grouper duck under one of the small ledges off to the side so I grab the flashlight and drop right down to investigate it.

As soon as I peered over the edge, I was just able to make out the eye and jawline of a black grouper staring back at me. Giving it a few moments for the dust to settle a little, I drop again to see I can make out the entire outline of her body against the back wall of this small ledge. She looks good, but wanting to make sure I call out to see if my brother in law can come over to give a second opinion but he's busy a little further down current with a couple of bugs, so I take one more look to convince myself and take the shot right in the gill plate. Since the grouper was against the back wall of the ledge, I made sure the toggle had deployed (which it may not have if it strikes the back wall before the toggle protrudes on the opposite side) by grabbing the shaft and pushing through until I felt a solid hold on the fish before trying to extract her.

Just as it's been happening with other grouper this Summer, I'm not overly impressed when I get her out and grab hold of the fish. It seems like the grouper are skinnier than normal this year. So much so that every one of the grouper I've bagged this Summer (yes, that's all 3 for those of you keeping count :() has given me cause for worry before verifying their size once up on the boat. Luckily this one proves me wrong and measures out at almost 25". Not a monster by any standard, but legal nevertheless.

By now the current has started to slack up considerably and we're pretty much able to make way in any direction we choose so I swim back to a ledge about 60 feet away up current to find my brother in law already on the spot and telling me that he spotted another black grouper taking refuge under this ledge. So I drop down and take a peek to find two groupers stacked up next to each other against the back wall with the smaller of the two out in front. I could see both of them clearly and lined up the flashlight and my gun in a position to get a shot on both of them right through the gill plates.

Leaving everything illuminated and lined up, I surface to discuss the size of the smaller one with my brother in law. After his inspection, we decide only the larger one is legal and we'll have to take a shot that spares the one in front. These fish remind me of the military in that the infantry (or smaller fish in this case) are always placed out front, while the generals sit in the back and see how things play out. In most cases of stacked up fish like this, the largest one is the farthest one back almost without exclusion. As we like to say, "They're big because they've figured out how to survive longer..." So my brother in law takes one more drop to inspect them during which I figure he'll take the shot with my gun that I left positioned but he doesn't and surfaces again and tells me to take the shot. I know that he knows what a lean Summer it's been for me so I figure he's giving me a "gimme" so to speak. Hey, I'm proud but I'm definitely not above charity so I gladly drop and carefully line up the shot over the head of the infantry grouper and take a well placed shot on the general in the back. The general tries to bury his head and gill plates to make retrieval more difficult but the spearshaft traversing his plates makes it impossible and I'm able to make short work of pulling this fish out. Back on the boat, we're pleased to find that this one is bigger than the last at 27" and I thank my brother in law for letting me take the shot (you should always be grateful for charity). I'll admit, this one didn't look that small once I got a hold of it (for a change).

We finish out the dive at #27, 28 and 29 as well as the Deep Hole and are able to pick up a few hogs as well as limit out on lobster once again. Although I must admit it's getting a little more difficult to do since we've had to hit many of the same spots without much of a break in between. At the same time, we're impressed by the numbers we're finding in relatively the same areas over and over. Hopefully the commercial fisherman are having a good season too. After this we hit one last spot, the red piling.We jumped in early and started drifting towards the ledge we were targeting for lobster and grouper.

During this drift, I notice my brother in law take off suddenly in pursuit of something I couldn't see yet. As I catch up to him it appears as though he's chasing a borderline black grouper so I join in the chase for support. I lose sight of the grouper just as I see my brother in law aim his gun almost straight down and take a shot. I was suprised that he hadn't even hesitated on this grouper that I thought was borderline, but he has better judgement than mine in most cases so I'm glad to see he got the grouper. As I approach however, I notice the grouper on the end of the shaft isn't the black I saw but a much larger red grouper. Now I was really happy for him. He explained how the black had holed up and was competing with the red for the space as he got there so he took the quick shot almost without breaking the surface of the water.

I did have to leave one other grouper at the Red Piling (yet another interesting if not obvious name) because the tide has switched hard by the time we made it to this spot and although I was able to get a glimpse of the fish under the ledge, I was unable to maintain my position in the current (much less dive effectively in it to take a good shot on her. So after being completely spent trying to fight the current, I drift back to get picked up by the boat and head for home.

Upon our arrival the talks move immediately to that of packing up everyone and heading to the "playita" since the weather had gotten so agreeable this weekend (and we hadn't had much of an opportunity to go recently) and spend a couple of hours with some jibber jabber and maybe even some critter catching with my daughter before dinner. My daughter has been terribly anxious to populate her small aquarium that I set up for her once again recently so she was in the boat before we could say "gear up". We anchored up and poured some drinks for everyone to relax in the sandy shallow while my wife and I along with our daughter and one of her friends try to head off in search of some critters for her aquarium. Unfortunately, this trip wasn't very fruitful and before we knew it, it was almost 7p and time to head home to clean and prepare dinner.

On our way home we decided to make an unscheduled stop at the red piling to see if I could get that grouper that I had left holed up earlier when the tide switched on us. Good news, bad news... The good news is she was still there. The bad news is she had found herself a spot that gave me absolutely no shot as the only way to even spot her was through a hole that I couldn't even get my shoulders into much less my head and a 100cm speargun. So she was spared yet again. It was getting late and the sun was low in the sky but we decided to make one more drift to see if we could pick up a couple more fish for dinner. Unfortunately it seemed like everyone knew it was time to find a spot for the night before the man in the gray suit showed up (except for us that is) as we couldn't find anything other than some lookdowns (inedible to the best of my knowledge) and one grouper that only gave me about a 15 foot shot (unsuccessful shot, that is) before hightailing it into the murk.

We finally make it home and it's time to clean fish and crack open some lobster tails on the grill for everyone to enjoy tonight. As usual we had way too much food, but everyone had something on the menu they liked so no customer went home hungry.

Being a short day, Sunday we only decided to head out and see if we could pick up a few more bugs that Adrian had promised a client so we jump in his boat and head to the gulf side in search of some more lobster. We found a few holes without too many bugs at first but I was able to catch a new tiny lionfish for my fish tank at home. These are tough buggers to catch since they are deceptively quick and this small, they can shoot through a lobster net like it's not even there but I was able to tangle him up in the net and toss him in the live well for the trip home. A little while later while I was driving there's a "what the hell's that?" from the front of the boat and then I hear, "It's a freaking hammerhead!"

Here we were in only about 7-8 feet of water and we're following a hammerhead that probably measures from 8-10 feet. At first, I don't see it because of my vantage point at the helm, but once I got close enough, I was able to jump on the bow and have a view to this beast. These guys are really impressive.  Adrian took video of it on his phone but there was so much glare on the water that the shark is barely visible. But even barely visible, these animals still command respect. After this, we moved on to finish up the task at hand of picking up those bugs and heading back since we all had reasons to head for home early today. It always sort of sucks how school starting makes my weekends shorter even though I haven't been in school for a really, really, really long time.

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