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In spite of the lack of a blog for last week, it was actually a good hunting weekend as we found big mangroves on the patch reefs for the first time this Summer. In fact, I shot what was probably one of my biggest mangroves yet, weighing in that 6-7lb class. I didn't think it merited a blog though, since I got it on a make up shot because my brother in law had missed it and we wanted to make sure it didn't hightail it out of the staghorn before we had a chance to boat it. Nonetheless, a great catch. That coupled with the awesome 28lb black the team brought in the week before has really made for some happy fisherman on our boats. We're not even that jealous of our friends that have made 2 trips to Cay Sal in as many weeks. But I longed for a big catch of my very own.
This weekend we decided to catch the high slack tide closer in so we could stock up on some hogfish as we hadn't really focused on those much so far and the home freezers were getting a little barren of that particularly popular and excellent keeping frozen fare. So we were diving in many of our very shallow spots looking for hogs and were doing pretty well. We were able to keep very picky and select only the biggest for the cooler and still stock up pretty well. At one of the last hog spots (#27) there are a few holes that red grouper frequent as well as lobster (in season, of course) so I decided to peek in to see if anyone was home.
I was a little disappointed to not find any residents but as I pull my head back out of the hole a shape appears to my right and I turn to see a very nice red grouper had just come in to check me out! Without hesitating, I turn the gun in its direction and land a great head shot. It wasn't a stone shot, but it was going to hold for sure. The grouper made a bee line for the very hole I had been looking in but the shaft protruding from both sides of her head kept her from being able to enter. I'm able to make short work of wrestling her in and surfacing to call the boat over (this one didn't fit in my shorts...). As I throw the fish over the gunwale (or gunnel for you landlubbers), I notice that the fish was even nicer than I originally thought when I spotted her, a thought confirmed by my brother in law when he boards and sees the fish, telling me it's definitely the biggest one we've landed in a couple of years. Needless to say the day was starting off pretty good.
The tide finally switches and forces us to move on to deeper pastures, so we pass by and over some of the usual suspects (#25, #67) when we decide to stop at one spot that I hadn't recalled very well so I figured I hadn't been here in a while. #41 is only about 35-40' deep but has very nice finger ledges with some decent relief as well as some decent sandy gaps in between. As we swim over the reef, we notice a large number of small (juvenile) black groupers darting all over the ledges and stop for a moment to discuss how many we were seeing.
As we swim on, I'm thinking that with all these juveniles around there has to be at least one good black in the bunch somewhere on this reef. It's at this point that we separate a little (still within view). I head right and my brother in law heads left. I don't think I had swam more than 100 feet when I notice an obviously legal black grouper sitting out in the open in between a sea fan and a small rock. I breathe up quickly and drop, but before I can make it half way down, she turns and starts to swim off but luckily for me not too hurriedly. So I back off easily and follow from the surface as she's still swimming pretty lazily. She stops once more and I think that this is my opportunity, so I turn my head away from the fish, breathe up and drop about 15 feet away from the fish.
This time, as I make it to the bottom she once again turns and swims softly away from me. Trying not to pressure her too much, I immediately surface. As I do, I notice a good size coral head about 25 feet away with a nice sized entrance on the side closest to me. I start to hope the fish sees it too and decides to take up refuge in the rock. Luckily for me the fish decides to do just that, and after making sure she didn't make an exit out of the opposite side, I surface to rest up and breathe up once more.
I drop on the rock and peer into the opening from which I can make out the outline of the fish on the back side of the rock. I can make out her head perfectly so I line up and take the shot. The fish barely shudders so of course the first thought that shoots through my head is "I couldn't have missed!". A thought that is only exacerbated when I go to pull on the shaft and it comes out without the fish! So I shout the typical underwater expletives as I ascend to reload and re-attempt.
As I'm reloading at the surface, my confidence in myself is renewed when I see plumes of green clouds coming out of every crevice in the rock (evidence of tremendous bleeding for you noobs). "I knew I couldn't have missed!" I thought to myself. Which is when I realized that my shot must have hit the rock behind the fish and not allowed the flopper to toggle on the other side, even though the shot was perfectly placed as evidenced by the amount of blood pouring out of the rock as green clouds.
On my next drop I decide not to wait for the flashlight (mistake) and unfortunately guesstimate where the fish's head is because of the lack of viz from the blood, I won't draw this one out... I missed. One more time I surface with nothing to show for my work. On my third (for those of you not keeping track) descent, I'm able to see the fish clearly and plant a good solid shot right in the fish's cheek and I'm able to wrangle her out of the hole when the fish starts to fight back and tears the shaft right out of its jawline. I try to pin her to the ground but am only able to grab her bottom lip and lose grip when she thrashes once more (forever more known as pulling an "Adrian"). Luckily for me, this grouper (like the big one from a couple of weeks ago) circles the rock and re-enters to hide in the same spot. Thankfully it only takes one more drop with a well placed shot through the head to get her out and in the boat.
When we got back home, we were guessing weights on the two groupers and I guessed 16 for the black and 8 for the red where my brother in law guessed 18-20 for the black and 10 for the red. Well it seems that I have a much better eye for guessing the blacks and his specialty is the reds because my 16 lb guess was right on the money for the black and his 10 lb guess for the red was also exactly on the money. The black was a great catch, but the red was my biggest one to date, so all in all it was a heck of a Grouper Saturday! (that would sound much better if Saturday started with a "G")