After yet another weekend with a minimal breakdown on the boat (just remember, BOAT=Break Out Another Thousand), I head down this weekend trying really hard to remember why I do this. After all, the past few weeks have been nothing but breakdowns, bad weather and bad seas with only a couple of bright spots along the way As a matter of fact, I mentioned the fact that it had been a few weeks without any really mentionable fish for me to my brother in law on our way out on Saturday. Maybe I should be more negative more often...
Saturday finds us heading East in search of mangroves and clean water. We get to one of our spots and at first the water looks deceptively clean from the boat as we peer into it. We see some snapper swimming around so we gear up quickly and jump in hoping to make this a short trip with a full bag limit. Unfortunately upon jumping in, we notice there is about a 10-15 foot layer of murky water sitting atop an 8-10 degree thermocline (spelled C-O-L-D) which is crystal clear when you get to the bottom. Still, not getting discouraged upon having seen fish from the boat, we begin the hunt. We do find the fish, but we also find that they're not quite as big as we had pictured or hoped from the boat. Working hard to pick out the biggest ones, we decide to move on in hopes of bigger quarry at another spot.
After moving we come across a very nice reef in about 40' and decide to stop and check it out as the water was considerably cleaner than the shallower areas. The first thing we boat is a beautiful new conch shell (already dead folks, no illegal harvest here) that my brother in law thought was pretty but not pretty enough to dive 40' for, so I dropped and picked it up for the campsite. We swam along this reef fairly disappointed as we were seeing excellent relief, but no fish to go along with it. A short while later and just about the time we were ready to give up, my brother in law points out a few black margates swimming around a crevice at the bottom. Bored and not wanting to leave empty handed, I decided to drop down and pick off the nicest of the bunch while my brother in law swam on.
I drop on the rock just as their predator/prey reflex kicks in and the margates all dart underneath to hide from the ominous figure dropping in on them from above. I find the best vantage point to peer underneath and as I lay down on the sand to pick out the next victim, a large black grouper that was hiding under this same rock sees me first and wastes no time in hightailing it out of there pronto! I keep an eye on her as I surface and watch her go under another rock about 75 feet away. Happy that she holed up again, I breathe up and drop down to see if I can pick an angle that will give me the shot without startling the fish making a run again.
A couple of dives and a few minutes later, I've called over my brother in law to keep an eye open from the surface while I try to take my shot. I drop once more and peer under the rock laying flat on the sand when the grouper sticks her head out and gives me a great shot. I immediately let the shaft fly, confident that I've struck home as the clouds of sand and silt pour out from the rock. As I surface happily (for the moment) that I've not only landed a nice grouper but got it all on video to boot, I watch as the fish makes an exit from the back of the rock. At first I merely think to myself that the fish is making a run, but not a problem because I shot her (or so I thought). I watch helplessly as the fish swims away with only a nick on the top of her head to show for the encounter.
She moves back to the original hole I found her in as I clear my gear and swim over reloading along the way. Unfortunately (for me but not the fish), I was unable to find her in that rock after lots of searching and we decide to mark the spot and vow to return another day. Even after inspecting the video, I can't say how I missed the fish... I hate leaving big fish behind.
We decide to head back for high slack tide and dive one of our ledges on the 7 mile bridge. We arrive at The Dots and drift back into one of our favorite shallow water ledges. As soon as I clear the first ledge I spot a legal black grouper heading for cover. Not wanting to pressure the fish too much, I watch as she slips under the ledge followed by 2 other blacks (one of which was assuredly not legal) as I watch from above. We proceed to spend the next 30 minutes or so waiting for the ledge to clean up from grouper thumping and relocating the fish under the ledge. We finally spot the fish on the back wall and check a couple of times to make sure it wasn't the short when my brother in law claims he can see two fish stacked up on that wall (no wonder we couldn't find that third fish I saw). He seems confident that we can land both with a single shot so head down to do just that. After carefully lining up the shot on the first fish, I pull the trigger. At first nothing happens and I can't believe I missed (insert flashback to the earlier fish here) but as soon as I start to tug on the shaft, the ledge explodes and I hold on so the fish don't head deeper into the ledge. Luckily I'm able to muscle them (that's right, them) out on the first pull. Once out, we realize that I had stoned the front fish so that was most likely why there was no immediate thrashing when the shot landed. I love happy hour dives when you get two-fers!
Sunday morning we decide to head West to see if we could find some cleaner water. I also wanted to head west to see if I could verify a pattern I had started to notice between the wind and where we had been finding clean water. All Summer long we had been scratching our heads as to the rhyme or reason as to where we were finding clean water because the wind hasn't really eased up much for most of the Summer so the seas were typically high (2-4') but yet we would find clean water on many days in either the East or West direction (hardly ever in both). In paying a little closer attention and going back over my blogs, I thought I had found a tie between the direction of the wind and the clean water.
It was my theory that whenever we had Easterly winds with the possible exception of any Northerly variant (E, ESE, SSE), that we would typically find clean water to the East (the East for us referring to East of Sombrero light house). In addition to this, it was also my theory that Southerly variants to Westerly variants typically meant cleaner water to the West (Sombrero to Bahia Honda and farther). By Sunday morning the wind was primarily Southerly compared to Saturday's ESE direction so I was anxious to see if my theory held water (so to speak).
As we headed West and started to come out of Hawk Channel, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the water appeared to be considerably cleaner in this direction than it was yesterday to the East. So as we started to exit Hawk Channel my brother in law mentioned a spot just ahead of us that looked promising. I told him that we hadn't really scouted much recently and that we should take advantage of the clean water to find some new grounds. Little did I know how glad I would be that he spotted this area...
As soon as we jumped in we couldn't believe the amount of life we were seeing as we spotted well over a dozen juvenile grouper darting all over the reef from one hiding spot to the next. We kept pointing them out to each other until we both realized that the other was well aware of all the activity. As we swam along we both thought that with all this smaller life, there had to be a big one supervising all the kids in the nursery. As we kept going, my brother in law points once again and I nod my head in acknowledgement once again of the sheer number of smaller grouper we were seeing when I realized that it wasn't the small ones he was pointing at this time. As I look just on the other side of a small rock, there was a legal black grouper trying very hard to hide behind this rock that she was actually bigger than. Not wanting to ask why he was pointing it out instead of shooting it, I drop about 15 feet away from the rock and approach from the blind side using the rock to obstruct its view so the fish can't spot me. As soon as I get close enough, I peer just over the rock and pull the trigger as soon as the grouper's head is visible striking home just behind the head. The grouper takes off, but the shot is solid and I'm able to make short work of reeling her in and boating her.
Excited that we had found the big one among all those little ones, we kept fishing the reef and landed a couple of nice hogs as well. On one of the hogs that my brother in law shot, he notices a large grouper sitting among a couple of sea fans immediately after shooting the hog so he calls for me to come right over. As I arrive, I'm thinking he needs a second shot on something when he points away from his hog and when I look in that direction, I see the grouper and exclaim to him "Sitting right out in the open?!" So I perform my typical drop away from the grouper but this time as soon as I start to descend the fish starts to swim away (I guess she didn't like all the pointing that was going on). So I surface to follow and the grouper pulls a move just like the last one where she stops behind a rock that she is considerably larger than, but stops the second the rock obstructs me from her view. Making a similar move to the last one, I approach from the blind side once more and am able to get much closer and land a great shot right behind the head once more. The fish once again takes off, this time slightly bending my shaft but I'm still happy to pull her in and jump on the boat to straighten on the shaft before jumping back in for a while longer. All in all, spot #113 definitely panned out on our first visit. We continue our westward trek soon thereafter.
After stopping at #36 and taking advantage of a fisherman's chum line upstream from us, we picked off quite a few mangroves that just about got us to our limit. We then decided it was time to head back as we had about a 15 mile trip home and tomorrow was a school day for the kids (not to mention we still had fish to clean). By the time we got back, we got so busy cleaning fish and cleaning up that we once again forgot to take any "dock of death" pics. It seems we're not taking those as much as we used to but we haven't minded because honestly the fish look way better before they've been on ice for hours and with the sea on the horizon behind us in the pics. Hopefully I'll be supplementing the gallery with more video from this Summer as soon as I have some time to sit and edit it all. So until next time, just like in our pics, keep the sun on your face and the wind and sea at your back.