- < May 25-27, 2013 - Memorial Day-Wind and Seas, sure... but fish were in the boat
- June 22-23, 2013 - A grouper of my very own (actually, two) >
So we head down this weekend without too much in the expectation department since it had been raining with 20-40 mph winds almost incessantly the entire week. While at work on Thursday, I take a quick glance at the forecast to see there was still a small craft advisory in effect and a call for 2-4' seas on Sat increasing to 3-5 on Sunday. Heading home from work Friday in what seemed like my umpteenth torrential downpour this week, I'm not too encouraged as the rain was supposed to have subsided by today in the aftermath of Andrea, our first tropical storm in the region of the now a 7 day old hurricane season. Pummeled all week by record rainfall and high winds, it seemed like the only thing the weather was going to be good for was drinking (ok, it doesn't sound that bad when I phrase it that way)...
To be honest, we were expecting plenty of drinking weather and with the inclement weather continuing on on through Friday night, my brother in law decided to wait it out and arrive Saturday morning. The weather actually seemed to be better than we expected Saturday morning but still closer to the forecast than we would have liked. Since we got a slightly later start than usual (in spite of my 6:30 rise and shine), we were able to take advantage of some advice given us by our offshore fishing friends that had actually gone out earlier. We were told that we could find clean water out at the reef with reports of 30+ feet of viz from the boat as they passed the reef on the way out and back from fishing. So we put the bay boat in, load up our gear and head out with a plan to pick up some hogfish and then head out to deeper water to see if we can find some clean water like promised us by our above the water-line fishing comrades.
After the last of the gear and divers are loaded we head out to a spot we only recently discovered while fighting an incredible full moon outgoing tide (#0017), promising ourselves we would make it back to see if the spot held more of the same (but hopefully not having to exhaust ourselves by making a more timely arrival with respect to the tide). After bagging ourselves about 10 of the nicest hogs we saw, we point the boat South and decide to take our chances at the reef line since the tide had once again switched. As soon as we do, we start to encounter some of those seas the weather persons promised. As we come into Hawk Channel, we have to back off on the throttle to spare our spleens but we continue on as the water continues to get clearer as soon as we clear the channel. Luckily, the seas were in the 2-4' range, but mostly rollers and not sloppy at all.
We stop at #67 but find little more than a single mangrove worth boating so we cut our losses and move on to #25. Although both spots held excellent viz (even though they aren't deeper than 30') neither was very abundant with life and at first this spot (#25) seems to hold less than 67 but luckily Adrian peeds under the right ledge and lands a legal black grouper. We make short business of these first two spots on the reef as we were trying to maximize our time because of our late start .
We arrive at #41, our deepest spot this morning at about 45' to find excellent viz and weren't too far off the mark as we dive in for the first look. I dive to investigate one of the smaller rocks in the area as I close in on the main objective which is a large cavernous coral head with an opening on one side large enough to gain entry well up to our waists while still having enough depth to conceal what on this occasion will be a sizable prize. As I surface from my first descent, I spot Adrian dropping on this rock of particular interest and observe him from the surface as he investigates the opening, retracts and resurfaces. As he breaks the surface, he proclaims that as long as I didn't see anything exit the rock, there should be a black grouper inside because it did the typical thumping and stirring up of the sediment under the rock when he tried to get too close. I confirmed that I saw nothing leave the rock, much less anything of any considerable sizse and proceed to breathe up in preparation for my first descent on this productive rock (I extracted a very nice black grouper from this spot only a couple of weeks ago).
As I drop to the bottom and make my way to the entrance, I lay on the bottom with my body inside the entrance giving my eyes time to adjust to the darkness. As my eyes adjust, I'm able to make out a dark area towards the opposite end of the rock and as I peer just to the left of it, I see what appears to be the familiar shape of a grouper's tail. Not wanting to startle the fish or take the hurried shot, I withdraw and surface to give my report, where I tell Adrian that I thought I could make out the tail of the fish in the darkness. Excited to hear there was still something in the rock, Adrian drops right back down to take a look for himself. I watch as he once again enters the rock and takes a few seconds to adjust to the darkness. All of a sudden, I see him reach for his trigger and position the gun to take the shot (which he does quickly). The thunderous thrashing that ensues is considerable and clouds of sediment spews out of every crevice in the rock as he surfaces.
He gives me an enthusiastic thumbs up as he rises and tells me "I got 'er!" as he breaks the surface of the water, which is now a solid 3-4' rolling sea. So I breathe up thinking only that I hope he got a good head shot to give us some leverage to turn this fish around inside the rock back towards the opening she was shot through. I get to the bottom and clear out the gun and line to avoid getting tangled. I can see the shaft and follow its length to the back of the opening where I can see that he shot the fish almost center mass. This is good and this is bad. Good because a center mass shot means there's a whole lot of fish where the shaft penetrated and there's less chance of it working free. BAD because it doesn't typically mortally wound the fish and it gives the fish way too much power for us to wrangle her out backwards.
I no sooner lift the spear to try and extract the fish than she immediately shoots for the deepest spot she can get to which leaves about half her body out of my reach. I pull back and open the drag on Adrian's reel to let the stock float up with me. At least this way, if she does decide to take off, we don't have to chase the fish AND the gun (wouldn't be the first time). As I surface I have two thoughts... 1. That is one BIG fish and 2. I can't believe he shot her there and I let him know as soon as my head clears the water... "You SOB, you shot her in the gut?!?!?" (I may be paraphrasing). We call for the rock gun (a short Riffe C-1 that can be used in very close quarters) and discuss our strategy to get this fish in the boat. We decide that a solid shot to the head (preferrably a stone shot) will give us the leverage to turn her around even if we don't kill her with the shot. This strategy will take us the better part of the next 40-45 minutes to accomplish...
I drop and take the first shot (first of three additional shots). Thinking we were in very close quarters, I only load one sling. My shot lands just behind the right gill plate and I immediately hold on hoping to get her head turned around but am met with only defeat as the shaft immediately comes out. Obviously, the second sling was necessary. Surface, reload and retry (I felt like shampoo instructions). On the second shot, I get a clean shot right through the grouper's head. So clean in fact that the shaft comes out the other side of the grouper's head and the rock, completely. With no hope of using that shot to extract her, Adrian drops and after unsuccessfully trying to muscle the fish out by grabbing her tail and the first shot, unclips the line while I retrieve the spear and we surface to take another whack at it. We were getting worn out but we were confident the fish would succumb soon so we were motivated.
I reload, drop and find the fish laying on it's side when I peer in to line up my shot. Not wanting to take a chance that the fish would revive and hole up again if I tried to grab her, I line up the shot right through her gill opening and into her skull (that's shot #3 for me and #4 overall for those of you keeping track). This time, I'm so confident that I grab the first shot and try to back the fish out only to have the first shot come free! (this is really getting tiring) Apparently Adrian's attempts at muscling her out had damaged the flopper and the shaft came free as I tried to use it to remove the fish. One more time I surface sans-grouper.
Since my last shot is still in the grouper, Adrian drops and grabs ahold of the fish and finally pulls her out. And this would be great, if it was the end of the story and he surfaced with the fish, but he doesn't... The fish is still strong enough to break his hold on her, work the last shot free and circle the rock and hole up yet again (luckily!). I truly couldn't believe my eyes.
So we're reloading when all of the sudden the grouper comes out of the rock and starts swimming away. Luckily it doesn't take off and even though she's noticably lethargic, I don't want to take any chances so I call for the boat and my gun (up to now I only had the short rock gun). As I get my gun from the boat and reload, my brother in law drops in beneath me and gives her the final shot as she lays out in the open. After 45 minutes of killing ourselves it ends sort of anti-climactically but the excitement picked up considerably once we boated the fish and could really see what a great specimen she was. After the requisite boat pics, we head in where back on the dock, she weighs in at 29lbs. We were totally stoked. This is why we do what we do... the work, the fun, the excitement, the camaraderie... the PRIZE. I'm pretty sure we'll be visiting #41 again once we've given enough time for a new fish to take up residence.
We knew the seas were supposed to pick up on Sunday so we put in the big boat Saturday night in preparation to try for a run at some dolphin (Mahi, not flipper) the next morning. Unfortunately, the seas were much worse than forecast, as we were in 6-8' seas in only a couple hundred feet of depth (not much more than 6-7 miles offshore) and we knew the seas would multiply to 8-10' easily once we hit the gulfstream so we decided to save our backs and our gas for another day. As farmer Fran from "The Waterboy" said "Ee Bib to bide abudder bay" (For those that don't speak Farmer Fran... "We live to fight another day").