This week was a "Boys Weekend" as all the girls and kids decided to stay home and we were hoping to get out for some offshore trolling for dolphin and maybe even get a chance to jump in and shoot a couple. So we woke up bright and early Saturday morning to see who else in the campground was ready and willing to head out into the deep blue yonder. Much to our surprise, we were the only mice stirring that morning so we decided to drop in the big boat and head out on our own. As I'm motoring to park the boat, our dolphin specialist neighbor Rob is up and about so I stop by to share our plans and we decide to head out on his boat instead (he's totally setup for this stuff). So I park, we load up our gear and off we go into the deep blue.
The forecast was once again fairly accurate and we were making way through the foretold 2-4' seas at a brisk pace in Rob's SeaCraft. We stop at some point between the Sombrero lighthouse and the gulfstream (about 10 miles apart) to setup the rods, riggers and bait for what we were sure would be the ensuing onslaught of those Mahi-Mahi we were hunting for. Once underway after all the setup, we cruise along looking for birds or any flotsam (or jetsam) that we can find. We cruised for what was probably another 5 or 6 miles before seeing some birds about 1 mile away. We weren't lucky enough to spot Frigates, but these birds were actively feeding so we gave chase.
We followed these birds for about 1/2 mile before we were rewarded with the first strike... fish on! For the next 20-30 minutes the only word that describes the atmosphere on the boat is "pandemonium", fun but still pandemonium. You see Rob is accustomed to fishing alone or with a minimal crew (his grandaughter) so for the first 10 minutes, we were nothing but in the way. Rob would tell me "You're not in my flow yet Bob..." and I knew to move to someplace other than where I was. We still had a blast whille we were hooking up, reeling in, gaffing, re-rigging and doing it all over again until the pandemonium suddenly stopped. Dead calm. The fish were gone, the birds were gone but we had almost a dozen fish in the box and we were happy with that. No getting skunked for us today! Unfortunately, that was the only action we saw for the rest of the trip, but it was still fun. Rob even stopped at one of our spots on our way in for us to jump in and shoot a couple of fish, including #41 where I shot one of the largest lionfish I've shot to date. It was a great way to break up our routine. If only we had the chance to jump in the blue water for the dolphin.
Upon getting back to the marina, we run into our other friends that had gone out for themselves and everyone had hooked up. We ended up with a cooler full of schoolies, but some of our friends were lucky enough to not only land big Bulls and Cows but even a nice king mackerel. It looked like everyone was having fresh mahi for dinner tonight, and that's exactly what we did (as soon as we finished cleaning all the fish). While cleaning fish, we were talking with a friend of ours that runs the Tunaskin Aquatic Apparel company, Bill Bronsord. You see, Bill and I have been talking about spearing fish together for two summers and after some quick arrangements this evening, it looked like this was the week we would finally break the ice!
We awoke Sunday to considerably stronger winds out of the SoutEast and the seas looked a little bumpier than they had in the past couple of weeks. We hook up with Bill around 9 and make some quick decisions, throw the gear in the boat and head out in search of more fish. We headed in the direction of #30 because we had previously had good luck there and we knew we had left some fish behind the last time. Unforrunately upon arrival at the spot, it was obvious that the viz had deteriorated with the wind and waves. Bill and I jumped in anyway. We had to drop half way down to even make out the bottom much less the fish. Bill did get a hog, and I did spot one nice grouper but was only able to take a long shot on her that I missed terribly and spooked her completely out of sight. So we move on, hoping for better viz than this.
We head into and across Hawk Channel and even though it was a little bumpy, we were rewarded with crystal clear water on the other side of the channel. At the next spot, Roly and I jump in while Bill drove. We weren't swimming for too long before I spot a black whlie I'm chasing a very nice mangrove and decide the mangrove isn't going to slow down and I switch quarries. I call my brother in law over while watching the black lay comfortably on the bottom as she obviously thought she was perfectly camouflaged and that I couldn't see her. I make a drop on the fish and think she looks good, but wanting a second opinion ask my brother in law to take a look too. He drops over the fish and gives me a "thumbs up" but before he can surface, the fish starts to swim away. I chase this fish for probably over 100 yards before she holes up in a rock along with a slightly smaller grouper.
We ask for the flashlight and spot the fish in the rock. I'm able to make out the outline of the fish on the opposite side of the rock so I make one more drop line up the shot with the flashlight and let 'er fly. The thrashing that ensued drove the smaller grouper out of the rock and we proceed to spend the next 30 or 40 minutes working this grouper out of the rock. It took 2 more shots before I fnally got the right placement and stoned her and was able to work her out of her hole backwards. Groupers are always fun.
We leave this spot and decide to head West in search of more abundant life. So we punch in #016 in the Garmin and throttle up to head for "The Clumps". As we're making way, Bill mentions he has a couple of spots that might be on the way so he powers up his gps as well so we can have more than one option. We decide to take a detour to #25 along the way only to find Sea Dog Charters dropping anchor right on our spot. No wonder we haven't had much luck there lately... After giving up on #25, we had to one of Bill's spots. A very nice reef in about 42' of water. So I let Bill and my brother in law work this one and take my turn at the wheel.
The wind and seas had picked up to a steady 3-4 feet and it was tedious to keep the boat within a good distance of my divers without getting too close for more than 60 seconds at a time. After about 15 minutes, I see my brother in law head over to Bill's position and I assume it's to spot or size up a fish. I don't get a whole lot of information during this time, but they do tell me that Bill's shot a nice black in a rock and they just need to work it out. Another 15 or 20 minutes and a half a dozen dives later and Bill is finally making his way to the boat with a beautiful 16-18 lb black grouper!
So after the requisite high-fiving and catching everyone's breath, we decide to make one more stop at the clumps before heading in as it's already 2pm and we all have to head for home. The stop at the clumps didn't render anything (not that we spent much time there) so we stowed the gear and dropped the hammer on the boat to head for home. The Island Runner made nice way through the 3-4' seas and we were pulling into the marina not much more than 15 minutes after leaving our last spot.
Then we picked up the boat, took our pictures, and started cleaning fish, gear and boat before heading for home later that evening. It was a blast to finally get to dive with Bill as we've been contemplating it for so long. Hopefully this ice-breaking trip will be the first of many. Like I told Bill, the first one's the hardest to put together and now, no invites are required!