- < May 31-June 1, 2014 - Dolphin Saturday then Grouper Sunday
- June 21-22, 2014 - It's about time that it's Snapper time! >
This past week started out looking very bleak. Storms rolled through the middle keys pretty much all day Monday and Tuesday with torrential downpours and winds in excess of 30mph. It was so bad in fact that people that had intended to stay the week decided to head for home and see how the week progressed from a distance. Between the wind that had picked up last weekend and the horrible weather at the opening of the week we pretty much thought that the clean water we had been able to enjoy for the past couple of weeks had come to an end. But being ever the optimist (not me, someone else) checking the forecast on Wednesday, a different story unfolded. Tales and legends of 5mph winds at Sombrero light and further forecasts of 1-2' seas for the weekend had us all anxious to see if they would get it right this weekend.
Upon my extremely late arrival Friday night to negligible winds and a holding positive forecast I was unable to get to sleep right away after forcing myself to stay awake for the drive in. So after what felt like 5 minutes of sleep that night (in actuality, about 3 hours), I woke up to beautiful calm weather and we quickly decide to head West this morning to see if the snappers have started moving out to spawn since we haven't seen any real numbers in shallower water. Since we had visited the clumps last week, we decided to head out a touch further West and start our diving at the Horseshoe.
This spot has historically held mangroves for us although typically a little later in the season but with the clean water holding up and the calm seas making it a quick trip, we figured it might be worthwhile to make a visit. Once again, as we make way through Hawk Channel, the water continues to clean up and turn from a clean green to absolutely cobalt blue so we obviously start to get anxious hoping that we would be met by those large mangroves that we've been unable to find in any kind of numbers so far this Summer. We jump in met by little more than a group of large Bermuda Chubs that are many times followed below by large mangroves but that wouldn't be the case today.
Swimming along the edge of the reef, my focus is turned to a couple of small black grouper that are uncommon here. Unfortunately in doing so, I completely overlook a large hogfish feeding in the sand even after my brother in law mentions it to me as he swims up. I dive and land a mangrove, but overlook the hog that my brother in law swoops in and bags immediately after. Hey it could've been worse, I could have missed the snapper... We don't waste too much more time here and move on to #36 and a couple of other nearby spots.
At our first stop near #36, my first sighting is a large fish swimming along the bottom that I mistake for a large barracuda. Upon checking with my brother in law who had a slightly better vantage point however, he points out that it was probably the largest Lesser Amberjack we've ever seen. A few minutes later, my brother in law lands his personal best porgy that I wish I could eloquate more about here but I wasn't aware of the catch until he approached me after having boated the fish. Almost immediately following this conversation he drops in and spines one of two beautiful Cero Mackerel that were swimming by. Knowing how curious these fish are, he left his hanging below us in the water column for a few seconds and sure enough, the second one came back. I gave chase, took a shot and struck it, but unfortunately the shot didn't hold. We moved on to scour #36, where we've previously landed everything from monster mangroves and triggers to nice groupers but are met with little more than disappointment when one nice black was especially skittish and didn't give me an opportunity for a shot.
We headed over to #83 (The Beam) where we've always at least spotted a decent grouper if not landed one or three (that's right, never two...). It didn't disappoint this time either as we make way to the concrete beam laying 45 feet below us (the obvious reason for the name) when we spot a nice black that my brother in law is able to get a rather long shot on and boat the fish. I killed a very healthy lionfish and we moved on.
We keep heading west until we got to The Staghorn. One of our favorite spots because not only does this spot regularly hold numbers and large fish but we even know where they go to hide if they happen to get wounded and tear off. As soon as I jump in I immediately spot and chase the largest mangrove we've seen in a few weeks. It gives me a good run but I'm able to land the shot and the fish. Hoping that this was merely the first of many, we continued to search the entire patch but come up with nothing more than a few legal mangroves. Once again, we could have landed a dozen legal but small snappers, but we believe in responsible conservation so we leave them behind to grow up (hopefully) for us to shoot another day.
The last spot of the day (Chicho's spot), massive schools of bait hoping for muttons find one nice black that picked a horrible hiding spot, but we were already at the limit so we decided to head for home.
On Sunday we decide to head back to Hawk Channel to see if we had more good luck with the viz and Grouper. We arrive to viz that just lets us spot from the surface and decide t work it for a while to see what we find. After a short while we start spotting smaller grouper that will occasionally run for a nearby hiding spot that reveals larger brethren residing in the same spot. So we start from #30 and focus on the areas that the smaller grouper lead us. We are soon rewarded with 3 spots (2 of which are new - #120 and #121) that reveal larger grouper in those areas that the smaller ones led us to. You can really tell that there hasn't been too much pressure applied to these fish since the beginning of the season because half of them will actually stop and turn to see what is chasing them out of curiosity. A fatal mistake for the largest of the ones we see. We soon have our limit and make the short trip home (for a change) and make plans for the afternoon.
Today we decide to make a late departure to day and join our fellow campground residents at the local (figuratively speaking - about a 9-10 mile run by boat) sandbar for some afternoon cocktails and camraderie. Always a good time (even if sometimes I have to be dragged along...). After a fun afternoon with friends it's time to head back and take care of the dirty work that is boat and fish cleaning.
After a personal best boat tailering time at the park ramp, we wash the boat and setup the shade for the ultimate in dirty work, fish cleaning. Luckily for us, after so many years and so many fish, we make relatively short work of it and my brother in law and nephew make way for home while we decide to stay and watch what would prove to be a terribly disappointing NBA finals game for our hometown Heat. A late departure, an even later arrival at home, a few hours of sleep and I'm ready to do it all over again... I LOVE MY SUMMERS!