Mar

9

My type of “spring cleaning” is a mess of sheephead on the fish-cleaning table.  The water is warming quickly and the wind is calming, so more anglers and spearfisherman are starting to venture into the gulf.

Getting the boat out and scrubbing the winter coat of mildew is made easier by the anticipation of the coming season.  The talk of the shortest snapper season and stricter limits on other species doesn’t dampen the excitement of the first trip.  Some of us have been spearing fish all winter, when the seas would let us escape the dock.  For many, their first excursion in 2013 is this month.  Besides staring at a wall of red snapper and remaining alert for early cobia, we pass the time underwater stacking up sheephead.

 sheephead

This is a great fish to target this time of year because their numbers are plentiful.  They aren’t a spooky fish that will disappear after shooting 1 or 2, and usually allow for a close shot.  They are plentiful for only a few more weeks.  I’m not sure if it is because they disburse after mating, or the spring break charter trips wipe the inshore sites clean. Whatever the case, we see them all year but not in large numbers like we do now.  Many fishermen believe they are too hard to clean because of their large rib cage. But your friend that is always volunteering to take all your sheephead, is very familiar with the mild flavor and white, flaky meat.

Many underwater hunters think of early spring as the tune-up season.  Venturing to the inshore rigs and brushing up on their diving skills and getting their aim back.  Just as bow hunters start practicing with backyard targets months before bow season, spearfisherman need to inspect their rigging and practice loading and shooting their spearguns.  The difference is, spearguns cannot be shot out of the water at land targets.  The only way to practice is to get out and dive…thus the big attraction of sheephead in March.  April usually hosts the first wave of migrating cobia.  As soon as the gulf waters reach the magic 68F, we start seeing cobia on the inshore sites.  Early spring divers are always scanning into the distance, hoping to see a curious cobia head your way.

 Cobia

The smaller size and liberal creel limits on sheephead make them a great fish for new spearos to develop their hunting skills.  Once a diver has honed his diving skills, many look to add a camera or speargun to their dive plan.  Since spearing fish can be challenging and even dangerous in extreme cases, we incourage new hunters to begin with small species and work their way up to the big boys like amberjack and cobia.  The challenge of wrestling the large fish isn’t an issue with the smaller fish.  I have never heard of a diver being towed around by a 6lb. sheephead!

Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training and spearfishing.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready for this season.  A good scuba system costs about the same as a set of golf clubs or tennis lessons. But if you are like me, then you understand the real fun happens in salt water!   So don’t keep saying, “One day I’m gonna’ see what’s down there.”  Make that “One day” happen this year.

Jun

13

Your kids get excited about Christmas morning or the last day of school, but my dive buddies and I start loosing sleep in anticipation of June 1st.  With this season promising higher fuel prices, stricter creel limits and an abundance of nice red snapper on every site, most won’t have to travel far from the dock to fill your two fish quota.  If you are like many gulf coast fisherman, who target the red delicacy, the sport of fishing isn’t really much sport anymore.  The only way to stretch your fishing day to lunchtime is to cull fish all morning.  These comments may surprise fisherman from other areas of the country that have heard we have a shortage of Red Snapper.  Well ask any Alabama fisherman and you will hear stories of limiting out in just two drops to the bottom.

Because of the restricted limits and high fuel prices, many anglers have turned to spearfishing to fill their fish boxes.  It is the ultimate in selective fishing, because you are eye to eye with the fish.  It is easier to target a particular fish and you don’t spend all day culling rat snapper.  Many fisherman complain of not getting their bait through the small snapper to reach the bottom for that big sow snapper, scamp or triggerfish.

Fuel prices are always a summer concern and with marine fuel at a premium price, running all over the gulf can be a costly technique.

I’ve been spearing on the Alabama gulf coast for over 20 years, and sat and watched many bottom rigs bounce just off the bottom with a hundred 5lb. snapper staring at it while the big un’s hang outside the commotion, exhibiting the wariness and caution that allowed them to get to 30 lbs.!

Spearfishing is also a much more comfortable way to spend the hottest months of the year on the coast.  I feel sorry for the guys I see tied to a rig, catching nothing, with sweat droplets dripping off their nose, as we hand nice fish over the gunwales to our dive buddies.

As spearfisherman, we almost always come back to the dock with full creel limits on all the usual suspects, and an average aggregate weight higher than on the fishing boats.  Our two red snapper are the first targets, and then we shift our attention to the plentiful triggerfish.  A good spearfisherman will always be glancing in the distance for a nice amberjack or curious cobia to swim along.  While cruising along the reef, wreck or rig, I am always scanning the sand for the faint outline of a flounder.  Most sites will only have 1 or 2 nice grouper eyeing the action, but mostly not participating.  The aggressive red snapper bully them away from the angler’s bait, but avoiding our spear tips isn’t as easy.

In order for anglers to target the variety of species that we fill our coolers with every weekend, they would have to take every piece of tackle in their garage.  With just one speargun I am ready to harvest whatever species is home when I visit the site.  Lockjaw because the tide isn’t right is never a problem, they may not be biting…but they are still home.

Call Gulf Coast Divers and ask about dive training and spearfishing.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready for this Red Snapper season.  A good scuba system costs about the same as a set of golf clubs or that custom rod with a new gold reel you’ve been thinking about.  So don’t keep saying, “One day I’m gonna try diving.”  Make that “One day” this year.

May

3

We have seen a huge increase in interest in spearfishing on the gulf coast this spring.  The warm winter and especially clear gulf waters are just the invitation many spearos need to get wet.  The main target species, red snapper are plentiful and the fish are getting bigger.  The other side of that coin is that the recreational quotas will fill faster with more large fish expected to be caught.

NOAA Fisheries Service is currently investigating a proposal that, if implemented, would increase the 2012 and 2013 quotas for commercial and recreational red snapper harvest. The quotas are expected to increase, because recent population assessments show that over-fishing has ended. The red snapper allowable catch would be increased from 7.185 million pounds whole weight in 2011 to 8.080 million pounds in 2012.  The recreational allocation will be 49% or 3.959 million pounds.

That sounds like a lot of fish, but with more anglers and spearos seeking to put filets on the grill, this quota will get filled quickly. The increased quota is a step in the right direction, but the reality…it is equal to the amount of snapper caught last year, since we exceeded the allowable limit by 730,000 pounds!  Sorry NOAA Fisheries.

In addition, if implemented, the rule would eliminate the fixed recreational red snapper closed season of October 1 – December 31. By eliminating the October 1 fishing season closure date, NOAA Fisheries Service would be able to re-open the recreational harvest for red snapper if any remaining quota is available.

 

The gulf will be a busy place on the traditional opening of red snapper season, June 1st.. The season will close 40 days later on July 10th.   And for those divers that have a competitive edge and enjoy the excitement of tournament fishing, June 1st will find them sighting down their spearguns at the wall of red snapper we have been drooling over all spring.

The Red Neck Riviera Spearfishing Tournament, held from May 18th – June 9th 2012, gives hunters 3 weeks to get underwater.  1st place Amberjack is the most sought after trophy with winning fish rarely under 80lbs. If you are primarily an “AJ” hunter, the Red Neck Riviera Tournament is your only shot at a trophy this year, since amberjack season will be closed during the Alabama Spearfishing Rodeo later this season.  The Red Snapper sizes are always impressive and promise to be even larger this year with such an abundance of fish.  A 30lb. Red Snapper may not even land a 3rd place prize in this competitive rodeo.  This is a fun tournament for all divers regardless of experience level.  Fish can be weighed 9am-6pm, mon.-sat. at Gulf Coast Divers in Mobile.

As spearfisherman, we usually come back to the dock with full creel limits on all the usual suspects, and an average aggregate weight higher than on the fishing boats.  Even if you don’t shoot a trophy fish, it still goes on the grill at home or donated for the awards ceremony fish fry.

Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about advanced training and spearfishing.  You can be geared up and ready for this tournament season.  We can have you ready for the novice category in just a few training sessions.  So don’t keep saying, “One day I’m gonna try spearfishing” Make that “One day” this year.

Mar

14

As divers we have a unique opportunity to monitor the health of our reefs and ecosystems by observing the reefs, in action.  Anglers have to make guesses on the life of a reef based on only species they catch.  The huge influx of Lionfish into the gulf of mexico has brought the threat of invasive species into everyday conversation.

RED LIONFISH Pterois volitans

Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific and were most likely introduced into U.S. waters during Hurricane Andrew when
an aquarium containing lionfish was destroyed. With no real predators these fish are highly destructive to the native reef
fish populations and have the potential to harm red snapper and grouper populations. Lionfish will rarely bite a baited
hook and are normally only landed through spearfishing. However, if you catch one be cautious because their spines can inject
venom. If you are injected with lionfish venom seek medical attention as soon as possible. Lionfish rodeos are growing in popularity to try to stop the invasion.

GIANT TIGER PRAWN Penaeus monodon
The giant tiger prawn is native to the Western Pacific and are easily distinguished from native Alabama shrimp. Tiger prawns can grow to extremely large sizes, have black and white banding down the body, and were first reported in Alabama waters in 1996. The introduction of this invasive species is believed to have occured first in the Bahamas when a hurricane damaged an aquaculture facility. Reports of tiger
prawns have come in from North Carolin, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

The annual Redneck Riviera Spearfishing Tournament will have a lionfish category this year.  With a prize going to the hunter that kills the most lionfish during the month long rodeo.

Call the Alabama Marine Resources Division to report invasive species:
Dauphin Island (251) 861-2882 Gulf Shores (251) 968-7576

Aug

13

This is just a reminder that all the Alabama fishing and spearfishing licenses will expire on August 31st. This day usually sneaks up on us every year, and has us scrambling to renew licenses online the night before a dive trip.

You must have a saltwater fishing license AND a spearfishing license to shoot fish. The size and creel limits are the same as fisherman. Please be aware of the closed seasons and size limits on all targeted fish species. Remember there is no such thing as catch and release in spearfishing.

A NOAA Southeast Fishery Bulletin came out Thursday announcing the agency has the authority to re-open the recreational red snapper season later this year, if deemed appropriate.  The red snapper quota was increased by 345,000 pounds for 2011.  This is  a good sign for a fall snapper season.  If the feds open red snapper, I promise not to go and shoot a 345,000 lb. red snapper and force a quick closure!

Below is a link to renew your licenses. It is a good idea to print several copies so you can keep one in your wallet, gear bag and on the boat. If you have any questions on open seasons call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970.

Renew Your License – Get Your License

Mar

29

Spear Tips

There are two types of shafts in common use today.  The first is a “flopper” shaft.  These shafts are a shaft- tip combo with a rock-point end and floppers, or wings riveted on the shaft.  These flopper shafts come in two styles, Hawaiian or Tahitian.  If the wing lays down on top of the shaft when it is loaded in the gun it is a tahitian.  This style is considered the most streamlined, but if the wing gets bent or stuck, it can obstruct the hunter’s view.  If the wing hangs down when loaded in the gun, it is called a ‘Hawaiian flopper”.  The flopper is pushed up against the shaft with the forward motion thru the water.  The simplicity of this system makes it popular with some hunters, especially free shafters and is more economical up front.  However a bent shaft or tip requires replacment of the entire shaft.  Also, the tear-out rate is higher with some big fish because you are relying on one wing to hold the fish.  Shot placement is more critical with this type system.

Threaded shafts are far more common on the gulf coast, because they allow the hunter to choose the appropriate shaft size and tip for the targeted species.  It is easier to change tips as they get dulled or change the style for the targeted species.  The 3 common tips are fixed, break-away and slip-tips.  Fixed tips can be solid or spinners.  The solid spearpoints are more economical but can be spun off by a fighting fish.  The rotating design allows for 360 degree spin, providing greater holding power and minimizing the chance of your tip unthreading from the shaft as a result of a fish “rolling” in battle.  The 3 common type of fixed tips are rock point, arrowhead and tri-cut.  Rock points are designed to perform even after impact on rocks and reefs and are the most common tip for free-shafters.  They are more foregiving after rock impacts but don’t penetrate as well as the sharpened points, having to “punch” their way into the flesh.  The arrowhead has a broadhead design expanding the cutting surface and actually cutting it’s way into the flesh resulting in better penetration than rock points.  The  rotating tri-cut boasts 3 cutting edges combined with a precision point. 

All three styles (rock, arrowhead and tri-cut) are also, available in breakaway styles.  The breakaway design allows the tip to release from the shaft but stay connected with a multi-braid stainless cable.  These tips hang on no matter how hard the fight while minimizing damage to your spearshaft.  The connecting cable will allow you to grab the shaft but the fish can still twist and turn without having a firm purchase to pull against.  The result is fewer tear-outs and bent shafts. 

The slip tip is the ultimate in breakaway designs. Also called a tournament tip,  this design penetrates the fish and  turns sideways for maximum holding power.  Although the best in holding power, the drawback to a slip tip, is it can be difficult to remove the fish while underwater.  If the tip penetrates fully, you can feed it back through the wound channel.  If the tip turns inside the fish, however, it requires alot of cutting to reseat and push through or remove.  The slip tip isn’t the best choice for shooting multiple fish on a dive.

For advice on tip selection bring your speargun by the store and talk to Lawren or Todd about your target species and diving style.  Happy Hunting.