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.

Sep

26

Most of October we will see high tides during dark hours.  The best conditions for shore diving in our area are found at high tide.  Low to no current in the passes and the clearer gulf waters are pushed in close, improving visibility.  Add to this formula, a nighttime high tide and you have the perfect conditions for spearing flounder at night.

 Swimming in the gulf at night brings visions of monsters and sea serpents to the minds of the uninitiated. It reminds me of walking out of the woods after an afternoon hunt as a kid.  Every little twig snap had me gasping my last breath before a mountain lion ravaged me. After a few stressful hikes, common sense prevailed over imagination and I realized how loud a squirrel could be in the woods.   A new night diver wrestles with the same imaginings until they can relax, let there common sense kick in and start hunting for the faint outline of the fall flounder.

 Flounder are beginning their fall migration to deeper water this time of year.  It isn’t uncommon to hit the water at our preferred night dive sites and see flounder carpeting the bottom.  We have to move slowly and deliberately when they are this plentiful because every time you spear one, you will spook three.  If you see a flounder 6 feet way and swim quickly to him, it is likely that you’ve looked over the bigger one lying in wait directly under you.

Instead of wading in knee-deep water and squinting for the outline of these ambush predators, we drift along the bottom with powerful dive lights.  The southern flounder is a master of camouflage, but our bright LED dive lights will make their outline standout against the bottom.  We use a pole spear instead of a speargun.  It is similar to a gig pole, but relies on a rubber band for power instead of arm strength.

Many flounder hunters use only mask, snorkel, fins, light and pole spear to stack ‘em up.  Slipping along the beach in the surf zone, they can efficiently cover a lot a ground from the shallows down to about 5-6’ deep. This depth is out of the range of the waders.  Still others don full scuba gear and scour the deeper depths for these nocturnal predators.

During daylight hours, a flounder stays mostly buried in the sand.  But at night, they sit on top of the sand waiting for a shrimp or bull minnow to swim along, then attacking from underneath. Flounder hunting isn’t just limited to night, as the flounder move offshore to the deeper sites we scan the sand around the site for our limit of “flat boys”.

 With a minimal investment in a set of snorkeling gear, good underwater light and pole spear, you can be arriving late for work in the morning, telling stories of staying out until midnight chasing flounder in the surf zone, at night. Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training and spearfishing.

Sep

18

Now that our short red snapper season has come and gone it is time to shift back into amberjack mode.  These are the hardest fighting fish species that we target as spearfisherman.  It is because of their strength they are called “Pez Fuerte” south of the border.  In English it means “strong fish”!

 Their size and strength contribute to the excitement as the ultimate target species in underwater hunting.  Amberjack are targeted only by experienced spearos that have developed their aim well enough to “stone ‘em”.  But it only takes missing the kill spot by 2 inches to be dealt an exciting fight.  Underwater video of good and bad shots is a great tool to use in training new hunters.

 A huge trend among spearfisherman this season has been shooting video.  Most of the hunters I dive with have added camera mounts to their guns to video the excitement of the stalk, hunt and fight.

 It is easy to get a good quality, high definition video camera and underwater housing in a very small package and for a reasonable price.  The logical next step was to mount it to your mask or your gun and capture the action. Non-diving friends and family are amazed at the action and scenes that we enjoy every time we venture under the gulf. A fisherman sitting in the boat 70 feet above the action, has no idea what goes on below. The freedom of being able to select your own fish and just seeing all the species that inhabit the sites that they fish.  Instead of guessing what the colored pixels on your bottom machine represent, why don’t you jump in and have a look?

 The Sealife and GoPro-style cameras can be mounted out of the way leaving the hunter free to press “record” then forget about the camera and get on with the hunt.

The added bonus is seeing all the fish species on the reef, not just the ones biting.  The video evidence from divers has been instrumental in educating the “powers that be” on the proliferation of the red snapper population in the northern Gulf of Mexico, in hopes of getting the season and creel limits relaxed.

Divers have provided the video evidence of the Lionfish invasion to our coastal reefs.  Because Lionfish don’t bite a hook, most fisherman only read articles about the invasion.  We’ve seen the Lionfish go from a rare sighting 2 years ago, to a common species.

 Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training, spearfishing and underwater videography.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready sooner than you think. Then you can grab your Sealife camera and be uploading You Tube videos after your first trip.

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

Feb

10

April is traditionally the month that cobia start migrating thru the gulf coast on their westward journey.  The time of year and the speed of the migration has everything to do with water temperature.  The magic temperature seems to be 68 degrees.  The first cobia to show will arrive almost simultaneously with the gulf temperature warming to 68 degrees.

Early season cobia hunters usually sight-fish for the distinctive brown shapes, while cruising within 1/2 mile of the beach.  Once spotted the boats move ahead of the pod and try to intercept the fish and cast lures, silver eels, and jigs.  The key to sighting the fish is to get as high above the water as possible to increase the downward line of sight.

A new trend the last few years is for spearfisherman to follow this same sight-hunting tactic, but with a twist.  We troll the beach looking for the pods, then when sighted, we run the boat ahead of the fish and put a couple free-divers in the water.  Armed with mask, snorkel, fins and speargun, we rely on the natural curiosity of ling to swim close enough to check us out.  It usually takes many drops before we luck into a curious fish.

Any spearo that has had the luck of spearing a cobia knows that they can be a handful.  Cobia are very strong fish that will sometimes lie motionless after being shot, fooling the diver into thinking they stoned it with a great shot.  But boy can they come back to life.  Any angler that has gaffed a “green” cobia can attest to their surprising strength.  I’ve heard stories of sprained arms and shoulders, broken gaffs and many, many lost fish.

Known locally as “ling” or “lemonfish”, cobia are the main focus of anglers and spearfisherman looking for an adventure in late March and April.  For information on spearfishing call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970.

Dec

20

True to Atomic’s name, this mask is super-engineered and was all the talk at this year’s dive-industry trade show.

Atomic Aquatics is calling this mask the Venom, and it’s a blending of their SubFrame and Frameless masks. It has a reinforcing internal frame that’s molded directly beneath the surface of the silicone rubber skirt, like the Subframe, yet it offers the relatively low profile of the Frameless. Also, its faceplate is single window like the Frameless, but it has a high bridge and tear-drop shape similar to the SubFrame’s dual-window design.

The Venom comes across as a high-concept, stylish-looking piece of gear when it’s being held in your hand, and it’s really comfortable when mounted on your face. Its easy-to-use squeeze-to-adjust buckles are soft-mounted to the mask skirt, which allows a little bit of flexibility in strap positioning, plus they can be folded flat for packing.

Where the Venom differs from its SubFrame and Frameless cousins is in its faceplate construction. While the SubFrame and Frameless lenses use Ultraclear glass, which has quite a rep for optical quality in its own right,  the Venom mask uses an even higher-quality glass imported from Germany. Called Schott Superwite glass, it allows more light to penetrate than even Ultraclear glass.

In the water, we find a testament to a good mask is that you don’t notice it on your face. The Venom does a good job of getting there. Like its cousins, it offers a superior field of view, and the soft skirt and watertight seal combined to make the Venom feel like a part of our face. Looking at the sights through this bright distortion-free Superwite glass is like looking through no glass at all.

It’s called the Venom and the only antidote is salt water, and lots of it!  Come by Gulf Coast Divers and check it this awesome new mask, just in time for your Christmas stocking!

Dec

10

Even though the modern personal dive computers are very reliable and rarely malfunction, the possibility still exists.  Looking down at your computer in the middle of a dive and seeing a blank screen can be stressful sight.  Most computer issues are battery related or caused by flooding.  The flooding usually follows an improperly sealed battery compartment or a crack in the housing caused by trauma to the computer.  The problem is the crack was probably suffered in your gear bag during transport and you don’t even realize it until it is too late.

Because of the possibility of a dive, or entire dive day, being ruined because of a computer issue, most divers dive with 2 personal computers.  Oceanic’s new B.U.D. (Back-Up Dive) computer is the perfect addition to your dive kit.  It clips to your B/C and tracks all your dive info. and can be used as a primary computer, quick-glance status, back-up or spare.

The B.U.D. is small enough to clip to any d-ring on your B/C and you will hardly even know it is there, but has an easy to read display.  It has full computer functions, including nitrox compatibility.  Economically priced at $329.00.

Nov

25

At Gulf Coast Divers, we’re never content with the status quo… continually expanding and improving every product line. That’s why we suggest these “Essentials” line of accessories. Each is perfectly designed to work with your Atomic product to further enhance your diving enjoyment.
Comfort Swivel Hose
A significant innovation for Atomic Aquatics regulator owners, this unique device eliminates cumbersome binding that some divers experience from their second stage. Available in either mirror-polished stainless steel or lightweight Titanium, the Atomic Aquatics “comfort swivel” increases your comfort on every dive! We can install the lightweight Atomic Aquatics Comfort Swivel in less than 20 minutes. Once you dive with it, you’ll wonder why no one else ever thought of this highly comfortable and useful innovation.
Universal Comfort Swivel Hose
One of the most popular innovations for the Atomic Aquatics regulators is now available to fit other regulator brands. The Universal Comfort Swivel will fit virtually any second stage on the market today. If your regulator uses a standard 9/16″-18 low pressure hose fitting as most do, the Universal Comfort Swivel simply replaces your existing hose assembly. Constructed of chrome plated brass and stainless steel.

Dual-silicone Comfort-fit Mouthpiece
Atomic Aquatics’ engineers and award-winning designers are always listening to diver’s requests for product upgrades and enhancements. One such request was for a mouthpiece that would be both durable and comfortable. The result is the popular dual-silicone mouthpiece that was introduced with the M1 regulator. Made from two types of silicone material, this mouthpiece is incredibly durable, yet easily one of the most comfortable mouthpieces a diver will ever use.

Exhaust Deflector
Since the dawn of diving, divers have sought ways to keep exhaust bubbles away from their field of view. Different designs have offered different solutions. But Atomic Aquatics’s latest design, first introduced with the M1, offers a different and effective solution to bubble interference. This new design, one of several Atomic Aquatics innovations first introduced with the popular M1 model, is constructed from two-tone molded material specially-engineered to steer bubbles away from a diver’s face. Extended areas on both sides provide a wider area of dispersal – perfect for allowing a diver to truly enjoy their dives. This upgrade is a must for photographers. Fits all Atomic second stage models.
M1 Stainless Steel Cave Ring
An important accessory for cave divers, the Atomic Aquatics Cave Ring is designed to work with the M1 regulator. This important tool allows divers to disassemble their regulators underwater during a dive to clean out sand and sediment. Made from stainless steel, the Atomic Aquatics Cave Ring is another innovation that keeps Atomic Aquatics at the top when it comes to diving technology and performance.  This is a popular upgrade for many spearfisherman, too.  It eliminates that 2nd stage hissing caused by the fast flow of water over the inhalation diaphragm while racing your buddy to the bottom.

Deluxe Padded Regulator Bag
You’ve made a wise investment purchasing an Atomic Aquatics regulator. We want to help you protect your regulator so you can enjoy diving with it for years to come. The Regulator Bag is spacious and built for any model Atomic Aquatics regulator.  I have 2 of these bags.  I use one as a photo bag and the other for a regulator bag with enough extra space to accommodate most of my save-a-dive kit items.

Aug

20

Now that our short red snapper season has come and gone it is time to shift back into amberjack mode.  These are the hardest fighting fish species that we target as spearfisherman.

New underwater hunters look at this fish as a goal to work towards with good reason.  Most spearfisherman that have an “uh oh” story, usually has a big amberjack as the main character.  It usually involves a bad shot or bad decision by the hunter, but no matter the reason, the situation still has the spearo attached to hard fighting fish.

Fisherman can relate stories of sore backs and rods pinned to the gunwales by big amberjack.  These are the same “donkeys” that we target, but unlike anglers that have the stability of a boat deck to fight from, we don’t have a foundation to fight from.  A poorly shot “AJ” will easily drag a diver around.

It doesn’t take a large AJ to put up a healthy fight, though.  My largest fish taken by speargun was in the 90lb. range, but the fish that beat me up the most was a 30lb. adolescent fish.  I took a long, poor shot in the fishes tail and the fight was on.  He came back around and head butted me in the chest, took my breath away, knocked my regulator out and flooded my mask.  After putting all my gear back in place and subduing the fish.  I laughed at what a hand-full this little guy was, all because I didn’t get a good shot and just attached myself to him.  I usually experience much less fight with bigger fish because with a bigger, stronger fish I take more time, resulting in a better shot.  I always breath a sigh of relief when I “stone” a big ‘un.

Amberjack are so named because of the distinctive amber color and bar that runs through their eye.  The spanish name Pez Fuerte, is a much better description meaning “strong fish”.  They are very common in our area of the gulf and considered the ultimate target in spearfishing.  Even though red snapper is the “star of the show”, it takes little skill to shoot a snapper point blank.  Amberjack, locally called AJ’s or Donkeys, require true shooting skill and very good diving skills.  Most new underwater hunters develop their hunting skill on smaller species like scamp, snapper, gag, flounder and sheephead.  Once you have learned your gear and found your aim, you can start on smallish amberjack and slowly increase your target size.

Most stories involving lost and broken spearguns involve a large amberjack and a novice spearfisherman.  Safety is the key with any adventurous sport and even more so when you are underwater!  It is much better to let that big fish keep swimming, than to come by the dive shop, singing the blues about a broken gun or having a fish get you in a close-call situation.

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 sooner than you think.

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

Apr

25

Mid-Handle vs. Rear Handle

The handle on a speargun can be placed towards the middle of the gun or towards the rear. Mid-handle guns allow for more balance and maneuverability when tracking game. The mid-handle gives the diver a gun support furthur forward on the gun stock to support the weight of the gun. A mid-handle requires an extra trigger release and pushrod to activate the true trigger mechanism at the rear of the gun. Most spearos prefer a rear handle gun which has fewer moving parts than a mid-handle. The rear handle allows the diver to extend the speartip closer to the target and use their other hand on the gun butt for support and aim.

Recoil, Ballasting and Balance

As you increase the mass of the shaft and the power via the bands, you increase the momentum coming out of the muzzle. This forward momentum causes an equal force backwards towards the diver. This recoil can be minimized by decreasing the power in the bands or increasing the mass of the speargun. This is usually done by increasing the size, weight and/or density of the gun stock. Some bluewater models add ballast and lead to increase the guns mass to resist this recoil. When adding ballast wings and lead, one must consider the guns balance. A heavy speargun is hard to swim and aim. They are especially hard to hold level when gun and arms are fully extended in front of the diver.

Experienced divers can hold the recoil of a bigger gun with their bodies by always bracing the gun firmly with both hands extended forward and elbows locked. The photo above shows the most common technique for aiming and bracing a rear handle gun. There are many stories of divers with busted lips or cracked masks because they didn’t properly brace a powerful speargun. Some divers will brace the gun butt against their chest to absorb recoil (as shown below). This style is effective but is very hard to aim accurately.

An over-powered or under-ballasted gun will tend to shoot low because the front of the gun kicks upward, which in turn forces the rear of the shaft upward, tipping the speartip downward. This causes the shaft to fly low and can result in poor shots and missed fish. It is never appropriate to shoot an unbraced speargun.  The diver below is demonstrating an improper one-handed, bent-arm technique.  Poor techniques will certainly result in missed fish and possible injury to the diver.

The best underwater hunters use good techniques every dive, every shot, every time.  This will result in better shot placement and fewer lost fish…which translates into more fish in the box.  Call Gulf Coast Divers @ (251) 342-2970 and speak to a spearfishing professional to learn how to bring home more fish, SAFELY.  Happy Hunting.