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.

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.

Jan

25

New divers are surprised to learn that diving along the gulf coast takes place year round, not just during the heat of the summer. Believe it or not, the beaches don’t close in the winter, the Gulf of Mexico still has water in it when all the leaves have fallen from the trees and there are a lot of dedicated divers getting wet all winter.

If you want to keep diving in the winter months, but are not one of the fortunate few who can slip off to some warm and exotic location while the rest of us sit around watching our breath freeze in the air, read on and learn the basics of winter diving on the gulf coast.

So just what are the alternatives for winter diving and what can you expect for conditions? Obviously colder temperatures, both in the water and out, but not so cold that you can’t go diving. That doesn’t mean you have to gear up for an arctic expedition. Back in December we published a blog article about the importance of staying warm which provided many suggestions for dealing with winter temperatures.

Water temperatures in the gulf are a little cooler than what you are used to in the summer months. You can expect water in the low-mid 60’s at times.  Also, most of the high tides during winter months, fall at night. This is great news for the spearos that target flounder.

These tidal differences are not as much  a consideration offshore but they will affect beach dives like Perdido Pass, Fort Pickens, Destin Jetties and St. Andrews Park.  We have some of the lowest tides of the year during winter months and the strong north winds can make for especially low tides.

The local springs are virtually unaffected by winter temperatures. In other words springs water temperatures stay the same year round. The same 68 degrees that seemed cold and maybe a little forbidding in the summer is now warm and toasty.

One big consideration, just as important as staying warm during the dive, is keeping warm before the dive and getting warm between dives.  Bundle up and stay warm before you get in the water and certainly bundle up between dives. Bring a thermos of hot tea or coffee to warm you from the inside and stay out of the wind.  A misconception with inexperienced winter divers, is they will stay warm if they keep their wetsuit on between dives.  You will only make this mistake once!  The water evaporating off the suit is taking heat with it, chilling you very fast.  You will stay much warmer by getting out of your suit and dressing in warm clothes.  The more common method is to peel your wetsuit top off, dry off, and put on a jacket. Many divers exit the water, quickly peel their wetsuit off and climb back in their vehicle for a toasty, warm surface interval.

Recently my phoned chimed, announcing a text message from a dive buddy headed to the Pass for a night dive. Sorry I couldn’t make it Joe, too many work and family commitments, but it reminded me, many people are getting wet this winter and you should too.  Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 to learn more about winter diving.

Jan

3

Well the time has finally come. Our beloved pool got it’s first facelift in almost 40 years.  It has seen thousands of divers, tens of thousands of dives and hundreds of dropped weights.

We have been talking about resurfacing for years, but it has been impossible to schedule 2 weeks that we didn’t have any classes.  As it is, we had to move the New Years week classes off until next week.  Thanks to Lewis for letting the crew in every day while the rest of us were out of the country diving.  Come by the store to view Lewis’s construction pics,  Todd’s Honduras pics, and meet the shark and turtle tiles in the pool.  We welcome suggestions for names of our new pool critters.

Wayne and Rick at Deep South Pools did an awesome job, giving up a portion of their Christmas and New Years holiday to get their crew in and get it done.

It actually took longer to refill the pool than it took for the work.  To get an idea how much water 125,000 gallons is…it took 120 hours to refill.  That’s 5 full days of hoses running full on, 24 hours a day! Anybody that thinks water is cheap, can cover our water bill for January!  Another week of filtering, heating, balancing pH, alkalinity, and chlorine and we will be up and running.

Dec

14

Materials: The quality of a wetsuit begins with the base material.  High-quality neoprene will resist fading and deterioration from salt, chlorine, UV exposure and compression at depth. Cheap neoprene will compress at depth and permanently lose the suit’s insulation and durability. Fit is the most critical aspect. Instead of opting for a thicker suit, most divers on the gulf coast stay warm by layering thinner neoprene. Layering insulates better and gives you more flexibility, because the pieces slide along each other instead of having to stretch. Having several thinner wetsuit pieces allows for versatility for changing water temps.  On the gulf coast, our water temperature can change almost 30 degrees throughout the year. Having the proper thermal protection for the season means, versatility.

Undergarment: To stay warm, a suit traps water against the skin which your body heats up, acting as a thermal barrier. Using a dive skin as your base layer and layering several wetsuit pieces over this will increase warmth.  This layering technique will increase the efficiency of your suit by more effectively trapping water in the suit.  It also makes your suit more versatile by allowing you to adjust for seasonal changes in water temperature and match your thermal protection to conditions of each dive.  Using a base layer, like LavaCore, will boost the insulating capability because it adds the equivalent of 2mm thermal protection without added bulk or buoyancy.

Skins: A smooth-surfaced “skin” in cuffs, necks and flaps behind zippers help reduce water movement in/ out of your wetsuit.  These water barriers reduce the cooler water flushing in as you swim and keeps warm water trapped inside the suit.  A dive skin worn as a base layer will reduce water movement and take up space inside your wetsuit.  This reduces the amount of water in the suit, which means less water you have to heat up, resulting in less heat loss.

Texture: The #1 killer of wetsuits is tears, from knee abrasion while kneeling on the bottom or tears from struggling to pull on a suit that isn’t stretchy enough to slide on.  The simple solution to address abrasions from the environment is to practice good buoyancy control.  Stress from tears can be avoided with a super stretchy material that is easy to put on and smooth nylon coatings that allow the suit to “glide” on.  Dive skins also allow the suit to slide on more easily, and make the suit more comfortable.

Come talk to our suit professionals about designing a thermal system that is right for you.  Whether you are hot or cold natured we have a wetsuit combo for you. Not sure, jump in our 15’ deep in-store pool and try it out. Gulf Coast Divers (251) 342-2970.

Nov

4

One thing for sure, your enjoyment of diving will improve if you stay active through the winter. Winter sports, such as hunting and watching football, don’t provide much aerobic workout.  Just a moderate regimen will increase stamina and improve your breathing… and both will have a positive effect on your comfort while diving. Thirty minutes, three times a week is considered a good jumping off point. The more your do the easier it becomes.

Some people will put their gear away and just focus on regular gym visits to stay in shape. A few truly dedicated will add swimming to their winter workout schedule. Swimming tones and strengthens the body, conditions the cardio-vascular system, and is one of the best “tools” for improving and maintaining fitness for diving.  Many divers try to vary their pool workouts by throwing in the occasional long swim with mask, fins and snorkel.

Another great thing to do in winter is advance your education with specialty courses. We will run special “tune-up clinics” that divers can attend and work on skills, such as buoyancy, trim, fin kicks, mask removal, and other basics.  We have a 15′ deep in-store, heated pool that sees practicing divers daily.  This is a great way to stay in practice and meet new divers that may become next seasons buddies.

Our “B.W.T. clinic” focuses on developing your personal Buoyancy, Weighting and Trim.  No matter your experience level, you can get some valuable knowledge and skills to improve your comfort level in the water.  Full Face Mask diving with underwater communications, Dry Suit Diving and Cavern/Cave are just a few winter courses offered.

We have early-mid evening high tides for most of November.  Couple that with the flounder moving into shallower water, and it means night diving.  The shore sites such as the whiskey wreck and perdido pass will see lots of evening divers.

Whichever option you take this winter (perhaps a combination of every one ) have fun, keep active and keep thinking of scuba.