Exploring a World Within our World that has it’s Own Rules: Diving with In Sea State
By: Alan Beasley
Offshore fishing can be very exciting and every time you go it’s a different experience. However, after enough trips and catching most of the species of fish off our coast for a number of years, you can start to look for other ways to have fun on the ocean.
I found myself in this situation not long ago and was wondering what I could do to find something new and exciting. A very good friend has been Scuba diving for around 30 years off our coast and had decided to take his two sons to get Scuba certified. He invited my family and I to go and get certified at the same time. He was planning to shoot video of the entire event so he’d be there for every class.
After a discussion with my wife Kris, and Brooke, my daughter, we decided to join Jim and his sons on the diving certification adventure. I thought it would be fun — at least I’d have the chance to go Scuba Diving. And, if I ever got up the nerve, I might even try Spear Fishing!
Off we went and attended all the classes and two open water dives and, before we knew it, found ourselves certified Scuba Divers. Brooke was a natural at it but my wife had a harder time with it. She just wasn’t into it as much as my daughter and I.
Since I was now a certified Scuba diver, I would certainly have to give spear fishing a try sooner than later. Jim was telling me stories about it as we went along and I had been with him on dive trips as the fisherman in the boat while he and others dove and collected nice catches of Grouper, Hog Snapper and very large Lobster.
Without a doubt, this was going to be my next big adventure.
A week after the classes were finished, I found myself 40 miles out near Frying Pan Tower with Jim on a dive trip. I was so nervous at first and almost didn’t even try, but I got up the nerve and got in the water. I took my time going down, pulling myself nice and slow down the anchor rope until I was seeing the bottom. When I finally touched the bottom of the ocean, I looked at my gauge and I was at 97 feet.
My Heart was pounding as I saw all the life on the ledge we had anchored to. I was so amazed at the new world I had found. I just stood there holding the anchor rope and watching everything!
Suddenly, Jim was moving into an area near a large pile of rock with his spear gun out at aim. He pulled the trigger and in an instant he had shot a nice grouper. It was a kill shot, so he just swam over and pulled the fish up and removed the spear shaft and put the fish on his stringer.
Next thing I knew he was calling me over and pointing down into a crevasse. I swam over very cautiously and looked down and there were 2 very large lobsters. I watched as he tickled it out with his spear gun tip and then proceeded to pounce on it and pin it down to the bottom. He got a good grip on it and opened his lobster bag and slid that big boy right in.
I was amazed, to say the least. Next thing I knew he was after the second lobster and in a few minutes had it in his lobster bag. It was awesome to see. I watched Jim for a few more minutes and then decided I was ready to practice my slow assent to the surface and did so. As I made my way up going up at a nice slow one to two feet per second I was feeling more confident had to take a spear gun on the next dive.
Back at the boat, I got pointers from Jim and talked about all the things we saw and looked at his catches of the day, and I tell you, I was hooked, big time!
We did our surface interval and had some discussions on safety concerns. Jim who is very safety conscience while diving, especially mine being the new man in the water, found another ledge that he liked and soon we were suited up again and going over the side.
When I got situated in the water I reached up and motioned for a spear gun. Jim handed me one and, again I starting my slow journey to the bottom. I was being very careful to equalize as I went down because I didn’t like to feel the pressure in my ears and I was learning the difference between going down 20 feet and 100 feet—which was the depth of this next dive. Talk about jumping right into it, well that is exactly what I did.
When I got to the bottom I pulled the bands back on the spear gun and almost hoped I didn’t see anything to shoot. Low and behold a nice size hog snapper swam around a rock and turned sideways right in front of me. I either had to shoot him or, for the rest of my life, explain to myself why I didn’t. I took careful aim on the spot I thought would be the right one to hit. I pulled the trigger and hit the fish about 1” below the eye right in the gill plate.
That fish went crazy – swimming, thrashing and just going nuts! I almost panicked as I was looking all over the place thinking the next thing I would see was a 20 foot Shark coming to clean up my mess!
Luckily, I didn’t see one so I started pulling on the string trying to get to the fish. Finally, I got to it and grabbed it – pinning it down to the bottom. Working frantically, I tried to get the shaft back out of the fish which then created a huge cloud of silt and sand. As I wrestled with the hog snapper trying to get it off the shaft and onto my stringer, I was sucking down air like I was running a marathon. I was just about to give up and take the whole mess, as it was, to the top when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Jim and he was there to check on me.
He reached down and looked at my air pressure gauge, looked up at me and started taking my gun and fish from me. He took the fish off the shaft, put it on my stringer in about 40 seconds, re-wrapped the string on my Spear Gun, handed it to me and then pointed to me and at the surface as if to say, “Now go!”
I looked at my pressure gauge and my heart stopped. I only had 1000 psi left and that was exactly what I needed to get back to the boat! At that moment I realized how serious this new sport was and how much every little detail matters. I headed over to the anchor rope and started my assent to the surface. I felt really good about my first, successful shot with the spear gun and the fact that I had a nice hog snapper to show.
I got to the boat, handed up my fish stringer with the fish on it and my spear gun. I was proud and excited to show my bounty and talk about my success.
As I climbed into the boat and took off my mask, I could see that everyone on the boat was giving me the stink eye! I was a bit confused but soon found out why: As I was doing my safety stop at 20 feet under the boat for 10 minutes, I cocked one band on my spear gun just in case a shark or something tried to steal my fish. I was not going to lose my first fish taken with a spear gun! The mistake, I soon found out, was that I forgot to unload the spear gun so when I handed it up to the guy helping me get my stuff back into the boat. So, basically I aimed my loaded spear gun right at his face.
Mistake number one and it was one of the worst ones. So I stood up on the top step of the ladder climbing into the boat and got my sermon on why you never- ever – hand a loaded spear gun into the boat. It was worse than the other 25 number one worst mistakes like holding your breath, coming up too fast, running out of air on the bottom, shooting in the direction of a dive buddy and many more “do not do” rules of scuba diving.
I learned that lesson well and swore to never do it again.
Just then Jim popped up and started handing his collection of stuff into the boat. Jim takes two spear guns, camera gear, and a Sea Doo dive scooter with him. He also brings back a stringer loaded with fish and a bag of lobsters. Jim is a machine down there as I soon found out.
I have learned so much from him since 2008, when I first got certified to dive at age 46. Needless to say, I found the new adventure I had been looking for and it was awesome. I recommend diving to anyone that is able. It is the most exciting adventure you can ever imagine. It seems like going into outer space. It’s a world within our world that has its own rules – that you must follow to a T! I loved it!
Recently, Jim had a great adventure on a recent dive. He swam past a deep ledge, shining his flashlight into the back end where it met another rock and he spotted a gag grouper. He took a frontal shot at it, hitting it on the right side of the face going through the left gill plate. Immediately, the fish embedded itself tightly into the rocks by spreading its gills. Jim had to crawl into the ledge to pull and pry the fish out. He finally did only to realize that he had shot a very nice 30 pound gag grouper! That is a huge fish to shoot with a spear gun but Jim is the man to do it!
As I said before, he is a machine on the bottom of the ocean. Turns out it’s not the first 30 pound gag grouper he has harvested from the sea. So you see there is more to fishing than using a rod and reel. If you get in the water and go to the bottom, you can find yourself “In Sea State” of mind very quickly and can have adventures of a lifetime.
I’d like to thank Jim Atack, Captain of the “In Sea State” fishing vessel, for allowing me the opportunity to learn to dive, spear fish, and then write this article about my diving adventures with him.
So for now go fish, good luck and be safe!
Life is short, fish hard!