A Look Back By: Capt. TJ Shea

Not long ago, I had the chance to sit down after a full day of spearfishing and chat with some of my crew and regular clients. Our conversation eventually turned into a look back at the year, so far. We talked about the ups (which thankfully were many) and, of course, some of the downs.

As a business, 2023 was our best year yet. What is often our trickiest variable, weather, was truly fantastic. Across hurricane season, we only had to prepare for one major storm that would ultimately cause us no damage and give us a chance to do a thorough deep cleaning. I had to disappoint reporters that were looking for a story on the threat of record-setting water temperatures. We were more fortunate than our neighbors to the South, and our temperatures never exceeded what they would in a typical Summer. And, when it came to the dreaded Red Tide, luck would give our area a free pass this year. For all this, we’re extremely thankful, because for 8 out of 10 months this year we were able to enjoy more trips than any time in our history.

At times, this year’s fishing brought me back to when I was out here as a kid–both with a rod and reel and with a speargun. While we’re still getting used to the new regulations and restrictions on many species, I’m glad to say that, to me, it appears that we have a very healthy fishery. The numbers of large groupers, red snappers and amberjacks that we have either harvested or released this year are greater than any of us could remember. Today saw numerous gag grouper on dives between 35 feet and 60 feet, all over 30 inches and a few that were pushing 25 to 35 pounds. We found massive schools of legal amberjack on all three wrecks we dove, along with a good number of large red grouper. Other than some trips lost with the emergency early closure of gag grouper season, fishing in 2023 was outstanding.

Our fishermen weren’t the only ones to benefit from a surprisingly long run of great conditions throughout the year. Starting off with a mild Winter, scuba divers had water clarity that was not only above average, but calm seas that lasted until mid-June. After a few variable summer months, the normally consistent lower visibility that we expect to see well into Fall was replaced with unseasonable top-to-bottom visibility, and our Veterans Day weekend turned out to be some of the best diving of the whole year.

So, as 2023 comes to a close, we can look back and count more ups than downs, and be thankful to have been given another healthy, happy year on the Gulf of Mexico.