By Captain Tony Young
Iam always asked this question, when is the best time to spearfish? The answer remains the same, summertime! Don’t get me wrong, I love our winter/spring Wahoo fishery, but there is something special about the Florida Keys in the summer. Warm water, no wetsuits, crystal clear calm seas, and an abundance of fish to choose from in many different water depths. No matter what experience level you are, free diver or scuba diver, the summer months in the Florida Keys have a lot to offer!
Spearfishing with kids or simply taking it easy freediving some shallow spots, the summer mangrove snapper spawns are never a letdown. For a few special months, large and mature mangrove snappers move into the shallow patch reefs to spawn in large numbers. When you find them, you won’t see a few, you will see hundreds. This is a great opportunity to introduce spearfishing to young freedivers. If you are an experienced diver, this is the time for you to strengthen your pole spear skills and dial in your Bahamas gear. I enjoy using my pole spear every chance I get, and this is the perfect opportunity.
Although Wahoo are hard to come by when the water warms up, Mahi Mahi are generally plentiful. Reading this, you may be surprised to hear that spearing Mahi is an option and most people have that same reaction. If you have offshore fished before, then you know Mahi are generally found in schools. These fast growing, aggressive eating, schooling Mahi are the perfect fish to target for someone looking to get into pelagic spearfishing. It’s the full bluewater experience, with similar gear, but without the depth! Mahi can be found in large numbers, chasing bait on the surface. This makes them a great fish to target while freediving, even though you are in deep blue water, the fish will only be a few feet below the surface. These fish can range from 10 pounds to well over forty plus pounds, the largest Mahi we have ever shot was a beautiful 45-pound Bull Dolphin. If you plan to head offshore to target Mahi, make sure you shoot a mid-sized gun with a reel on it. These fish swim fast, you will need a gun that is easy to maneuver in the water. The reel is also a must, when you shoot one, they will put on an amazing show and you will want that line. Be patient when you are looking for these fish, the ocean can feel like a desert at times but remember to put your time in and keep looking. It does not take much to find Mahi and when you do it’s nothing short of incredible.
All things being equal, my favorite fish to target in the summer is Grouper. I will shoot one, maybe two, Black Grouper each year. There is a lot of meat on these fish and if you choose the right one, it will feed you for a long time. Islamorada is blessed with a very healthy Grouper fishery, just about every spot we go to has at least one nice Grouper to shoot. This allows you to really be selective and target the larger fish. What is amazing about mature groupers is how smart they are, it takes an experienced hunter or angler to put one on ice. These fish are generally in deeper water, they require a longer breath hold and the shot needs to be placed just right. They also fight hard, so many times it’s not possible to shoot and surface the fish on one dive. Shooting them is one thing but getting them out of the coral or a wreck is another challenge. A quiet water entry, top-down angle, and breaking eye contact are all techniques that help when hunting Grouper. If they rock up after a shot, keep tension on the line and head to the surface. Groupers expand their bodies and gill plates to hold position when shot or hooked. Keeping tension on the fish will slowly wear them out and make it easier for you to retrieve on the next dive.
When you’re ready, have your buddy keep tension on the fish from the surface, while you dive down the line to where they are rocked up. Get your hands on the fish and push them forward while twisting. This will force them to release the grip they have and allow you to easily pull them out. Enjoy every part of the fish, there is a lot that often gets thrown away. The filets, cheeks, collar meat, and even the ribs all make great cuts with meals to enjoy from each part.
For anyone looking to spearfish, the summer months in the Florida Keys have a lot to offer. From spawning Mangrove Snapper, to offshore Mahi Mahi, there is always a fish for every diver. Be courteous to other boats, both fishing and diving, fly a large visible dive flag, and respect everyone’s
ability to enjoy the water.
Happy hunting and safe diving!