With limited summer fishing pressure and good visibility, Keys reefs in the 15 to 60 foot depth range are hot for the spear right now. Fueled by light winds and ample summer food sources, plenty of large grouper, snapper, and sizeable hogs are ready for the taking close to shore. Those who want to bag their limit of these popular gamefish should head to the Middle Keys during the month of July for some of the best spearing action in the Keys.
Two reasons make this area— which begins at the terminus of Long Key Bridge and extends south to the Lower Keys— a top spearing spot.
First, on-water pressure is much less here, with waters out to the reef lacking Miami’s usual weekend tourist blitz. Second, because Monroe County regulations allow spearing close to shore, the number of sites available for underwater hunting is markedly increased.
In the Middle Keys, picture a day of slamming fat grouper under the historic 7 Mile Bridge (excluding its public piers), hunting hogfish on coral humps in Hawk Channel, and taking fast jacks and mackerel deeper on the reef. These are all viable options.
For starters, pack a 45 to 60 inch reef gun along with a spare shaft, extra line, and one backup power band per person. Although great in lower visibility, spinner-style tips and stocky guns just won’t cut it for those 100-foot visibility days when wary gamefish eagle-eye divers and quickly swim away. Be sure to grab a larger gun and load with a slip-tip and your biggest bands.
Knowledgeable divers should also be aware that many areas in Middle Keys open to spearing are home to notoriously “sharky” channels. Here, strong currents often cut between bridge pilings, islands and navigable waterways, bringing hungry lemons, bulls, and persistent nurse sharks ready to play “stick-up” with a diver’s freshly speared catch. For safety, put speared fish in a heavy-duty game bag after they’re dispatched and trail them behind on several yards of high-visibility nylon line.
While time-tested personal gear is the hallmark of divers, those traveling to the Keys from Miami or flying into Key West should expect to stock up on last minute spearfishing supplies and low-cost bargains at Diver’s Direct superstores. The key to an enjoyable day on the water is to always remember to be safe on the water, select your fish carefully, and deliver death from above with pinpoint accuracy.
Live by the spear
Commonsense guidelines for underwater hunters
Dive with a buddy—”It’s always good to look behind you or beside you and see someone there,” says Kevin Scalabrin, owner of Marathon’s Above and Below Extreme Ocean Sports. “Accidents can happen to even the best divers, and diving with a buddy is reassuring.”
Know what to poke— Adrenaline can be a cruel mistress, making that tiny, foot-long black grouper appear double the size. Because state fines are heavy for undersized fish speared by excited divers, take time to learn local spearfishing regulations, which vary throughout the Florida Keys. For more information, visit www.myfwc.com.
Know your limitations— Spearfishing carries a moderate level of risk. Loaded spearguns, breath-hold diving, and hungry sharks can quickly spoil your fun. Dive at your own pace and pick a buddy with a similar experience level.
Practice— Can’t hit a hogfish to save your life? You’ll be snagging those fatty fillets like a pro after a few days of solid practice with your spear. Remember, practice makes even the best divers better.
The hi-power tribe
Human beings have frequented the native shores of our splendid oceans for countless millennia. As clever hunters, our base instincts are to harvest nature’s resources—with as much fun as possible. Pictured here is Marathon’s Brian Berry local angler who couldn’t resist pulling the trigger on a large Barracuda to be used for what else—shark bait on his next flats fishing trip.
Photo courtesy: Jenny Scalabrin
Whether it’s free-diving, stalking fish on scuba, hunting shallow reefs, or spearing on deep wrecks, the Middle Keys offers a wealth of options for underwater hunters. Pictured here is Marathon’s Jeremy Koell ready for action.