SUMMER ADVENTURE SERIES

[Editor’s note: This summer the Keys Weekly team is focusing on what we are loosely billing as “summer adventures.” The stories will publish every week. Some are pretty straight forward, no-experience-needed adventures of a day; others focus on the treasures awaiting locals and visitors “off the beaten path.” And then, there’s this one by Kristen Livengood — a true adventure in every sense of the word about the weekend she joined a team for competitive spearfishing and commercial fishing.

Staffer takes a trip waaaaay offshore for the big catch

“You’re going to want to bring something to sleep on,” my brother Chase said as I threw together a weekend bag with a couple bathing suits, a blanket and sunscreen.

“Like a beanbag?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said “Get in the truck, they are waiting on us.”

My speargun, dive gear and Sudafed were already by the door waiting to head out on commercial diver and fisherman Capt. Johnny B.’s 43-foot Alexis M.

By 10:30 p.m. we were on our 120-mile, 10-hour journey to “the spots.” I lost cell phone service after an hour, and set about arranging my sleeping quarters in the fresh air … on top of the icebox. (I later moved after I discovered it also served as the chum preparation area.)

“Don’t fall in. And tell someone when you have to pee,” Chase said. “If you go over in the middle of the night, no one will ever know.”

The night featured shrimp boats littered on the horizon 60 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. We stopped at 4:30 a.m. to catch bait and I saw the four guys on the Alexis M. move around the boat the way I imagine bees and ants collaborate: no talking, just work. My job description was easy: “stay the (expletive deleted) out of the way.”

At 7 a.m. I took over the helm while the others slept. My new job description included “don’t run into anything and wake me up if the boat falls off the purple line.” This is when the magic happened. While everyone was dead asleep, hundreds of dolphins showed up – little tiny baby Gulf dolphins, not the huge Dolphin Research Center Atlantic bottlenose ones I’m used to seeing off the Keys. The sun barely up, I sat in the propped open window in the front of the boat, quietly, being the most excited person in the world.

We spent the first day diving deep wrecks. Chase’s explanation of the first one (I think he was joking, but I’m not sure): “There’s still dead people in it; I wouldn’t look inside if I were you.” His explanation of the second dive: “The thing is falling apart; do not go inside for any reason whatsoever.”

That night we went after snapper. It was probably the best rod-and-reel fishing experience of my life. Drop line in, reel up big fish. Rebait, drop line in, reel up big fish. ALL NIGHT. This wasn’t fishing, this was commercial CATCHING.

I slept – I use that word loosely – in the beanbag again and woke at the break of dawn for more diving. The second day we dove another wreck (with a wall of 5-foot barracudas protecting it), then dove a tower (only a hammerhead and bull shark), and then shallow stuff in 40 feet. In the shallows, Chase gave me a hug underwater and renamed me the “hogfish whisperer” back at the boat.

Mate Tyler cooked up steak fajitas on the way in, while the others gutted the fish from the day. We showered in the hose in the back of the boat and made it to the That’s What She Shot Spearfishing Tournament weigh-in with 30 minutes to spare. Our boat swept the men’s scuba division with first and second place. And I came home with awesome stories to tell my kiddos. Summer, my 9-year-old, said she’s ready for a commercial trip with Uncle Chase very soon.

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