On a recent morning, we found a patch not too far off that proved a worthy underwater landscape. Like the typical patches in that area, the top came up to 15 feet with a beautiful coral wall that dropped to 25 feet. The wall promised hidden treasure, if one was only persistent enough to harvest lobsters, crabs, and snappers swimming in and out of crevices. And at the very bottom of the wall, the open ledges that housed the ever-so-desired black grouper.

Each person on board scanned the patch and chose a piece of the rock. The deep breathing of free-diving began — full breath in, full breath out, squeezing every ounce of air out to clear the residual carbon dioxide in the lower part of the lungs, smoothly approaching the first potential hunt.

Hours passed, dozens of descents. Ascending again and again with no fish, I came back to check the boat. Kelly had put a respectable hogfish on board, but a shoulder shrug told me she wasn’t seeing much else. We continued to hunt, track, and dive in hopes of finding a trophy fish — or even dinner — but nothing appeared.

But then, my dive buddy Bill lifted his head and called me over.

“Ashley, I think there is a black grouper under here but I don’t know if he’s big enough,” he said, pointing to a single, small rock out in the sand away from the patch in deeper water where the current was picking up and clouding visibility.

We spent hours on that fish, trying to get it from in front and behind, where it was wedged into its hidey hole. Hours went by before I found the opportunity to spear him. Still, I couldn’t get it out. I reached into the hole and pushed both gills together to secure the fish, and pull it out the rock. Once I get my hand underneath, that fish was mine, but he kicked and I almost lost my grip.

The excitement took the last of my breath and I had to let go and come up for air. I wanted to yell but I saved my breath for another descent. I breathed deep and descended again with more determination. I pushed my body to the limit, grabbed the fish by the gills to immobilize him.

As I pulled him out of the front door, he kept coming and coming, all 50 pounds of him! I secured him to my body, (he was almost as big as me) and ascended with a beautiful trophy while thanking the Goddess for her gift.

I broke the surface to the cheers of my buddies screaming, “We did it! We did it!”

We all swam back to the boat, hauled our fish on board. We were almost too tired to take pictures, but we managed.

And then we marked the location on our GPSs’ as “Team Black” to recognize the group effort with big results.

Dr. Ashley Hoyt is an acupuncture physician and owner of Key West Wellness Center Clinic of Alternative Medicine. She is also an avid spearfisherman and goes out as often as possible.

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