When Chris Hill returned to the surface after a dive in 200 feet of water last weekend, he told his teammates the visibility on the bottom was almost nothing. Their goal was big grouper and snapper for the Tampa Bay Spearfishing Challenge, and despite the darkness, Hill had a 35-pound black grouper on his stringer.
“He said it was so dark down there he could barely see anything,” Hill’s teammate Justin Moraine said. “We moved to a wreck trying to get better visibility. Peter Hamburg dropped down and said he also couldn’t see anything, but got lucky and shot a 19-pound mutton snapper.”
The lack of visibility was a bit of a shock to the teammates. Moraine said they have been doing many scouting dives, and recently the visibility has been fantastic.
“In May we started scouting some of the spots and you could see the bottom in 200 feet from 85 feet while dropping, the water was very clean,.” Moraine said.
The team moved around in search of cleaner water. In 170 feet of water, Hill shot a black grouper that was over 70 pounds, and Moraine followed up with one just slightly smaller.
“It was so dark I ran into the fish, it was lucky,” Moraine said. “There’s a major thermocline and something similar happened last year that lasted about two weeks. It’s moved the fish around a lot.”
Moraine noted that the bottom temperature was 67 degrees at times.
“We ran across some spots where we left big fish during a scouting trip and there weren’t even any fish shows,” Moraine said.
They pointed the boat northwest trying to get on one last good dive as the light on the horizon began to set. Moraine dropped down into a small pothole where he had left a big black grouper last year.
“During the St. Pete Open last year, we had an 87-pound grouper and I remember seeing a fish I thought was about 65 pounds, so I left it,” Moraine said. “That was the fish I dropped in on for this tournament. I saw him come out and head back in and shot him. It was getting late and I was running out of time but got him on the lift bag and up to the surface. It ended up being bigger than I thought.”
That fish was a massive 80 pounds gutted and took home the win for Moraine in the grouper category. Hamburg’s 19-pound mutton snapper would win the snapper division. Hill took home the win in the barracuda division and fourth place overall in aggregate.
Coming up, there are many tournaments for anglers with rod and reel or spear.
The Sixth Annual Gene Cloud Spearfishing Tournament will be the weekend of July 13. On Aug. 9-10, there is the return of the Sarasota Slam to Marina Jacks.
The following weekend (Aug. 17) will be the Hook Em for Caleb inshore tournament at the Bradenton Yacht Club. That same weekend will be the St. Pete Open Spearfishing Tournament, the “World’s Largest Spearfishing Tournament.”
Finally, Sept. 14 is the Bradenton Christian Inshore Grand Slam Fishing Tournament.