Photos by: Kristofer Landers
When Toby Silverman invited me to Taco Tuesday a few days after returning from three months of travel, I couldn’t really say no. I hadn’t seen anyone yet and even though 1 o’clock tacos was more like my breakfast time, I rallied and met them at Tijuana Flats. So much of life is simply being in the right place at the right time to get the invite. KC Scott, Toby, and Travis were discussing the weekends plans to dive some deep gulf wreck. KC must have seen me drooling over the opportunity to see what lives 70 miles out in the gulf. He said maybe I could come if the other dude backed out. He emphasized this was a Huk shoot to film him filming things and show where he gets his inspiration from. Fishing would be involved. The line kind. I didn’t care, I was stoked.
He called a few days later to say I was in. I broke out my old variable rig from Greece and went gun shopping at Florida Freedivers. My first real spear gun was a Rob Allen 120 green handle. My first dream gun was the same gun in carbon. Then last year I spent three weeks in Qatar shooting the 120 Rob Allen carbon roller and was hooked. Florida Freedivers had a single 120 left and I snagged it. I spent all day in the shop rigging it the way I wanted and molding a custom handle. This thing was beautiful. My old variable rig went right back together no problem and I was ready to see what lived at 180 feet in the gulf.
We drove across to Boca Grande on Friday night and started getting the boat ready and loading gear. The plan was to leave early and run 70 miles offshore to a wreck none of us had been to. We were told to bring chum, lots of it, in order to bring the fish up off the bottom. KC bought $300 in chum consisting of chum blocks, glass minnows, and frozen sardines. His buddy, Matt, went out that morning and netted us a ton of live pilchards and pin fish. We had 300 gallons of fuel and were loaded to the brim with gear. The crew consisted of KC, Toby, Kris, Matt, and two cameramen.
We left early the next morning and settled in on our bean bags for the long run. About an hour in I woke up to the boat slowing down. We were stopped at a shrimp boat that seemed to be anchored up sorting the nights catch. Dolphins were frolicking everywhere behind the boat. It was 120 feet deep and crystal clear. Everything looked perfect. We tossed a few live baits in but nothing happened. The dolphins were going nuts and me and Kris debated the merits of getting in to get some shots with them. In the end we decided the hour long ride in our suits wasn’t worth a few dolphin shots and we moved on.
We were running in a 32 foot Andros, a large center console that was new to KC. He had only been out on it a few times and didn’t know it that well. Perfect way to break it in was a 70 mile trip offshore. When we arrived at the wreck we did a few passes back and forth and started marking fish everywhere. Anything that hit the water was nailed by a cuda or amberjack instantly. Somewhere while fighting our third or fourth fish we started smelling gas. There was a huge fuel slick across the surface and the smell was awful. We started searching bilges and tore apart every hatch trying to figure out what was going on. A look at the fuel gauges showed about 100 less gallons in the tank than expected. We figured somehow we were dumping fuel and fast. We spent the next hour in mild panic mode trying to find the leak with no luck. We discussed heading in and eventually decided to anchor on the wreck for a bit while we tried to figure out the problem. Somewhere along the line it was suggested that the wreck itself may be leaking fuel. When we went to anchor on it that’s exactly what was going on. The lack of current kept a steady diesel slick right on top of the wreck. We anchored and drifted too far into it and had to reset because we were all nauseous from the fumes. We figured the fuel gauge was just showing low because we had been on plane for two hours and when the boat settled back in the water the fuel shifted to the front. We probably would have figured out either issue sooner if they both hadn’t occurred at the same time. It really had me thinking about how vulnerable we were 70 miles offshore and how important it is to know your boat.
It was now close to noon and we had nothing on the boat. The ocean was getting rougher and we were all anxious to get some fish. We were anchored perfectly above the wreck and started chumming like mad. Every bait we put in the water was hit immediately by a cuda or AJ. I was over it immediately. I sat back watching and kept reminding them whenever they were ready for a real fish to let me know and I’d hop in and get one. Eventually after pestering them enough I got the ok to suit up. When I hopped in I was stunned by the amount of life. Barracudas and Amberjacks everywhere, but also schools of rainbow runners, yellowtail snappers, American reds, jack crevalles all way off the bottom feeding on the chum. I did a shallow drop and saw stacks of African pompanos. I swam over to the boat to tell them and everyone scrambled to gear up. I was strictly forbidden from shooting an AP or permit. We were only allowed two per boat and KC needed to shoot one for pictures.
My second drop I saw a beast of a cobia. I followed him to 104 feet and took the first shot with my new roller. Great top down shot and he was hurt bad. I made it to the surface and when I started pulling him up the line went slack. At first I had no idea what happened but as I was pulling in my shaft I realized I never took the tape off of my flopper. I always give new shafts the roll test to see if they are straight. I had left the tape on this shaft though and felt like a complete kook. I cut the tape and started diving again. About 20 min later I was doing a drop and saw a cobia swimming just below the surface. I approach and realize it was my fish from earlier! He was hurt bad and I stoned him landing my first fish with the new gun. It took me two shots but hey, he was in the boat. The Africans were hanging deep so KC gave me the all clear to take one. My next drop I picked out the biggest in the school and took a long shot. It hit low but held until Kris could put another shaft in it. My next shot was a little cubera maybe 15 pounds that went straight for the wreck. I watched a jewfish eat him and knew that shaft was done. I cleated the line off to the boat and it broke down near the shaft. The fishing team finally caught something edible. I actually watched this AP eat his bait on the way down it was pretty cool. That closed out our APs for the day. I got one more small cubera and we were done for the day. I really wanted to drop deep on the variable weight. There was no current and the vis was right but I wasn’t feeling it. My stomach was upset from the diesel and I was in no condition to dive 180 feet.
The Gulf of Mexico has an incredible amount of life. For it being so close I don’t spend nearly enough time over there. With such a long shallow bank the possibilities in the gulf are truly endless. Thanks for the trip KC!