Florida Diving - Part 5

Diving for Bugs with Conch Republic Divers

And now, for the main event! It's bug time.

We went a short distance and all 5 of us entered the water. One of the women was carrying the float line. Again, the vis was fantastic, perhaps 80 feet. The depth was only about 40, so it should make for a long dive. The reef was low lying like I had seen further north, sticking up only about 4 feet from the sand. The area we were on seemed about 100 yards wide. I have no idea if there was more past the sand channels. There were less seawhips here than at Palm beach, but more in the way of hard corals. The reef looked healthy. Because of the hassle involved in preparing lobster (I had no kitchen available) I was actually tempted to skip the hunting.

Quickly, one of the guys found a bug and started to play with that. Both the guys were using tickle sticks and nets. The women seemed to be sight seeing. We were all swimming in a line perhaps 100 feet wide with me at the west end. When I saw any terrain, I would quickly zig to the west, then zag back east a bit further on. I was seeing occasional healthy coral heads, some were perhaps 4 feet high. There were lots of fish, but no real big ones to be seen. What I was really looking for were sand channels going through the reef from east to west. I figured lobsters would be hanging out in holes on the sides. These sand channels are mostly about 4 feet deep and go pretty much all the way across the reef. Whenever I saw one, I would go to the west end, enter it and swim to the east until I came back to the other divers. I was moving a fair amount faster than the other divers. They seemed to be hunting the reef, I was hunting the terrain.

It is fun swimming along in tight channels. Going down the first one I came out before I got to the other divers. It was inhabited by a very large stingray. They were just getting above it and it was feeling like leaving. They were seeing bugs occasionally and working them with varying success.

I went down one channel and at a bit of a narrow spot, perhaps 3 feet wide and 4 feet deep, I could see a lot of antennaes in a hole on my left. I guessed that there were at least 15 bugs in the hole, but they all looked a bit small. I happened to turn to the right and there were about a half dozen more on that side, but these looked bigger. I looked up and waved at the other divers that were both about 50 feet away. One came over and tried to work one out with his tickle stick. It popped out and he netted it against the reef. I signaled that I had seen another big one in further, but he found no more. I decided to try it, but though I could see it some in a real low crack, I couldn't get near it.

I swam on and went down another sand channel. Sure enough, more bugs. This time I went ahead and snared a couple that looked nice sized. We all just continued on over the reef. It was about the prettiest of the diving I had seen in Florida. The reef was quite healthy with many seawhips, hard and soft corals. There were numerous large red Barrel Sponges, perhaps 2 feet tall and there were many of the pretty lavender vase sponges though their color was not as vivid as what I had seen in Belize. The fish were small but abundent. There were lots of puffers, Angels and small trumpet fish. I continued to see occasional small healthy coral heads.

Every 75 yards or so I would see a sand channel and go racing down it. Most had lobsters and though I wasn't completely focusing on hunting, they were still finding their way into my bag.

As I had said I would before the dive, I signaled that I was out of air and heading back. It was shallow enough and the vis was good enough, that I just drifted up next to the float line, watching the divers below. The boat showed up almost immediatly to pick me up. I ended up with 4 nice bugs.

Eventually the other divers surfaced and were picked up. They had 4 bugs between them and I am willing to say that I think a snare works far better than a tickle stick and net. They were a little suprised at my air consumption, but I think that diving is a much more passive sport for them. I love buzzing around, following the terrain. They tended to go in a straight line.

It was a short mild trip back, though rain could be seen in places in the distance. Also, one of the divers pointed out the start of a funnel cloud high in one of the cloud banks. Still it was pretty warm and calm. As we left, I noticed how the ocean was beautiful colors of turquoise blue and green. The mind wanders to the color of the ocean after many previous dives and many times returning to port. The diving always comes to an end and makes one remember and perhaps regret. I'll be back.

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