Spearfishing the Reefs of the Keys
For those of us who hunt and fish the Keys, we are blessed. We are blessed for the beautiful clear water. We are blessed for the warm climate. We are blessed for the abundance of fish we target. And we are truly blessed for the variety of fishing and spearfishing the Keys has to offer. When fishing you can go offshore, in the backcountry, reefs, wrecks, flats, and so on.
However, when it comes to harvesting some tasty fish by spear, our options are similar but different than our hook and line friends.
Spearfishing has a whole separate set of rules and regulations, especially in the Keys. These rules dictate where you can and cannot spearfish. It would take an entire article to translate FWC’s spearfishing regulations, so I’ll save that for another time. Cliff note version is that spearing can take place offshore in deep blue water, on wrecks and reefs.
Offshore spearfishing can be some of the most exhilarating hunting a spearfisherman can do. When you’re in 500 feet of water floating on the surface in known shark grounds, your heart tends to beat a bit faster than normal. Wreck hunting is fantastic as well, but this time I want to discuss spearfishing the reefs.
Reef spearfishing is vastly different than hunting offshore or on a wreck. There are two main differences. One is depth and the other is space. When bluewater hunting, you’re typically in very deep water and usually just floating about freediving. Most wrecks, due to navigational hazards, are also in deep water, and you’re typically restrained to the wreck.
Reef hunting can be accomplished in depths ranging from 15 feet to really deep for the properly trained divers. The space is endless. The beauty of this is that reef spearing can accommodate all skill and experience levels of both free divers and scuba divers. And once again, here in the Keys, we are blessed in the variety of reef structure we can hunt.
If you’re interested in staying shallow...
Hit some of the patch reefs inshore. These little patches are an oasis in the sand. Tons of them reside in 25 feet or less and are a beacon to fish life. Shallow patch reefs typically have a ledge system around the perimeter, where grouper like to hang out.
On top of the patch you’ll find schools of mangrove snapper and yellowtail.
If you travel off the reef....
You will usually find a little reef debris field and low profile sponges and corals in the sand. This is where you’ll find hogfish.
If you’re feeling slightly more adventurous...
Head out to the barrier reef. The Keys has the largest barrier reef in the nation and it’s only a few miles offshore. This barrier reef can start anywhere from 30-60 feet in depth. It’s a “spur and groove” formation, meaning you have a spur of reef than a groove of sand, than a spur of reef, than a groove of sand and so on. It will look like fingers pointing out to sea.
Swim up and down the fingers of the reef and look under the ledges for grouper, on top for snapper and above you for mackerel.
If you’re feeling really adventurous....
Follow the fingers out to sea and you’ll come to a drop. The barrier reef can drop up to 50 feet in certain areas. Head down the drop and you’ll find yourself in 80 – 110 feet of water. The base of the reef ends at a sandy bottom but out there you’ll find pods of isolated reef structure. These are usually loaded with goodies. Grouper, snapper, big hogs in the sand, the occasional pelagic swimming by and big lionfish.
The variety of reef hunting in the Keys is awesome. Whatever skill level you are, whether free diving or on scuba, the reefs in the Keys can accommodate you. If you need some assistance on where to go or clarification on the regulations, give us a call at Islamorada Dive Center at 305-664-3483 and we’ll help you out. Safe, sustainable and successful spearfishing.
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