Catching the Big Bug

Image of author holding 7.75 pound spiny lobster.
Restored photo of author holding lobster caught off Hollywood beach in the late 1970s.

The Third Reef

It was late morning, the sun was climbing. We’d been bottom fishing most of the night and trolling during the early morning hours. It was time to do some scuba diving. The depth sounder showed 75 feet of water from the keel to the sea floor. We power drifted into the current. I held up a plasticized photograph up and looked toward shore. The buildings on shoreline matched buildings on the photographic reference. I dropped the anchor the over the bow. It caught and the bow of the boat turned into the wind and current.

We tied a line to the buoy with the diver down flag attached, then tied the line to a cleat on the stern and played out 150 feet behind the boat. Another line had a French clip tied to one end and a buoy tied to the other end. The clip was hooked to the anchor line. When it hit the water the buoy  streamed out alongside the hull on the surface.

The shoreline was a thin strip of white with little building blocks on top. We were right at the color change, were the greenish inshore waters meet the clear blue edge of the Gulf stream.

We donned our gear.

I hooked my safety reel, wound with 100 feet of Nylon line, onto a tank backpack strap. Sitting on the gunwale in full dive gear, I reached behind me, grabbing the safety line attached to the anchor line as I fell backward into the water. My partner followed.

We pulled ourselves hand over hand toward the anchor line. It was a lost cause trying swim against a five to seven knot current. Once we  reached the anchor line we descended into the depths.

As we pulled deeper and deeper, equalizing air pressure all the way, the temperature dropped. We could feel the force of the current rushing by.

We reached the anchor wedged under a coral shelf. We could see a large silhouette right at the edge of our visibility. I pried the anchor free and we glided down current. Kicks of our vented rocket fins steered us toward the dark figure looming in the distance . It was the like flying through liquid space. Effortless. We continued soaring on the current like aquatic birds.

The dark figures in the distance became the edge of a towering reef. Four foot wide crevices cut channels through the reefs. Schools of small reef fish and colorful tropical fish darted around the coral heads. Forests of stag horn coral dotted the top. Huge barracuda, with gaping mouths and crooked teeth, glided through the trenches between the coral formations. Thick moray eels poked their green heads out of holes at the bottom of the reef.

I reset the anchor under a low ledge and clipped the end of the safety line to to a brass sleeve on the anchor rope. We explored the channels, cutting through the 15 foot high coral formations then wound our way back to the anchor.  I picked up the anchor and we glided down the edge of the big reef.

I checked my pressure gauge: 1,200 psi left. One more drift then return to the surface. Once the anchor was hooked, we swam into the passageways running through the reef. A shadowy figure approached. As it got closer I could see it was an enormous loggerhead sea turtle. We  kept a low profile on the sand as the three foot wide turtle glided over and swam toward the surface.

After swimming back to the anchor, we pulled ourselves hand over hand up the rope until reaching the surface.  We swam toward the stern, gripping the safety line. At the transom we removed our gear, then set the tanks, regulators, backpacks, and fins  in the engine well.  We climbed up the gunwale. I pulled the anchor line up as my partner drove the boat over it. The anchor came loose and we headed inshore.

The Second Reef

We anchored in 50 feet of water. We were  a few miles from the color change. The current wasn’t ripping through here. The depth sounder visual signal showed a thin beam in the fifty foot range: indicating a soft bottom.  As more anchor line was played out, the signal turned thicker, the top of the signal reading 35 feet. We were on the outer edge of the second reef.

Being an easy dive, no anchor line hookup was required. The shallower depth absorbed less of the visible spectrum: brilliantly colored tropical fish swam around the coral heads.

As we descended and reached the top of the reef, something  caught my attention: two ragged stick–like objects were moving back and forth under a ledge. That’s got be be a bug, I thought, swimming faster, my gloved hands poised.

I got closer, puling myself along the coral. On the bottom, I straightened my body behind and me and  shoved both hands under the ledge.

The big antennae were so thick that they didn’t break off as the lobster pulled away. I reached back, placing my hands around the head. I pulled forward. The lobster didn’t budge. I put all my strength into it, inching the lobster out. It pressed its powerful tail against the jagged bottom of the hole. The eight legs reached for every nook and cranny, trying get leverage.

After what seemed like a long time, I forced the big lobster backward into the net catch bag my partner held.

It was a nice one: it weighed in at 7.75 pounds and measured over 24 inches from carapace to tail. My diving partner’s father owned a butcher shop . The lobster was mounted and hung over the front counter.


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