I was fortunate enough this week to go on an overnight trip to the Dry Tortugas. What a blast! I went on Robert Trosset’s 34′ Yellowfin, along with Nate, Cory, Robert, Brad and Rob. Catherine couldn’t make it so it was me on the camera. Taking photos is more work then it looks like but I caught a few cool shots with the new camera. We dove a lot of places, big wrecks in the Gulf, Air Force relay towers, Tortugas Bank, Rebecca channel. We also dove some awesome stuff inside the Tortugas Sanctuary (without guns, of course) places like Sherwood Forrest and the windjammer wreck.
Fishing was good but the big black groupers were elusive. I shot the biggest hogfish and biggest mutton snapper I have ever shot. We got a variety of fish, and numerous lobsters. I freedove everywhere, along with Corey and Nate. Robert and Rob tank dove. The vis was tremendous pretty much the entire trip, 50+, sometimes closer to 80. I could dive down 20 feet and see bottom at the Relay towers, it was pretty amazing. The only thing that was a draw back was the lack of fish on the towers. Other then the permit and a few dinky AJs there wasn’t much on the towers that where freedivable. The tank divers were able to pull fish off the base of the towers but that was 100+ feet down. The same was kind of true on the big wreck we dove. I saw one big grouper, but he quickly scooted down to over 100 feet of water out of my range.
There were literally 100 jewfish on the big Gulf wreck. Diving down you could count 20 in just one little section. I am not one of the “I have to be able to shoot everything I see to be happy” type of people, but there seems to be too many jewfish. 100 jewfish and one black grouper, sort looks like something’s out of balance.
We also dove something called Kingfish rock pile, which is located somewhere north of the Fort. It was 100′ deep so it was a little deep for freediving. Brad had equalization issues and everyone was pretty tired from the ride out so while Robert and Rob slept, myself and Brad set up a chum slick and hooked and lined yellowtals. Corey would jump in and shoot the occasional mangrove snapper that swum up in the chum slick. Robert’s brother had seen a large tiger shark in that area several times recently but it did not show up. When Robert and Rob awoke they dropped down on scuba tanks and shot a large red and a close to 7 pound mangrove snapper.
The wildlife on the island is interesting, rats and hermit crabs scurry around in the night. The birds also get up at first light and start making a lot of noise.
The windjammer wreck in the sanctuary is a blast to snorkel. There are huge mutton and dog snapper living on it that are practically tame. All the fish species seem much more approachable and in fact many swim right up to you. There are huge mangroves living inside the wreck, along with monster jewfish and large black grouper. The Sherwood forest was also amazing but at 70 feet was more difficult to free dive. I had a monster mangrove swim right up to the front of my camera on one dive.
The reef sharks that live around the Tortugas bank are also pretty fun. We lost a couple fish to them at first until we teamed up to fend them off. It’s pretty amazing how if you shoot a fish and let it struggle too long you will suddenly have 2-4 sharks all over you. They move extremely fast, but seem to be very targeted on the fish, and will try to avoid getting too close to a person. When one of the sharks ate a grouper it actually drew in a large black fin tuna, but no one could get a shot on it.
Diving in Rebecca channel was also very interesting. It was the only place we dove where the vis wasn’t good and the current was ripping. It made for extremely difficult freediving, but on tanks you could shoot a lot of fish. Brad, Cory and Robert did a few tank dives and each and every drop produced some decent fish.