Artificial reefs 5 miles offshore are crystal clear right now. Freediving on the Treasure Island Reef in 34 feet revealed more culvert pipes and drain boxes than I previously had seen. While mangrove snappers, sheepshead and small gag groupers roamed from pile to pile, several nurse sharks lay on the bottom, where the temperature was 79 degrees.
The South County reef in 45 feet, 10 miles offshore, had about 25-feet clarity and stark segregation of fish. Barracudas staked out the marker chain and bow of the Orange Tug, and a legal-sized gag bolted for the stern, where several goliath groupers live. A small school of permit passed by on the swim to the reef marker, where more barracuda collected.
The biggest surprise came at the first culvert pile to the west, where hundreds of crevalle jacks swarmed around me. Below a huge school of bait balled up as the jacks slashed through, but they were not alone. My first dive was cut short when a bull shark longer than I am rose to check me out. I stopped, and the bull dove back through the bait as a couple more reef sharks crossed behind him.
While ascending there never were less than four sharks in view. I watched the swirling action from the surface as the sharks paid me no additional attention. Many of the jacks were scarred horribly but continued to gorge themselves on bait. Wondering about the grouper that likely were working the school from the bottom, I waited for a lull in shark passages and dove there. Halfway down all light was blocked by the mass of fish above me. I decided it would be wise to exit this congested example of the food chain.
Chad Carney teaches diving and spearfishing in the Tampa Bay area. Call 727 423-7775 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org