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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Daily fishing report
By CHAD CARNEY
Published February 5, 2005
Nine months a year, it's common to see four to six keeper gag grouper in packs along sandy areas in front of a ledge.
The fish bleach white and blend into the mottled background. While descending, a spearfisherman selects his best shot, knowing it's likely the last time he'll see the big ones. He watches to make sure the fish don't spook and pulls the trigger if the shot is aligned and within range. The rest of the pack scatters when the spear hits, with many looping back for a last glance before taking off.
Hunting grouper is different in winter. The metabolism of every creature on the reef is much slower. Gags may not be seen in the open, even near hot spots. These are holes where the sand meets the edge of the break, areas that look like a den. When the weight of a limestone lip causes it to break off, it leans against the ledge and creates great grouper habitat with at least two ways in and out.
Sometimes the thin crack along the top edge gives a spearfisherman a glimpse of the fish inside. Spearfishermen need to ease quietly to the holes and be ready to fire, not an easy task with the light at your back reflecting off the sand below.
Many divers wear masks with black skirts and mount small spotlights under their guns to see better at the critical moment. You can't aim a spear gun in this situation - you must hip-shoot it, and it's like trying to take a billiards shot in less than two seconds.
Chad Carney teaches diving and spearfishing in the Tampa Bay area. Call 727 423-7775 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org