After seeing video reports of dead zones caused by Red Tide and also experiencing them by the lack of fish on many spots when fishing with hook and line, I decided to see for myself what was occurring on some of my favorite dive and fishing locations.
Donning my dive gear and slipping into the murky water at South County reef, I proceeded down the chain attached to the mooring buoy on the tug Orange. On past dives it was necessary to pass through clouds of bait fish that obscured the wreck and prevented us from seeing the numerous goliath grouper that usually rose up from the wreck to greet us. Not a single baitfish or goliath could be seen. One small mangrove snapper and a grunt had the entire wreck to themselves. The absence of life and the low amount of light which was able to penetrate the yellowish layer of algae in the first 10 feet of the water column was eerie.
Three miles to the southwest in 50 feet of water is a series of ledges that have always held a vast array of life. The ledge I dove was what I remembered as far as the structure itself, but was a far cry from the past. Baitfish and the smaller tropical and subtropical reef fish with their brilliant colors were non-existent, as well as grouper of all sizes. The reef had a dead feel to it with most of the vegetation gone, along with sponges and other life. The big surprise was the large number of mangrove snapper and some large white grunts that darted in and out of the holes and crevices.
Based on what I was able to observe, targeting grouper in waters less than 70 foot deep would be fruitless and I will not be pulling the throttles back until I reach that depth for quite a while.
--Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach and can be reached at 727 397-8815 or by e-mail at Luckytoo2@aol.com