By Larry Cox
Blue Region Scuba
A few weeks ago, on a beautiful North Carolina day, I headed with some friends to my favorite place on earth, fifteen miles off the North Carolina coast for a day of diving, spear fishing and camaraderie. After anchoring on the Suloide, a shipwrecked turn of the century freighter, we shouted to the two other boats anchored nearby with several fishermen in each and asked “Any luck?” “Only a couple of pinfish and a few small black bass”, was the answer from both boats.
After donning our scuba equipment, the three of us grabbed our spear guns and rolled overboard in hopes of clear warm waters and a big fish. Descending into the warm, clear, azure water, we were rewarded with North Carolina diving at its best. Arriving back to the surface 45 minutes later, we boarded 3 large gag grouper, 4 sheepshead and 6 flounder. The sweaty fishermen in the other two boats looked over with envy and asked, “Any more down there?” I told them there were plenty more just like them at a spot in front of our boat. Suddenly all of them were frantically casting and toward the new spot, rods bouncing desperately.
An hour and a half later, as we were ready to plunge back into Mother Nature’s wonderland, the other fishermen had caught only one flounder and nothing else worth keeping. We rolled back over the side of the boat and did a 70-foot freefall descent and quickly filled our stringers with 2 more grouper and 8 flounder. We left the area satisfied that we each had several entrees on ice which the other fishermen had only one flounder, a sunburn, and a good start on a heat stroke.
Diving and spearfishing are excellent ways to enjoy North Carolina’s coast. Known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, the coast off North Carolina is littered with more than 2,000 wrecks from the centuries of war and shipping. Among the most popular are the wrecks of three World War II German submarines and their prey in depths accessible to sport divers. These once deadly beasts docile after years underwater are now home to vast numbers of a diversity of species of underwater life. Swimming around the remains of the submarine, U-352 you cannot help but be humbled by human lives lost here. The seas have reclaimed this wreck that is now a haven for sea life, and a visual panacea for us.
If you are a fisherman and not a diver, you are unaware of the number of fish beneath the surface and how many fish are literally giving you a raspberry when you drop a hook loaded with cut bait. While you sit topside feeling frustrated as you bring up a small grouper under the size limit, returning it to the sea, we, as spear-fishermen are able to go down, find the legal size fish and harvest it, putting fresh fish on the dinner table on a regular basis.
Spear fishing is a great sport combining the thrill of the hunt and the beauty of the undersea world with rewards of food that is good and good for you.. At about $11 per pound for grouper filets in the grocery store, the 20-pound grouper you harvested will yield about 6 pounds of filets. You can do the math and quickly see that good tasting and quality fish is an excellent benefit available while you enjoy the beauty of the underwater world.
There are quite a few tasty species of fish off the NC coast. Flounder, grouper, sheepshead, snapper, togs, Spanish, cobia and several others call our waters home during the warm season.
Even that rare day when you don’t see any legal size fish, you are rewarded with all of the tropical fish you would expect to see only in South Florida or the Caribbean. During the warm months, we have butterfly fish, Queen Angels and other tropical species. Earlier this year a large 7 foot tall Sunfish (Mola Mola) paid a visit to three divers coming up the anchor line. North Carolina is the king of large underwater animal encounters on the east coast. You never know what pelagic species you will encounter. If you have never taken the time to look into the eye of these large animals, you are in for an incredible treat. You will feel a new respect and connection for these great creatures. Breathtaking!
On North Carolina’s 90-plus degree days, the cool water is a welcome relief and the wonder and beauty below the surface you encounter provides opportunities for tasty meals and vivid memories to keep you warm on cold winter’s eve. Consider North Carolina’s undersea world, the wrecks, the fish, and the cool, clear water. Warm day, the thrill of the hunt, and the cooler full of great tasting fish. Spear fishing in the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Addictive, exciting, fantastic.