Snorkeling and Lobster (Kind of)

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What a great time for a getaway. Between work, studying and more work, the Queen and I were more than ready to jump in the car and head somewhere stress-free. What better place than the Florida Keys? Or more specifically, Key West for the 2015 Lobsterfest.

We visited last year and had an absolute ball. You can read about last year’s trip here.

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Last year we hit Pennekamp and did a snorkel trip prior to heading off for KW to fill our bellies. This year, we decided to stay a bit closer to KW, as the drive back to the hotel in the Upper Keys – after very hot weather and lobster – was brutal.

We stayed in Marathon this time (which is a wonderful area) and stopped by a quaint little spot known as Sombrero Beach.

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Sombrero Beach is a smallish spot off the beaten path with a couple of rocky ledges that are good for snorkeling and clear water for swimming.

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With all the rain Florida has gotten this year, I was sure the water would not be as clear and I was correct. However, murky for the Keys means you only get to see 15-20 feet in front of you as opposed to 50 feet. 😉

We nestled in under a big palm tree and hit the water for a couple of hours. Lots of fish and too many sea urchins to count, and quite a few ended up in the ol shell bag. I found this killer cone as well. He was occupied so he went back into the water. But dang! Look at the color of that shell! I thought it was mucky at first, but as I scraped I noticed that the color WAS the actual color. A camo cone shell. Definitely a first!

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After swimming and snorkeling for a while, we headed back to the hotel for a much needed shower and nap and then enjoyed a nice dinner at the Island Fish Company…we enjoyed a wonderful view.

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After dinner, we fed some parrot fish and relaxed in preparation for our big day in Key West.

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The next morning, we got up, grabbed a bite of breakfast and headed to one of our favorite beaches anywhere – Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West.

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It is a stunning beach with crystal clear, warm water. We visited here two years ago as a Florida Beaches Royalty Tour spot and were itching to come back. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it back last year, but the wait was worth it.

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There has been a considerable change to the beach on the West side, as the formerly rocky shoreline has been replaced by soft, white sand. So what did I do? I went North and tore my feet up trying to snorkel what? The rocks. I snorkeled from about that ship almost all the way up to the point. However, a couple of barracuda I encountered along the way forced me out of the water. So I climbed out, strapped on the GoPro and we hit the water.

In the first pic on the page, you can see the Queen conch we found after about 2 minutes in the water. It’s a no-take park at FZ (and the shell was occupied) so back in the water it went. But a cool way to start off the snorkel.

 

So many fish to see in the water….and many of them too fast to get snapped on cam. Twice I was buzzed by large fish. Once by a HUGE jack and the other, a hogfish – which was very cool, but scared the crap outta me.

Like, I said. I tried to snap the hogfish (above), but he was just too dang fast. You can make him out if you look closely.

Notice anything in the bottom of the picture above?

Yep, one of these guys:

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That’s a Caribbean Reef Squid.

I swam up on a little squad of these guys. They all took off except this one. He thought my GoPro was interesting, and he stopped to pose for a few shots. What a beautiful and amazing creature.

We hung out at Fort Zach for a couple of hours, showered off and made our way over to Duval Street for the festivities.

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Boy, was it HOT.

Hot hot hot.

So hot, I needed to buy a hat before walking the main drag.

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When it’s that hot, all we wanted to do was have a cold drink. But we came there for lobster.

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So it was time to find some lobster.

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After walking the main drag, I settled on a Maine Lobster Roll…just like last year.

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I was so thirsty that the Coors Light went down in two gulps.

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Queenie got herself a Lobster Slider. Well, ok I had one too.

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and we washed em down with a couple of SnoCones.

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We hung out for a little while longer until the heat was just too much. Good thing we packed up some cold drinks in a cooler.

We had a ball as we expected. There is just something about the Keys that screams “MOVE HERE BRO”.

Who knows? Maybe some day. Until then, we’ll just hafta keep coming back.

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We sure don’t mind that.

Shark Fishing and Swimmers

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So there’s been some scuttlebutt on the island as of late regarding fishing, shark fishing and swimmers/snorkelers. Now, I’m not privy to the graphic details of conversations, but I am aware of the gist of them. I won’t go into all of that right here, but I will give my opinion on the entire situation and leave it at that.

Let me first say that I love fishing. I grew up fishing. I still fish now and then. I support our fishermen and encourage them to fish. I enjoy sharks – thoroughly, actually. As a child I was obsessed with them. I could tell you anything about any species. If I could have had one in my bathtub as a pet, I would have. Now as an adult, I still love sharks. I still have a respectable knowledge of them. I don’t fear them necessarily, but I do respect them and their habitat.

The backstory:

About two weeks ago, my friend and I decided to go diving for shells. Our first choice didn’t look like a good spot that morning, so we decided to meet at Blind Pass. We’d snorkel the Sanibel side, move across the channel and hit the Captiva side all the way up North. We didn’t find much luck on the Sanibel side, so we moved to the Captiva side.

Within 3 minutes of hitting the water at the Captiva jetty (my friend 5 feet behind me), I came face to face with a Blacktip shark – literally an arm’s length away as I stood in 4 feet of water (see the pic below of the location – X marks the spot, even though this is an older picture and the jetty doesn’t quite look like that now). He was small, maybe 3, 3 ½” feet, but he startled me. I startled him as he darted away quickly. After catching my breath (haha) we dove down and within a few feet from us was a very large ray head. It was a good foot and a half chunk. This was what our shark friend was nibbling on. Disturbing, I know.

How many of you reading this have stood in that exact spot?

I know, right?

As we continued to dive North, we came across quite a bit of bait/chum. Fileted fish, fish heads, chunks of meat, you name it….and the two of us were clearly getting more and more angry as we moved along. At one point (and keep in mind it’s about 8-8:30am now), a fisherman clearly fishing for shark hopped in his kayak and headed out, passing us by no more than a few feet. We continued to dive and collect shells and on our way back I didn’t notice a line in the water. When I came up for air, the fisherman whistled at me and gave me an aggressive gesture to move away from his line….and he was camped about 15 feet from the jetty….a jetty area that’s absolutely crawling with swimming tourists, locals and children throughout the Summer months – and the water isn’t always crystal clear since the Okeechobee overflows. Emphasis on the words “swimming” and “children”.

Now as I mentioned previously, I fully support our fishermen. I just don’t support them fishing where people swim. I don’t support tossing unused bait in the water after a long night of shark fishing and I don’t support day fishing for shark where people swim. It’s asinine. This situation below is an example. Now picture a bunch of children to the left and five more fishermen on the right.

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There is an understanding on certain beaches locally. At Lighthouse Beach, fishermen gather near the pier. They don’t fish along the Western beach where the swimmers gather (as you can see below – no fishermen).

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This goes for Bowman Beach as well. Why this respect is not extended at Blind Pass/Turner Beach is beyond me. Common sense tells me that if someone is in the water swimming, don’t cast a line in the water. But some fishermen still do. Ok, maybe a 3 foot blacktip shark isn’t going to hurt much. Now replace that with a hungry 6 foot bull shark.

Sanibel Island is known for one thing – Shelling. It is the Mecca of the shelling world. It is not however, the shark fishing capital of the world. Sharks in a way are like dogs. If you leave out food in a certain area, they will eventually learn to feed there. Turner Beach is becoming that area.

Some are calling for a buffer zone – 200 yards from the Turner Beach jetty extending North there should be absolutely no fishing. I agree with that view.

I have heard, “But we were here first! If you see our poles in the water, go swim somewhere else!”

Nope. Read up a couple of paragraphs. Sanibel is known for shelling and swimming. That’s what people come here to do. So they were here first. Not you. You wanna fish over the bridge into the pass? Go ahead. No one is swimming there.

One day someone’s going to get bitten at Turner Beach. Perhaps, someone’s child.

At that point everything will change…but then it will be too late.