What's beautiful: The gulf. If it were always this clear, there would be as many freedivers as scuba divers. Six miles out on the Madeira Beach artificial reef Thursday, visibility was top to bottom in 32 feet. A speared 5-pound hogfish broke free, but I easily followed it while ascending and recovering my breath on the surface, then dived and shot it again. Gag grouper are plentiful roaming the periphery of the culvert pipes, but they are borderline size or smaller and earned a pass. Bigger keeper gags are at 45 feet and deeper. Bait schools still are sparse this far into spring, and only small kings and amberjack patrolled above the structure, while hefty sheepshead schools have yet to migrate inshore.
What was missing: Oddly, not a single goliath grouper was seen while exploring the widely spread artificial reef and recording more large culvert pipe stack locations than ever before.
What's huge: Seeing a wide head peeking out between pipes gets a grouper hunter excited, but upon closer inspection these are giant snook mimicking grouper appearance and behavior. Dozens of linesiders often hang out at nearshore artificial reefs this time of year.
What's short: Stone crab season is nearly finished, closing May 16. Clear, warming bay water should afford good bridge-diving conditions for a final crab claw hunt.
Chad Carney teaches diving and spearfishing in the Tampa Bay area and can be reached at (727) 423-7775 or floridaskindiver.com.