Scuba instructor Bill Hardman was at a loss for words. People usually come to him wanting to learn how to dive. But when asked why people should bother taking up what can be an expensive and potentially dangerous sport, he didn't know what to say.
"That's a good question," said Hardman, who owns Aquatic Obsessions, a St. Petersburg dive shop that caters to hardcore spearfishermen. "I'll have to think about that."
Fifteen seconds later, he had an answer. "It will make you a better fishermen," he said.
Whenever Hardman gives seminars, such as the one scheduled for today at the Tampa Bay Boat Show at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, he gets lots of questions from anglers.
"They all want to know what it looks like on a wreck or a reef," he said. "Once they start diving, they understand the layout, and the way fish act underwater, which makes them better fishermen."
But if that's not enough to convince you to start diving, here are some other reasons to take the plunge.
When the special two-day spiny lobster sport season opens each year in July, thousands of scuba divers will head to the Florida Keys hoping to bag their limit before the regular season opens in August.
A Florida lobster looks a little like a crawfish. It doesn't have the large claws for hunting and defense like its cousins from Maine.
The spiny lobster's main defense is its speed. With one flip of the tail, these critters can take off in the blink of an eye, leaving a diver bewildered and empty-handed. But with a little practice, and a lot of luck, even a novice scuba diver can bring home dinner.
Among the creatures of the sea, the stone crab has the unenviable distinction of possessing large claws filled with meat so delicate, so tender, that many Floridians consider them the finest seafood the Gulf of Mexico has to offer.
On the bright side, the stone crab is also the only commercially harvested marine animal in the nation that doesn't have to die to provide food for humans.
When a scuba diver grabs the tasty claw, the animal simply lets it go. Most people scuba dive for stone crabs around bridges and causeways. But if you catch a crab, beware of its large, crushing claw. It is designed for crushing mollusks. So imagine what it can do to a human finger.
With the price of stone crabs at record highs, why not learn to scuba dive so you can go catch some yourself.
For those who think spearfishing is like "shooting fish in a barrel," try chasing a grouper in a stiff current along a rock ledge in 80 feet of water.
Fish can hear and see you coming. All it takes is the "click" of the metal shaft cocking into the trigger mechanism to send them running for cover. Florida's blue water hunters need to be in top shape physically and mentally if they want to bring home trophy fish.
But recent technological advances (i.e., dive computers and mixed gas) have made spearfishing more accessible to the average diver. And today, more anglers than ever are strapping on tanks. There's no better way to check out a fishing spot than to drop over the side and have a look for yourself.
Hardman will be speaking twice this weekend at the Tampa Bay Boat Show: Today at 3 p.m. he'll discuss fish behavior on the ledges, reefs and wrecks of the Gulf of Mexico, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, he'll talk about diving opportunities in the gulf.