Diving The Indian River Inlet

Diving The Indian River Inlet

by Ronald Newswanger

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Ronald Newswanger entering the water.

In the fall of 1994 I competed my PADI open water training. I immediately rented some gear and headed to Indian River Inlet to do my first dive. I jumped in and could not even see my hand in front of my face. It was a very short dive. I returned to try again the next spring and have been diving the Inlet ever since. Over the years I have done hundreds of dives in the inlet. I love and do most of my diving at night. Not having to suit up in the hot sun; no boats and very few people fishing are some of the advantages. There is nothing more peaceful then sliding off the rocks and slipping into the dark water at one in the morning without a  soul around.  When planning a dive in the inlet.  The first thing I do is check the dive chart. Slack tide will fall about an hour after high tide. The exact time will vary depending on the weather. I sometimes dive low slack but most of the time I will dive high. Low tide the water typically is not as clear and it is harder to get in climbing down over the slippery rocks. If I get in at the correct time I can dive for about an hour before the current is too strong to swim against. There is always current and sometimes it can be a little tricky. At night it is sometimes hard to judge the current and I have messed up and found myself down there hanging on the rocks for dear life trying to climb to the surface pulling myself from one rock to another. I am getting better at judging the current and have not had that happen in some time. One area on the south side where I often dive, the current swirls around and is running the opposed direction along the shore line. As the tide is still slowly running in I will stay about 15 to 20 feet deep and swim west into this current. As I am swimming along I sometimes work my way down to as deep as 45 feet. If I am not paying attention I will find myself still swimming into the current thinking I am still heading west but without even realizing it I am now heading in the opposite direction. A compass is a must have item. I have found that when the current starts running out to strong and I am not ready to get out I can hang out in the center of the swirl and extend my dive time.

Video of the bottom of the Indian River Inlet you can see the old bridge


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Ronald Newswanger with a couple of flounder speared at the Indian River Inlet

I do pick up some lures and gather sinkers occasionally but most of my dives I am after fish. If the visibility is real good I sometimes take a spear gun but most of the time I use a five foot aluminum pole spear and go for flounder, tautog and sheepshead. I do see stripers but they are hard to get with a pole spear. If I am real lucky I will sometimes come up with a nice lobster! If diving at night, I will have up to four flashlights on me. My main light is strapped to my wrist leaving my hands free. I have a small light on my head that I will sometimes turn on to see to place a speared fish onto my stringer. I have a larger light strapped to my chest as a backup and a small backup light in a pocket of my vest. Believe me, you do not want to be down there with no backup if your light decides to quit on you. There is no darker place on earth! The visibility can vary quite a bit depending on the weather. I sometimes dive with vis as low as one to two feet. I consider anything over three to six feet as good. One time about ten years ago I had over twenty feet of vis! One of the problems of diving in real low vis is you end up hugging the bottom and constantly get snagged in old fish line. Never dive without a knife! Once I was diving in low vis and as the tide started to run out the vis dropped to zero. Even with my flashlight and holding the compass up to my face I was stuck at 45 feet down and could not tell which way to go to get out. As I get older I am not as quick to jump in with only one to two foot of vis like I did in the past.

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Weights found on a days excursion along the wall

You never know what you are going to see on a dive. When diving in the middle of winter it is common to not even see one fish the entire dive. This is a good time to look for lead. In the summer life is everywhere. I see everything from sea urchins and starfish to various crabs like Blue, horseshoe, spider, and hermit crabs. I also see coral, yellow sponge, squid, shrimp and all types of small fish like sea bass and, croakers. I even see some beautiful little butterfly fish from time to time. I have seen eels that were up to six feet long and rays with six feet wing span. They are fun when they are buried in the sand and then dart off just as you swim over them. I almost swallow my regulator every time that happens! And yes sometimes I even bump into a shark. I should say he bumps into me.


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Tautog I speared at the Indian River Inlet

Something you may have never thought about; it is surprising how noisy the fish can be while diving at night. If you ever watch one of my night dive videos crank up the volume and listen closely to all the background sounds.  Oyster Toadfish sound like a bull horn, Croakers sound like a machine gun going off. All the different sounds can be amazing. Most of my dives go as planned, but you never know when something unexpected will happen. I have had flounder knock my flashlight out of my hand. I spooked a flounder on the bottom, it hit me in the chest and knocked the wind out of me. I was down there gasping to catch my breath. I have had a large gray object swim by me and felt it sliding across the back of my legs. I had a horseshoe crab plop on top of my head and walk across it. I had something very large swim into my side giving me a good push then darting off hitting me with a big gush of water. And then there was that eight foot shark last year that had the silly idea that the four flounder strapped to my side belonged to him. That is a story in and of itself! One time I spooked a tautog, I think it was blinded by the light on my head, he swam full force into my face knocking my reg out of my mouth and my mask ended up on my forehead. It was like getting punched in the nose. From time to time there is that overzealous fisherman on the surface trying to reel me in.

The adventure never ends.

Ronald Newswanger

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