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October 26, 2001

Heat down deep

Q: On our trip to Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas last fall, we fished the reefs of Guana and Elbow cays, deep dropping to 400 to 600 feet for red snapper. After limiting out each day for a week, on the eighth day my wife noticed our sinkers were very warm when we brought them up, and we caught no fish. We had a similar experience three days later, about 8 miles to the east. We have mentioned this to several people at Marsh Harbour and in the States, and they urged us to inquire about this phenomenon. It seems impossible that water that deep could warm that quickly.

Q: On our trip to Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas last fall, we fished the reefs of Guana and Elbow cays, deep dropping to 400 to 600 feet for red snapper. After limiting out each day for a week, on the eighth day my wife noticed our sinkers were very warm when we brought them up, and we caught no fish. We had a similar experience three days later, about 8 miles to the east. We have mentioned this to several people at Marsh Harbour and in the States, and they urged us to inquire about this phenomenon. It seems impossible that water that deep could warm that quickly. - Ken and Ruth Kaatz, Marathon, Florida

A: My first thought was that a deep-running branch of the warm Gulf Stream would be the logical explanation. But I heard a different explanation when I consulted Dr. Jim Cowan, an expert on physical oceanography at the University of South Alabama. When we examined charts of the area, he concluded that the area you describe, in the upper eastern Bahamas, is too far removed for a Gulf Stream explanation. He believes it's most likely a deep spin-off gyre or branch from the very warm Sargasso Sea area. And the lack of fish that you noted does argue for a warmer deep current, which would hold less oxygen than colder water, thus driving away even resident reef fish. Also, these currents can hold together amazingly well, contrasting sharply in temperature from other water masses only a few yards away.