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The Underwater World of Florida Game Fish

Photographer Paul Dabill shares 20 images that offer a window to the underwater world of Florida game fish.

September 15, 2016
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The Underwater World of Florida Game Fish

Florida’s east coast offers a diversity of habitats — including flats and shallows, inlets, beaches, reefs and blue water — and those habitats are home to a great array of game fishes. Paul Dabill has been capturing images of many of these fish in his home waters around Palm Beach and Jupiter, Florida, and shares 20 of them here with brief personal thoughts on each. See more of his work on his Facebook page. — Doug Olander

Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- tarpon and mullet
1. Tarpon and Mullet Paul Dabill

Mullet can do a pretty good job of avoiding getting eaten. I watched these two tarpon unsuccessfully charge in and out of the bait ball only to leave still hungry. Fortunately they left me with some epic shots.

Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- goliath grouper
2. Goliath Grouper Paul Dabill

Photographing giant goliath grouper is an exhilarating experience. Not only is their size intimidating, but they frequently emit a grunt when approached loud enough to shake my body. That really gets my attention.

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Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- tons of snook
3. Swarms of Snook Paul Dabill

Large schools of snook frequent the Lake Worth inlet during the summer months. It sometimes takes patience to find them, as they move from just outside the inlet to inside the inlet to the outsides of the jetties. On this day I found them inside the inlet on the bottom in 30 feet of water.

Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- snook and redfish
4. Pals: Snook and Redfish Paul Dabill

Large numbers of snook are found in and around the Jupiter Inlet most of the year. Usually one or two redfish can be spotted with the schools of snook. Only rarely do larger schools of redfish show up in the mix. However, I was able to capture one of those moments in this picture.

Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- dolphinfish (mahi)
5. Dolphinfish (Mahi) Paul Dabill

Sometimes I have the chance to shoot fish out of the water: One of the most exciting things about hooking mahi is witnessing their acrobatics. It’s always a rewarding challenge to capture these moments on camera.

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Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- huge school of mullet
6. Mullet Maelstrom Paul Dabill

Two bait balls of mullet, each rotating in different directions, collided in front of me for a spectacular sight.

Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- cobia
7. Portrait of a Cobia Paul Dabill

April is the peak time of year when the cobia show up, usually in tow behind bull sharks. I usually focus my time spearfishing during these cobia runs. But on this day I had my camera when a cobia separated from a shark and swam over to me for a perfect photo.

Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- tarpon and jacks
8. Tarpon and Jacks Paul Dabill

On high incoming tides, I find the best conditions to photograph marine life in central Florida inlets. Special care and planning are mandatory to avoid the dangers of boat traffic. When the conditions line up and the fish cooperate, moments like this can happen. I knew the tarpon were there, but it was a nice surprise to see a large school of jack crevalle in the background.

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Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- tarpon and mullet
9. Mullet Make Room for Tarpon Paul Dabill

It’s fascinating to watch mullet keep their distance from a slowly swiming tarpon, almost as if it were employing a force field around it.

Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- goliath grouper
10. Goliath Grouper and Baitfish Paul Dabill

The interaction of baitfish with goliath grouper is a beautiful sight to behold. That was really the case on this day when there were multiple species of baitfish, darting around this particular grouper.

Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- leaping sailfish
11. Sailfish Goes Airborne off Palm Beach p

Capturing the Palm Beach skyline and a jumping sailfish shooting water out of its mouth made this shot special for me.

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Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- dolphinfish (mahi)
12. Dolphinfish on the Prowl Paul Dabill

Morning light not really penetrating the water created a unique mood in this shot of mahi swimming by me, out in the Gulf Stream.

Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- goliath grouper
13. Goliath Grouper Face-Off Paul Dabill

Goliath groupers are a protected species that were once almost hunted to extinction, but the population around Jupiter and Palm Beach has rebounded tremendously in recent years. If you spend enough time in the water, you’re bound the capture some unique images of them, such as this one where two appear to be facing off with each other.

Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- snook
14. Snook Schooled Up in the Inlet Paul Dabill

Jupiter Inlet consistently holds schools of snook. A slow approach towards them without any quick movements usually results in some great pictures.

Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- sailfish
15. Atlantic Sailfish Hunts at the Surface Paul Dabill

One of my favorite things to do when fishing for sailfish is to jump in with my camera. I had a nice surprise when doing so with this fish, discovering another swimming right behind it. I called over to my fishing buddies on the boat to throw out another goggle-eye. Moments later we had two sailfish hooked up.

Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- amberjack
16. Big Amberjack Heads to Bottom Paul Dabill

Large amberjacks inhabit many of the deep wrecks off Palm Beach. Heavy gear is needed to quickly land these fish before they find refuge in the wreck or are eaten by a shark. I jumped in the water to photograph this fish enjoy a healthy release as it returned to the depths.

Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- a wall of mullet
17. A Wall of Mullet Paul Dabill

Seeing thousands of mullet swarming like this is a truly mesmerizing sight.

Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- a tarpon
18. Portrait of a Tarpon Paul Dabill

It’s often a challenge to get close enough to large fish to get a great picture. Sometimes I get lucky and they swim towards me, which is what happened here. I spotted this tarpon and dove to the bottom of the inlet where I waited. The fish approached and did a complete circle around me allowing for several close-up shots before swimming away.

Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- goliath grouper
19. An Army of Goliath Grouper Paul Dabill

This shot was taken at a spot off Jupiter near a wreck where we frequently spearfish. Seeing a school of goliath groupers like this is wonderful for photography. Encountering these guys while spearfishing is a different story as they can be a much bigger nuisance than sharks when it comes to stealing fish from one’s spear.

Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- a lionfish
20. Beware the Lionfish Paul Dabill

Lionfish haven’t been around the areas I fish and dive as much as I thought they would be during the last couple of years, but we still find them pretty regularly. These two were in the intracoastal waterway near Palm Beach.

Underwater world of Florida Game Fish -- the photographer
Paul Dabill Paul Dabill is an underwater photographer based in Jupiter, Florida. He loves southeast Florida for the diversity of life that can be found in its Intracoastal Waterway, inlets, near the beach and offshore. Dabill takes pictures while freediving, relying on natural light only for his images. To learn more about the photographer, see his work and/or purchase prints, visit his “Paul Dabill Photography” Facebook page. Paul Dabill

RELATED: You may also enjoy these three galleries:

25 Stunning Shark Photos by Pat Ford

Amazing Underwater Game-Fish Portraits by Jason Arnold
The Phenomenal Underwater Images of Marc Montoccio
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