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Adventure, Fish / November 13, 2015

Scuba Diving on FADS

Written by: Eric Billips

Fad: An intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities; a craze.  

Well, that’s the definition to mainstream America. But fisherman and divers in the Keys are far from mainstream America, in many ways. To us, a fad is a “Fish Attraction Device.”  Though after reading the mainstream definition, it’s not that far off describing a “Fish Attraction Device.”  They are widely enthusiastic.

I must admit the first time I heard mention of a FAD, I overheard a couple fishermen chatting about one and I envisioned a electronic, technological, advanced, piece of fish attracting equipment! I thought “Wow, these fishermen are very resourceful and go all out to attract fish!”

I went home thinking about how this device could attract fish. Does it send out electronic impulses? Or, maybe it releases some kind of substance that attracts them.

So, there I was, this scuba diving enthusiast kicking around the pub with some charter fishermen and I asked, “Hey how do these electronic FADs really work?” I got some very weird looks, followed by some chuckles. One of the mates leaned over and said, “No my diving buddy, a FAD is anything foreign dumped in the sea that attracts fish.”  

It seems my visions of scientists hunched over their computers designing the latest technical FAD was a bit off. I wanted to know more. I mean, I make my living swimming underwater on cool stuff and was excited to see something new. My fishing buddies started explaining that the FADs they fish on not only vary in depths, but vary in size, material and composition. They also said that a lot of the FADs they fish, they don’t even know what they are. In fact they would love to know what some of them are, and will take me out to dive them to figure it out.


We set out from Islamorada with four FADs on the dive schedule. The first one was simply known as FAD 135. It was in 135 feet of water, hence the name. The captain hooked it and it was time to descend. Around 90 feet I start seeing bait fish, than I start barely making something out on the bottom. The reason I can’t make out the structure is because there were so many fish around it I couldn’t see it! As I get closer, three goliath groupers bark at me and retreat. They are completely covered in little fish. The first structure is a huge monolithic concrete slab jetting up to the surface about 25 feet off the bottom. I settle in next to it and see grouper, mutton, and more lionfish than I can count. Off to the side, I see a few crates and a kitchen sink, also loaded with lionfish. I notice a shadow out in the distance and swim over to investigate. This structure looks like part of bridge rubble. The structure has more black grouper on it than I’ve ever seen in one spot. Twelve minutes and it’s time to go up. As I’m doing my safety stop I’m pumped up, this little structure has created a massive habitat for tons of ocean critters. You can literally hover above and see eels, grouper, lionfish, snapper, crabs, lobster, and more.  Next FAD, “The Bronco.” I’ve been hearing about this Bronco that is in about 120 feet of water for a long time, so I’m pumped to finally dive on it. Captain said, “We’re good!” so off I go descending into the blue water, focused on the bottom in anticipation to see a Ford Bronco. As I get closer to depth I start making out the common sight of huge schools of little fish that congregate around FADs. My eyes focus and what lies before me – concrete blocks. No Bronco, but still an incredible dive. Once again, lionfish everywhere and two of the biggest muttons I’ve ever encountered. Time to ascend.

We did two more FAD dives that day. One was a swing set with a few steel chairs around it and the other looked like someone chopped off the top of the Tennessee Reef marker structure and sunk it. Both are loaded diverse underwater ecosystems, full of life.

Since that day, I’ve visited many FADS in order to rid them of those invasive, tasty lionfish, and each dive I’m blown away at how such little structures become artificial reefs, and give habitat to so many critters. That pesky Ford Bronco has continued to elude me.

about the author

Eric Billips

A hobby became a passion and then a dream became a reality for Captain Eric with the opening of Islamorada Dive Center. Eric traded his business suit for a wetsuit when he moved to the Florida Keys from Michigan.

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