We decide to do a dive at Silver River, since I had only recently learned that dives are allowed in the river.
After calling the Silver River State Park, we decide to put in our canoe at a park put-in point just downriver from the point as far upstream as you are allowed to dive. It is a short, easy paddle, despite the strong current. Carrying our scuba gear and canoe to the boat launch is physically demanding. It is a walk of over a half mile along a wooded trail in the Florida heat. The weight and bulk of our stuff is so substantial that we need to make two trips from our truck. We are happy to see that there are hardly any boats on the river, but that is surely due to the fact that we don't not launch our canoe until about 6 pm.
After paddling to the sign saying "No diving or swimming beyond this point" (downstream from the spring head), we search for a place to don our gear. Finding none, we paddle to a fairly clear shoreline. Unfortunately, the river bottom is VERY soft, and we sink into it about up to our knees, and the smell of rotten eggs (due to the sulfur in the muck) is strong. It is therefore not easy or quick to put on our gear. Briefly, there is an impulse to abandon this madnesss.
After getting geared up, my friend realizes that we have forgotten to bring a rope to drag our canoe during the dive, so we cut off half of the nylon rope from the dive flag I have bought earlier in the day. After a short distance, my friend signals for us to surface. Alongside the boat, he is highly agitated and angry. First, he could not stay down and asks if I have any weight to give him. He then realizes that the problem is that he still had air in his rented BC. His second problem is that his rented regulator is free-flowing air. I turn off his air, and then swim to shore to fix my own goof: I have forgotten, in the muck, to tighten down my tank straps on my BC, which means that my tank has almost completely slid off my BC.
After securing the tank, I get back to my friend and turn his air back on. We finally set out for the dive. Turns out that despite the river looking crystal clear from our canoe, the vis was only about 15 feet-probably due, in part, to the fact that the sun is getting behind the trees at that hour, and because it has just rained briefly, which perhaps kicked up some turbidity. Not to mention our stirring up tons of muck at our dive put-in quagmire.
The dive is nevertheless a good one. Very relaxing, due to the strong current issuing from the HUGE Silver Spring at the spring head. We see lots of turtles, lots of big bass, and bowfin fish (large fish with a rippling fin on his back). For nearly the entire dive, we have a huge school of small sun fish (bluegill?) following us and staring at us only inches from our masks. We also see a large number of ENORMOUS, 4- to 5-foot long gar fish (photo above)-sometimes in schools, and usually in the deep portions of the river (maximum depth, by the way, was about 20 feet).
The river was down about 3 to 5 feet due to the long drought that we are only just recently emerging from. Which is part of the reason a Nervous Nelly park ranger at the gate tries, repeatedly, to talk us out of doing the dive. He keeps warning us that the low water means that the large, swarming packs of gators are now more aggressive and territorial (we never see a gator during our dive-unfortunately, since I've never seen one during a dive and would like to have that kind of experience someday). He also warns us about aggressive water moccasin snakes in the river (we never see a snake, either). Finally, he strongly warns about aggressive young kids in motorboats on the river, saying our dive flag would just be run over by crazy, homicidal maniacs who didn't care about such things. We ignore the ranger advice to have only one of us dive while the other stayed in the boat as a look-out. In my opinion, that ranger is in the wrong line of work. He made it seem like we were sure to die during the dive, and that he was terrified of normal outdoors experiences. I am fully expecting him so say, "Lions and tigers, and bears!! Oh, my!!" His worries actually make me more encouraged, since I enjoy it more when an adventure I do is at least potentially deadly.
Because we are so shallow during the dive, our air holds out easily. I have some left after my dive computer said "81 minutes"-which is a personal best for length of dive.
Overall, I'd say the dive is "okay," but maybe not my best river dive experience. The critters are impressive (both topside and in the water), but the vis is not good, and the lack of a place to don gear makes the dive entry extremely difficult. I'd highly recommend getting taken there by pontoon boat so that you can enter the water with your gear on. Otherwise, you'll discover that getting the gear on will be a big part of the (mis) adventure.
So in all, I'm not sure if I'd recommend the dive. If you go, I'd strongly recommend going by pontoon boat. Note, also, that I'd recommend diving Rainbow River if you'd like to do a drift dive in a spring-fed Florida river. Rainbow has WAY better vis. Silver is better only in the sense that you'll see much more impressive fish.
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