Posted by trip report: San Clemente on May 16, 2001 at 01:36:26:
The wind and the sea finally decided to let us out of the inner waters and we motored on over to San Clemente on the Great Escape for a half-day's diving. I had slept straight through and had no idea we even made it until i oozed out of bed, like some groggy sea-slug and saw the profile of Catalina off in the grey haze to the north. The water was flat and one could make out the sand and the reef on the bottom, some 40 feet below; a good omen indeed, even if the sun still hid behind the dense marine layer.
Our first dive was a moderately deep affair (73 fsw for 53 min) on a flat shelf that dropped off into deep sandy nothingness below. If every horizontal inch of the reef was covered with various kelps, then every vertical crevice was covered with smallish undersize bugs. A couple of the tasty little things were even having a fight, and paid me no notice as i drifted by. Oh that they be that brazen after Sept 30th!! I was looking for yellowtail, or in the absence of those fast-growing pelagics, some nice tasty calicos would suffice. Scallops, if any were to be found would be nice also. Well, there were no yellowtail present (at least none that were caught by my eyes) so i decided to go for a couple of meals (Monday and Tuesday) worth of calico bass. There was a nice fat Scorpionichthyes hiding under the Eisenia at the edge of a sandy clearing but i had vowed not to take rockfishes or other slow growing species, so after giving that fat old scorpion a hard, and lustful stare, i successfully vanquished temptation and swam on further along the boundary of the macroalgas and the sandy clearing. There were some biiiiiig calicos here boy! I was still half thinking of yellowtail or scallops or even a nice halibut on the sand, so i didn't stick anything on that first dive.
The second dive had me descending off the bow right over a narrow sand channel and directly on top of a tasty scallop! That was the only scallop i saw that morning, so i left it in place. If there isn't a healthy population of something around the area, than i have no business taking it. So that little scallop still sits on its little rock some 40 miles out, happily filter feeding on what spring plankton is left! There are calicos of modest proportions here and there but nothing really worth shooting, so i simply spend a half hour or so sneaking through the kelp and Eisenia hoping to surprise something when what do i spy through a kelp-framed grotto, but a 14 inch calico prowling the water over a lone pinnacle at the edge of a large drop-off. I had planned to only go to 50 feet on this dive and the top of that pinnacle looks like its in a good 65-70. I cock back one band on the ancient, cracked Riffe and make a stalthy approach through the grotto. The calico swims towards me as i present a minimum profile, and keep the exhaling to a minimum. I'm gliding effortlessly on track and as i reach 56 feet, it almost feels a bit surprising as the sear seems to release the shaft all by itself and the calico is nailed right behind the gill plate. As he thrashes around, a big cabezon explodes out of a crevice and attacks him! Oh if only i hadn't sworn off slow-growing fishies! I pull the calico up away from that ravenous cabezon and put him on my stringer and head off in search of other prey. A school of barracuda cruise lazily past the pinnacle over deep water, and i swim furiously parallel to their course, thinking that perhaps,in that longest of long shots, i would be able to head one off, but to no avail. They own these waters, not me. They can probably swim faster in their realm than i can run on mine. My gauge reads 500 psi and after 55 minutes, it is time to call it quits for another hour.
The third dive is over a shallow reef with luxurious sea-grass meadows and algal gardens interspersed over wide sandy channels. There are so many calicos here i cannot believe it! There are individuals of all age classes. Tiny, elegantly striped fingerlings with iridescent emerald-green eyes to a half dozen or so 14 + inchers lurking in the hazy distance. Not only that, but there are a couple of cleaning stations with senorita cleaning the local halfmoon population of parasites. It is kind of neat to see dense aggregations of large Medialuna hovering above the sand channels while being attended to by the elegant little wrasses. Kelpfish of all stripes and colors lurk among the stipes and blades of kelp. Honestly, those things remind me of snakes whenever i see them hovering motionlessly against a holdfast. Their striped bodies and paralyzed demeanor evoke images of a python or rattlesnake sitting in the grass, waiting for dinner to come by....or hoping something bigger doesn't spot it and turn the tables; the dinner tables that is. While swimming through one particularly narrow channel, i happen upon a barely legal lobster just sitting on the sand in broad daylight (the sun just peaked out, as soon as the first divers entered the water, some 40 minutes earlier). I swim towards the bug and as i begin to pass with in inches of its antennae, we just stare at each other. It seems to sense that this big neoprene clad monstrosity that makes this howling roar every time bubbles come out of its head might pose somewhat of a danger, so the bug loses its nerve and bolts back into the sea-grass. Wise move. It's never too early for either one of us to start preparing for Sept 30th. I had already taken a modest calico earlier in the dive, but i was still hoping to sneak up on one of those big 16 inchers in the distance. I round a corner and spy a pair moving up a large algae covered ledge and i glide into position and as one of the pair turns to the side, i squeeze the trigger. #$@&*!%! i missed. The spear just grazes the top of his head! While i sit there somewhat shocked and appalled at my failure to connect, the calico spins a fast half-circle and stares at the spear, which is trailing the 12 feet of line behind it. I am hovering over the sand, just motionless while watching the expression on that calico's face! If a fish can give the ole stink-eye, this one sure shot some hard looks at the curious metal object that just narrowly missed punching his ticket! He does not appear to notice me, but rather he is staring intently at the metal shaft and the tangle of line attached to it. I am not sure whether or not to just sit there, and try for another chance at him, a few minutes later, or pop up, make noise, and scare him off while i reload the gun. I decide that i will give him an education as to the nature of these big clumsy bubble-making howler-growlers so that he may learn to fear things with spearguns. I swim over to grab the shaft and replace the line. He stares at me for about 5 seconds, and then, as if he suddenly comprehends all that has happened, he turns, and bolts out of sight never to be seen again! OK, he has learned his first lesson. The second lesson is to fear those big black neoprene clad things that don't make bubbles, but hang at the surface only to periodically descend in silence to take their prey. The third lesson, will be to avoid anything that's attached to monofilament line. May he aquire the wisdom to survive to a ripe old age and grow to great size.
Well, after that embarrassing episode, i am thinking it time to call it quits, but the water is just too pleasant, and a big male sheepshead is tempting fate by hanging out in front of my spear tip. Should i shoot him? If i do, then i'll have to cook him Monday or Tuesday at the latest. Naw, i said i wouldn't shoot sheepshead, so i won't. They take a little too long to grow anyhow and they don't taste the greatest. After an hour and five minutes, my gauge reads 450 psi, so i call it quits for the day. Man, i wish this had been a two or three-day trip. Oh well, it is only the middle of May. The season is young and the best has yet to arrive.
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