Do it in the darkness - 2

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Posted by seahunt on October 19, 2001 at 10:20:27:

Lem figured that the second dive of the night should be the Isthmus
High Spot. The bugs should be deep and that makes it a good spot to
look. In ways the High Spot is shaped like a very wide brim hat,
with a top perhaps 50 feet across and the brim closer to 80 or 90 yards
across. At the very top, is a small pinnacle that sticks up maybe 10
feet, to about 48 feet below the surface. The edge of the brim at the
sand is around 100 feet of water.
Sometimes, I have wondered why I like the Isthmus High Spot. It is
almost invariably a difficult dive. Partly it is that the location is
so covered with fishing line that it got me to carry a line cutter.
Most of it is deep enough that unless it is the first dive of the night,
bottom time is likely to be a problem. Also, once you go to the deeper
area, the shallower area can be hard to find again because it is a
fairly small area of the reef. The fact that you almost always meet a
sea lion that wants to share your space so that they can hunt fish in
your light, is not really a problem, but it can be disconcerting the
first time they come bombing down right in front of you. The hardest
part of hunting lobster there though is that you have to hunt them in
the Elephant Ear kelp.
We got organized and entered. The phlorescence here was really bright,
so following the anchor line down was fun with no light. I've
learned to turn it on before I hit bottom though. Lem and Naoki
went that a way, so I went the other way. My plan was to look for
bugs as I went on down. Much of the reef is at about 80 feet which
I could deal with, but I wanted to avoid the edges at the sand that
could be as deep as 105 feet. Even though bugs often hang out in the
sand at the reef edge, if I went there, I would have no bottom time.
The front side of Catalina Island is one of few place I have been
where Elephant Ear kelp is common and there is more of it at the High
Spot than anywhere else. It is very unusual plant and can only grow
where the water never gets rough. That is because it is basically
one huge 'leaf', sometimes 30 feet long and more than 2 feet wide.
It grows right on the bottom and has a small stalk (stipe) less
than 10 inches long. If there was any surge to speak of, the huge
leaf would rip loose or tear off where it rubbed against rocks. It
can completly cover the reef with 3 or more thick leaves. Once you
are in it, your mask is often covered by it. Diving under it is
a challenge, but then that is why it can be interesting. Still,
care must be taken not to damage it either. Just because of its size,
Elephant Ear kelp is far more fragile than almost any other kind of
large kelp. Even a fair bump can knock a large plant loose and you
would never want to carelessly rip a leaf or pull on one of the small
Seeing anything while hunting it is difficult and then a lot of
times, the lobsters are actually holding onto the kelp itself. That
makes for a very difficult grab.
Every year that I have been to the High Spot since the El Nino, the
Elephant Ear kelp has gotten thicker. This time I could immediatly see
that it was the thickest I had ever seen it. Since I knew this area was
big rocks with big cracks between them, I just went into a crack under
the kelp and headed straight across the reef through the rocks.
Immediatly there is this big sea lion in the crack with me. I patted
his side some to say hello, but went the other direction. Those things
are big.
As I went over the top of the reef, I went above the kelp
again with the basic plan of going to the maximum depth I wanted
and then working back up the reef. It's a bit easier to get under
the kelp that way.
I was looking of course and saw some shorts including underneath
a leaf in the open. It was a short, but the way it was hanging under
the leaf would have made it an extremely hard grab anyway. Nicely
enough I saw a bigger one between some rocks right away. That one
was in the bag.
So at 80 feet, the plan is to turn back and work up back and forth
through the rocks. The reality is that the rock I want to go under
has 3 fishing lines going across it. I went on to the next crack.
Diving here is total sensory overload. Everything appears instantly
and often only for a moment before it is hidden again. There is a fish
in a hole. An urchin in a crack or one of those fast, long spined
Crowned sea urchins climbing all the way off the rocks, on the kelp
leaf. There were lots of juvenile fish including Sculpins. There are
sea stars, sea hares and sea fans and every so often, there is a bit
of antennae sticking out. Then it is a matter of playing how do I get
to the bug before he bugs out? Then more often than not, if I manage
to grab it, it's a short and you let it go anyway. There is a lot to
see though.
While this is all going on and you carefully move through the kelp
and fishing lines, you had better track time, depth, nitrogen and air
pressure. Like I said, it's hard work and great for sensory overload.
For all the work, I really wasn't seeing much in the way of lobster
except for occasional shorts. In one deep ledge I saw one that looked
like a nice 2 pounder, but he was way out of reach.
Air was getting low and of course I couldn't find the one area
that goes up shallowest, so it was going to be a careful floating
ascent from 70 feet. What kelp I could find I could only follow up
about 20 feet above the bottom. That's no help. While slowly going up,
just by luck, I spotted the anchor line. That was a great help and made
for a fairly relaxed ascent. I turned my light off to look at the
bioluminescence. It seemed that the lights were small specks inside
much larger jellies, some perhaps 1/2 inch across. Usually, the specks
of bioluminescence are in animals not much bigger than the speck of
light itself.
...Note to self: Clipping goody-bag to BC instead of weightbelt works
OK in the day, but makes for some difficulty accurately grabbing gear
at night...
I was first back on the boat and it's really time to catch my breath.
Lem and Naoki were back soon and none of us did very well at all.
I'm reminded how tough this dive is every time and I have to wonder why
I like it each time. After this dive, I have to figure that it is because
it is so tough. Well, this time, I'm not sure it wasn't just a bit
tougher than me.
Enjoy the diving, seahunt

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