Hunting Bug On The Peace at Talcott Shoals

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Posted by seahunt on November 14, 2002 at 19:37:15:

This one's for Eric....

The Peace To Santa Rosa Island

I've been diving a long time and seen many great places, but
one of my favorite spots to visit is the wide open diving of
Talcott Shoal. It is a huge area of reefs, covering many square
miles off the North West side of Santa Rosa Island. It lines
up directly in the path of all the weather coming past
Point Conception, but is great diving when conditions are calm.
In the 80's and early 90's, I used to go there fairly often in
lobster season on the Peace, the Truth and other boats. That
was when the Peace commonly made the long trips to the west
end of San Nicolas for diving the Badlands. That was the time of
the "Animals". The hard core lobster regulars that were just
basically diving nuts that somehow managed to be signed up for
every Wednesday Open Boat scheduled to Nic and most to
Santa Rosa.
Well, Things change. Things and events had kept me from visiting
for many years. Living South made the Northern Channel Islands
basically out of reach for me. Things change again. Now I was
back and I was again signed up for a trip on the Peace Wednesday
Open Boat, scheduled to Santa Rosa/Talcott. That was the good part.
The bad part was the 3 Day swell map showed nasty weather with 6
to 8 foot seas. Not only not fun, but we would never make it to
Talcott. Hmmm. All the other swell models on the internet seemed
to show different though. There was a huge storm off of Northern
California, but the area below Point Conception showed a high
pressure spot sitting over a surprisingly calm area. There is only
one way to know for sure though and that is to go
Driving to the dock was very familiar and the Peace looked the
same, docked in the same place. I loaded up and went to sleep,
but woke for the 2 AM departure. Oh goody. As we left the harbor,
I could feel that there were almost no waves.
I got on deck to a grey dawn, with no wind, swell or sun. We
were moving across Talcott. In front was San Miguel Island and
Santa Cruz was recognizable behind. It wasn't particularly cold
or damp. Actually a typical nice marine morning. As the morning
went on and divers got some food and got in their
wetsuits. Gear was assembled. The skipper, Eric announced over
the speaker that we were approaching our dive site. The engines
slowed and the anchor went out. Eric said that we were in 70 to
80 feet of water and described the area some. Talcott is a flat
sand or rock bottom with ridges rising from it from 1 foot to 15
feet. Follow the ridges and look for the rock piles. Looking
around at the other divers on the boat, I figured that they
looked like they already knew that.
Since the Peace supplies it, I had opted to do my dives with
NITROX. Eric said that the gate was open and the divers were
going down. I did a tiny stride entry and as I turned over I
wondered what I had forgotten.
The water was warm enough. More than 50 degrees. It helps that I
had filled my suit before going in. That cuts down on the shock
some. I headed straight down and got a glimpse of the bottom
about 25 feet from it. It was flat rock with a pinkish hue. I
immediately headed away from the boat at 45 degrees from the
island. There is a strategy to lobster hunting at Talcott
Shoal. It is a huge area, but the ridges that might offer cover
to lobster, run parallel about 100 feet apart. If you follow
one of these ridges that a diver has already gone down, you are
not going to see any lobsters. So unless you are the first diver
off the boat, you want to get far enough away from the boat so that
you are not following another diver. Anyway, that is the incentive
for all the divers rushing off the boat as fast as they can and
zipping off in every direction. The ridges sort of go on forever
and since they are tilted layers of rock, one side is a gentle
slope and the other side is the vertical or ledge side where most
of the life is. The sloped side is usually fairly smooth rock and
offers so little cover, that it may be almost barren of life. The
vertical side usually extends down to a sand channel that may be
a couple feet wide or go on a long ways. The ridges meet and cross
and split again and make strange geological patterns. Along these
ridges, there are ledges and an occasional rock pile. It all offers
a lot of habitat to reef life. Everything seems to grow there if you
look around. It is covered with filter feeders including colorful
Corynactus anemones. Look close and you will see miniscule crabs,
shrimp, worms and many things that you are not likely to easily
identify. Sometimes in the ledges, but especially in the rock piles,
there are lobster, but you never know where they will be, in some kind
of randomly located cover.
I came up the sloped side of the first ridge and the other side
was about 4 feet high. That was lush there and the life was thick,
but I just kept on moving to get away from the boat some before
starting to look much. I went over about 5 ridges that were close
together and pretty high. One easily sticking up over 10 feet
from the sand channel like a wall.
I was finally following ledges and looking for bugs. The life was
amazingly thick. There were sponges everywhere including a grey
one that looked like someone had poured a gallon of hot grey wax
over the rocks. There were lots of big anemones in combinations
of white, green and vivid magenta. Lots of various fish were in
the rocks as well, but there weren't any holes that a lobster
would usually hide in.
I kept moving over the flat reef slopes, then along the vertical
wall for a while. I was checking out any isolated rocks I could see.
There are some ledges that stick out as much as 10 feet and a diver
can go into them, but they are not cover for bugs.
When you move across the flat rock or the slopes here, one of the
easiest ways to cover ground fast is to brachiate. Grab a rock and
pull your way along as you swim. You tend to be under the worst of
the currents that way and can move really fast. The rocks that stick
up tend to be barren, but you should sill be careful to avoid
carelessly squishing life. It's not really a problem though both
because the rocks are fairly bare and if you are careless, you will
get a handful of urchin spines anyway.
Then at one point I went up over a wall and on the back slope was a
nice legal sized lobster walking up the slope in the open. It was
so in the open that I took my time and was careful because it could
have gone in any direction. It knew that I was there, but there was
nothing it could do. I both grabbed and squashed it to the bottom.
It was easily legal and in the bag.
I was seeing other things to tempt the hunter as well. There were
Cancer crabs Where the vertical face came down to sand and there
was a very small undercut in the rock to make a shelf above the sand.
The crabs were hunkered in as far as they could go. They are easy to
take if you have a scallop bar. Just flip them out of their hole and
up into the water. Then let them drop into your open bag. Two of them
make a really good crab cocktail. I didn't have an iron and was more
concerned with bugs anyway.
I was moving fast when I saw two bugs under a small ledge that went a
ways back. One looked legal and the other looked iffy. I swatted the
big one and it really couldn't go anywhere. By this time I was headed
back towards where I guessed the boat was. After a bit, air was gone.
Since I was at about 80 feet, I came up slowly and wondered where the
boat was and where the current was taking me.

Back on the boat, a number of people had gotten bugs including a 7
pounder and the biggest one to come up on the Peace this season. It
weighed in at 12 pounds and 2 ounces. Incredible looking. Pat Hayes
got it and I asked him about it. This is what he told me...

I was moving along under a long ledge and saw the huge bug at the
end of the ledge in a small 'V'. I tried to get in to him, but all
the air in my drysuit went into my legs and pulled me up top where
I couldn't reach him. I went out and drained all the air from my
suit. I then went in upside down and sort of crawled in. I could
see him and he was looking at me, but he really had no where to go.
At this point I had about 1900 pounds of air. I got in far enough
to grab him and backed out of the ledge. I wrapped my arms around
him against my chest and no way was I going to let him go. I was
negatively buoyant, so I was an the bottom trying to figure out
what to do while struggling with him. I had to let him go some and
worked until I had fought him into my bag. I figured the dive was over
in any case and headed quickly for the surface. I ended up with about
300 pounds left in my tank. When I got back to the boat, I handed up
my bag. When the deckhand took it, I told him to be careful to only
grab the upper handle of the bag. The lower handle opened it.

Not surprisingly, Pat told me that was the first time he had gotten
a really big bug.

The Peace moved along east off the shore cliffs and Eric said we were going
to try a bit shallower in 50 feet. The bugs were obviously moving out
from to deeper water in front of the storm, but there was no way to guess
where they actually were. For all as calm as it was now, in the next day
or so, 14 to 17 foot swell were predicted as the storm arrived.
The next spot was the same with slopes and ledges. The reef was really
healthy. The flat rock areas, there were well populated with small, bright
orange anemones and various hydroids as well as much other small life
as you could desire if you looked close enough to see. I had been ignoring the
scallops, but yanked one big one off a rock. I also picked up one that
was just sitting in the sand. There were a fair number of them just in
the sand as well as many more on the rocks. Under one ledge I saw a short
bug which I ignored, but I did try to grab off one huge scallop that was
with it. It was huge and I definitely needed an iron if I wanted it.
Large, purple, 20 armed, squishy Picnopodia starfish were everywhere.
In some ledges were a lot of fish. Sheepheads, gopher rock fish, and
Gold and White rockfish were common. There were a fair number of tree
fish as well as lots of different perch. I even saw a few almost legal
sized ling Cod. I saw an occasional Spanish Shawl nudibranch. They had
great color. The commonest nudibranch though were Lemons. I saw them
from the size of my finger tip up to some that were at least 3 inches
long. I finally found one legal sized lobster in front of a deep ledge,
but I grabbed him before he ever had a chance to scoot back.
Air was gone and there was a fair amount of kelp extending almost
to the surface, so I grabbed onto one that looked fair sized and slowly
went up it to the surface. It stopped at about 10 feet from the surface,
so I stopped for a while at 15 feet to gas out and look around at the
salps and small jellyfish. Nicely, I came up only about 70 feet from the
Other divers had done OK, but not as good as the last spot. One guy had
taken a number of Sea Cucumbers for his wife. I watched another guy trying
to get a large crab into his bag in the game well. It had one huge claw
firmly planted on the handle of his bag and the other one waving around
daring anyone to make it let go. That was a big crab.
The divers aboard seemed remarkably like the divers on the same
Open Boats 10 years back or for that matter 30 years back. It was
a real friendly crowd, out to have a fun time the way they like
to have fun. Many of the divers knew each other from previous
trips. I not only knew a couple of the divers from other boats, I
also was glad to see Roland who I had dove with on the Peace in
the 80's and later. Not only are the divers friendly and probably
fairly accomplished at diving if they are even out here for this
trip, but also they tend to have a fair amount of respect for
each other just because they are there. Most divers never make
this trip.
It was fun to talk with the other divers about the hunting, politics
and just about every other subject. I met a lot of people. Dave instructed
me in how fishermen shake hands. Weird, but cool in a way.
The third spot was like the previous two. I went zipping off the boat
straight north over the ledges until I found one I liked and then started
traveling down it. It met other ledges and rock piles and areas where short
kelp filled low spots on the bottom. Here vis was not as good and occasionally
got down to about 6 feet. Sometimes I was using my light, but really, most
bugs are going to be far out enough to see. I was seeing fish again and a
couple of the sheepheads under the ledges had to be 15 pounds or so.
I found a ledge that could have held 100 lobsters safe from divers, but there
was nothing in it. SHortly afterwards, I came to another ledge that was 2 feet
wide and perhaps a foot deep. I grabbed a legal sized bug in each hand. The bugs
here were nice. They weren't huge, but they weren't the size you wonder about
once your hand is on them. I also grabbed a couple more scallops just because
they were barking at me.
I was moving towards where I figured the boat was and air was getting low
when I found the boat anchor. It's always an easy way up, so I quickly
followed the chain to where it went up and turned to rope below the boat.
No one had done that well, but earlier Eric had mentioned that the last
spot of the day was a smaller area that had a lot of promise. Unlike on a
lot of trips to the islands where people are not hunting, no one was packing
their gear to skip the last dive. Getting lobsters has a lot to do with bottom
Lunch was out. The sun was fully out. It was an incredible day on the ocean.
Eric had us most of the way to the east end of the island and was metering
around to find the area he wanted. He came over the speaker to say it was 50
to 60 feet deep, but there was a serious current running If we were not
extremely comfortable with the current, we should not go down. He added that
if we hung around on the surface, we were gonna get a free ride to Santa Cruz
Island. The current line was put out and the inflatable was in the water for
anyone that got behind the boat.
I was one of the first in the water and went straight down. It was similar to
the previous spots, but different. There were more rocks instead of just the
ledges. Visibility was up at least to 35 feet again and depth here was about
55 feet. I wanted to go deeper and headed out north west into the current.
In the other areas I had mostly moved along swimming with an occasional pull
on the exposed rocks. Here I was hanging on a lot. The currents were mostly
to the south, but it was a shifting tidal current and even went the other way
occasionally. That was when to move up current. This was obviously a current
area and life on the rocks was thick. Almost everything was covered with
brittle stars. The terrain looked great with lots of rocks and plenty of
hidey holes for lobsters. I barely got a glimpse of some antennas sticking
out from way under a ledge, but I made a quick grab and got that one. There
were crabs, lots of scallops and lots of fish. As I went on I saw lots of
lobsters. I took one more and since that was 6 for me, I just covered ground
looking for a final big one and trying to see what strange stuff I could see.
It was just ledges and rock piles. I picked up 3 scallops that were in the
sand under ledges.
At one point, I saw a picnopodia moving across the reef and watched it for a
bit. I can't for certain say why, but the brittle stars sure got out of its
way fast.
I was seeing more legals and even a couple out in the open. I was getting a
little low on air and so was already heading back towards the boat. I saw
another nice one in a nothing hole. I swatted it and put it in the bag with
the others. Now it was a matter of slowly moving with the current and site
seeing. In a sand channel I saw my first bat ray of the day, but I was going
by to fast to look at it much. This was just one lush reef full of every kind
of life.
We all got on the boat and the tempo picked up a bit as divers stowed gear and
stuff. A lot of divers had found bugs and Roland said that he had started
seeing bigger bugs down a bit deeper. They were not under much cover and some
were just leaning against rocks.
More lunch was put out with even better desert. I got organized and then
luxury of luxuries, kicked back in the hot tub until I didn't remember what
cold water felt like. It's a 5 hour trip, so then it was time for the bunk
and a well deserved nap.
The evening can be the nicest time on a dive boat. It tends to be
calm and clear. Conversation is very relaxed. Porpoises came by a
couple of times. At one point Eric announced that there was a Blue
Whale off of the bow. They really do have a bluish color and they are
Looking up the coast to the north towards Santa Barbara, mist was
spilling out of the mountains. The sunset is just some paths of
brilliant gold on the evening layers of fog. The cars on hiway 101
along the coast have their lights on. The lights of Ventura come on
and you can see the power plant south of the harbor towards the strand
beaches. When you get close to the harbor at low tide like this, the
breakwalls look like small mountains sticking out of the water. By
tomorrow night, waves would be going all the way over their
End of the day. End of the trip. Thank the crew who did a terrific
job and say farewell to a lot of fun people.
Enjoy the diving, seahunt

I got my limit.

seahunt Diving For The Fun Of It

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