It was another long nasty drive across LA to the docks, but it was the last weekend of bug season and Mel wanted to make good use of the time at Catalina. It was calm at that harbor well before sun down and the plan was to get to the Island and check out a new spot the Mel wanted to try. We hustled on over and anchored at Hoop Lane. We had heard that the bugs had actually been out walking some in the day as the breeding season seemed to be starting early. With the incredibly warm weather, it didn't seem a surprise. There was no moon and a light cloud cover. It was dark, but not near as dark as I have seen it.
I headed straight to shore. Mel went the same way, but I figured that he would probably stay a bit deeper than I tended to. It was rocky with no beach and really the reef didn't go all that far out. I started my search in 10 feet of water and less. The kelp was remarkably thick for this time of year, but that was probably due to the cold water we had through most of summer. Just off shore, it was thick enough to make the hunting difficult, so I got way in to where the weeds couldn't even grow. There was a bit of an opening in the cliff or a cave if you wanted to call it that. I went in to see if the bugs were all the way on shore. I don't go in real caves, but there were undercuts on the side that I got into and was surprised when I couldn't just go up. I could even see that the hole came out on another side, but I didn't want to go there on gp. I moved down the shore fast to try to find where the lobsters were. I did see a few shorts, but very few and I didn't think I was in the right place so I kept moving on. It was tough diving with a fair amount of water movement near shore in the weeds and big rocks. The kelp out a ways further was very thick. Mel does good in that, but I didn't want to do the work unless I thought there were some bugs in the area. Being as close to shore as I was, I saw little life other than some fish and the kelp.
It was pretty as I got along the shore. A couple of times I saw lobsters do their jump-for-it manuever where they just jump off a rock all spread legged and drop to the bottom. Presumably it works against some predators, but for me it was just funny to watch. Both lobsters I saw do it were shorts though.
It was a long trip and I just couldn't find anything. It was time to head back at 1200 psi. I headed out to the bottom of the reef at about 24 feet and started back. I saw a nice bug backed into the bottom of a kelp stalk and bombed it. I continued towards the boat over the sand and was seeing some lobsters, but they mostly looked short. I moved in and out where there was some short thin eel grass and small leafy algaes growing in the sand. I was seeing some shorts, but nothing special until I came to one and decided to grab it. It looked a bit short, but when I grabbed it, it definitely felt legal. That was in the bag. I was seeing more and grabbed some to see how they felt. New lesson. If it looks short in the rocks, it is short. If it looks short in the sand, it might feel legal. I grabbed one and just wasn't sure about the size. I usually don't gauge measure at night, especially when short on air, but I thought it was time to calibrate the eyes with a gauge check. I put my light between my legs and put the gauge between the carapace and the horns. It just fit. On the surface, it might or might not hang. If it fell off, it was short. If it stayed, it was legal. I shoved it in the bag.
Normally when hunting lobster, I don't try to conserve air. I am in a sprint. Skip breathing can lead to a headache or worse. I moved towards the boat and if a bug looked legal, I put it in the bag. I actually missed a couple of grabs and then realized that the problem was that I was grabbing, not swatting. I was still mostly moving over the short thin eel grass in sand. There were a lot of small crabs with one big claw that moved in a panic when I hit them with my light. I saw a bat ray about a foot across and had to check it out. It was beautiful, but taking time to check it out is why there are better lobster hunters than myself. I kept seeing lobster, some small, some legal. Every time I saw one I checked my gauges. It seemed all were at 29 feet. I was breathing as slow as I could. I tried to put each bug in the bag using only one breath. Most took two. At 100 psi, I decided it was time to go up. I could barely feel the pull of the regulator as I surfaced about 25 yards from the boat. At the boat, I quickly measured and threw a few shorts back, but I still had done good. Most were well over legal size. I had never hunted the sand like that before. I have hunted the sand at the base of the reef, but never that far out in the open. Usually you only find rare strays out there. Besides, Catalina usually drops off too fast for there to be any sand flats.
I waited for Mel on the swim step. After a time, I saw his light moving across what I knew was sand. He had done good along the shore. He had gone farther than me and had done well in a rock pile below a slide.
We took a break and talked about the unusual terrain. After a bit, Mel moved the boat west a bit, but still far east of the rock quarry. There was a boat anchored where we wanted to be, so we ended off shore a bit. We didn't know if they were diving for bugs or not. Mel headed straight to shore. I sure didn't want to follow him so I planned to swim straight behind the boat then turn to shore paralleling him 75 feet away. It's a bad plan to follow him if you want lobster. I was curious though. What might I see in the sand. The last dive, it had been good there.
I entered down and headed east. Sure enough, I saw bugs. Many bugs. I decided to head west at 30 feet until I ran out of terrain. It was large patches of short eel grass sticking up only about 9 inches. Again I saw the small panicked crabs with their oversized claw. I found another 12 inch bat ray that was the epitome of grace. I found a guitar ray that was the essence of curious looking. There were sea hares, but not in their usual orgy mode and brightly reflective silver perch. There were a number of sheeps crabs, though only one was of edible size and I left it. I was finding bugs too and they were going in my bag. I was swatting now, not grabbing. I turned back east when it was time and worked back and forth shallower.
I've seen many things under water. Now I guess I've seen it all. Now I've even found the kitchen sink. It was a large double sink in the sand. There were no bugs around it though. The sand without growth started at about 33 feet. I stayed above that and below the rocks at about 24 feet. There were lots of horned sharks out here as well. At about 700 psi, I found the anchor again. No way was I going up. I kept going on and saw a lot of different stuff, but mostly just obvious shorts. When it was time, I turned back. At about 300 psi, I found another nice bug. He didn't like seeing my light, but that didn't bother me. I grabbed him before he could decide to go somewhere. I moved up travelling towards where I thought the boat was, then surfaced. After a warm shower and getting into dry clothes, I spent the time watching at the squid behind the boat. They were shy when I turned on my light, but crowded around in the dark. I talked to the folks on the other boat some. They were free divers looking for white seabass, but one diver had gone looking for bugs. They took off after he returned. Mel showed up about a half hour later after a long productive swim along the shore.
The morning was cool and foggy. The island was beautiful with a start of the green of spring. We were taking our time travelling along the shore, looking at the coves and rocks. Sometimes we would meter, looking for reefs that might be in deeper water off of rock formations sticking out from shore. This is what I like most about a private boat, slowly exploring along the shores that a charter boat never passes. It is all beautiful and you never know what you will see. If a small kelp bed catches your eye, it is time to explore. Some of my best diving has been found that way.
As we came around one rocky point there were a couple of boats anchored. One looked like it would be good for diving. As we came closer to it, we saw a friend. Naoki was getting arranged on the back of the boat with a bag of bugs in hand. He said that Tom was still in the water. How very cool. We stopped for a while to say hello. It is a somewhat small community of divers that regularly visit Catalina in their own boats to dive for lobster and white seabass. The other smaller boat was another friend as well. He was line fishing just now, but he would be diving for white sea bass on his next trip. You couldn't ask for a more peaceful morning for boating and diving. Some kayakers apparently agreed as they headed up the coast along the shore.
We took our time metering the terrain for future reference and looking for a reef I thought I had noticed the night before. We weren't in a hurry. The plan was to head back to 22nd St landing for air, lunch and to pick up the women. Mel's wife Stacy and her friend Cindy wanted to go hiking on Catalina. We headed back out of the harbor into a brisk afternoon wind. It got interesting as we got closer to a cabin cruiser and saw that it was on fire. We took the 10 passengers on board. In less than half an hour, 2 fire boats, 2 Bay Watch boats, a Coast Guard boat, a fire helicopter and another huge fire boat had shown up and put out the fire. After Bay Watch took on the people from the Cabin Cruiser, we continued on to Catalina. For that story, see Fire Boats.
We got to Isthmus and dropped off the women. It was then time for some well deserved sleep for us before the nights diving.
It was well after full dark when we headed east along the island again. It was clear tonight with the stars looking like bright white candle flames. I looked for my familiar favorite, the Belt of Orion. There was no moon to dim them as we motored along. This was going to be a dive at a familiar spot. We were in no hurry. We had a three day permit, but the third day was after midnight.
I went right. Mel went left. It works better that way.
I had a nice fill and I planned to swim until I found bugs. Unfortunately, I wasn't finding them. I went along the shore and there was nothing but a very few shorts. There was a lot of life. I even saw a large green abalone. Lots of fish were asleep in the rocks including sheepheads and bass. Sculpin of all sizes were awake and relaxing in the open. I wanted to make as much distance as I could before turning back. Again there was very heavy bottom algae growth at 10 to 20 feet. I wanted to avoid that until the trip back. The shallows next to the shore had very heavy macrocystis and after a while of working through that I decided to do down to the bottom of the reef. I worked up and down over the rocks from 15 to 25 feet. Sometimes I went out over the sand looking for the reflection from eyeballs. Occasionally I would see a stray lobster, but they were from the size of a cockroach up to small. They were also well hunted here. Some of them might have been legal, but I've never seen bugs that were so light shy. Usually you have some chance of following a bug that is running with your light. These just jetted at the first sign of light and kept going. I found a couple that thought they were hidden or that didn't see me coming, but most were just gone. While checking shallow at one point, I couldn't resist looking for a weed covered shore rock to haul out on. It was still crystal clear and perfectly dark to show off the stars. It was a wonderful place to spend a few calm moments enjoying the sky and the lapping waves. I slid back in the water and continued.
I was way past turn around on air, but I wanted to find something more and figured I could head back shallow. I headed back to the rocks from out in the sand and saw what might have been a legal. I skipped over that because there was a big one walking just on the other side of it trying to get away while the getting was good. Up on its legs walking, it looked like it might be 6 pounds. It only made it three feet before I hit it with one hand. That's all it takes when you have the right attitude. It was closer to 4 pounds, but was my biggy for the trip and quite satisfying.
I immediatly went up some and started back, trying to stay at 12 feet. Shallower than that and I would have large shore rocks to dodge and too much kelp to go through. I was crossing thick bottom algae and keeping my light close to my chest for a chance to see anything hunkering down in the weeds. There wasn't a lot to see. I kept swatting back to make sure my bag was where it belonged. It was a long swim back over rock and through kelp. My estimate was good and I came up near enough to the boat to head out to it. I went down again and followed the reef out. My remaining air was used looking around in the sand, but there was nothing there except elephant ear kelps and a few sculpin. Of course, that is one of the most interesting places at the island to explore. Anything might be found out there.
It was time for dinner. We wanted to start the last dive at least near midnight. I had a plan. Mel knew where he wanted to dive and I figured I wanted to go the other way. Way the other way. So he was going to drop me off around a headland and I would swim back to the boat anchored the other side of the cove he was going to start from. Mel knew the area I wanted to go to and said that though people had gotten bugs there, they usually didn't. It was a very big area and a very big kelp bed, so I figured I'd try my luck. Some fog had come in, hiding the stars so the sky was completely black.
Mel took me to the start of the headland and gave me the go ahead. I dropped off the back, straight down to the bottom through the kelp.
It was a good reef made of rock piles full of life. I moved along the bottom of the reef near the sand at 40 feet. Where the reef is made of big rocks and drops down steeply, it's best to work from the bottom up. You have to move fast to get a grab before the bugs can move back into their holes. The only problem was that again, I wasn't seeing much besides a few shorts. I would work west towards the bottom of the reef for a ways. Then move to the shallow rocks above the thick kelp and head east. Then after a while I would go to the middle at about 20 feet and go west again through the thickest part of the kelp. It made for a long swim, but I had a good air fill to work with.
There were lots of urchins, sleeping fish, sculpin out in the open and other life, but few bugs. I finally came to a spot where the bugs were at about 25 feet. Unfortunately it was a large rock pile area where the bugs didn't have to come anywhere near in the open to get around. I saw one that was a hog, probably at least 7 pounds. I think more. I tried shaking things up at the back door, but they just vanished deeper into the rocks. These bugs have been hunted. I surprised one legal in the open and also grabbed some antennaes on a few in holes, but that was about all at that spot.
One time when I moved into shore I got a hold of one in a couple feet of water. I wasn't sure about it, so I tried to measure it. Bad idea in only a couple feet of water with the small but growing swell. Getting rolled there probably left some barnacle holes in my suit.
It was a long swim, though I still had a fair amount of air. I knew my light had been dimming some during the dive, but now it was going pretty brown. I didn't need all the light my big Pelican had, but this was getting a bit low. I went to the surface to look for the boat and couldn't even see the cove. I figured it was time to hustle and I was tired anyway. My backup light is just for emergencies. I went to 20 feet and started swimming pretty much full speed through the kelp with the dying light. I would just swat each plant out of the way and go on. Actually, I was surprised I could go that fast through the thick kelp, but it was just a matter of rhythm and speed. Swim fast, swat one way, swat the other. I even grabbed a bug, but moving that fast, they have no time to bail out of my way. After a while, I could tell I was entering the cove. I wanted to swim a ways into it before crossing.
I finally came up and could see the other side of the cove silhouetted in the dim light. I knew the boat was supposed to be anchored over there. Mel had put down the canvas and the boat was a very small light a fair ways away. I was cold and tired enough by then that I was getting that mind dimming effect where you know it's the right boat, but you just aren't sure. It just doesn't feel right. I was glad to pull out the ladder and start tossing gear on the swim deck.
I looked in and the girls were awake, but dosing, waiting for us. I said 'hi' and went out to get gear off. They went to bed. Ah, there is nothing like a hot shower at a time like that. After changing into my clothes I went onto the swim step to look for Mel and enjoy the night. It was smoothly calm and every so often a boat would pass by. Occasional sea gulls, flying by invisible in the night mist, would call rauchously, 'mine', as they flew by. The night was beautiful and peaceful. After about a half an hour drifting in the sea dreams I saw the glow of Mel's light near the point. He had made a real good dive and filled his limit.
This ain't Miller time. It's pass out time with a smile on your face.
It's a meal.
Enjoy the diving, seahunt