CopyRight @ 1997
I was on the Peace out at San Nicolas Island on a beautiful November day. Vis was about 30 feet. It was at about 60 feet on a typical rocky kelpy bottom, when I saw the biggest Calico Bass that I ever imagined. It was easily a 50 pounder, or was this the rare, but returning, Black Seabass? I followed it from about 20 feet away. It was not too shy, but it was not going to allow me near. The mature fish is a rather flat black, but I had heard that the juveniles looked like this one. What a juvenile! This was bigger than any bone fish that I had ever seen in a kelp bed before. It is a beautiful fish, silver with blackish, sorta square spots. The fish had the yellowish tinge of a calico. I was able to follow it for a couple of minutes, before it left. The crew preferred to hear my story of it as the tale of the giant Calico, rather than as a question about Giant Black Seabass. The same encounter happened again near the same spot, about 2 months later, but this time it was 2 of these beautiful fish.
At one time, Giant Black Seabass were common on the California Coast. Some were huge. I think that they grow over 600 pounds. Like any critter that is immune to attack in their native habitat though, they were really stupid about humans. My encounters with them have suggested that they are too stupid and amiable to be much of a challenge to shoot. Holding onto them after shooting them might be more of the challenge. Considering that they have followed me through entire dives, I could never figure it a good idea for me to take one. I mean, come on. Look between their eyes where their brain has to be. There isn't much room.
I have heard some amazing stories about them being hooked on a line. One old guy talked about catching one in the 600 pound range, while in a skiff near Paradise Cove Pier. The pier is gone, but the site is well known for being the site where the Jim Rockfords trailer was filmed for the Rockford Files. Anyhow, this guy said he hooked it and it dragged his skiff over to Santa Monica Pier, about 15 miles away. At that point, the local lifeguard used scuba to look at it and told him what he had. I think that he said that he cut it loose. I don't remember that he tried to do anything with it.
On the occasions that I have encountered them, I considered myself lucky and usually pretty much stopped whatever I was doing to observe them while I could. Most encounters have been brief. The juveniles are very beautiful fish and I have been able to follow them, at a distance, on a few occasions.
I was on my boat, Island Breaker, at Blue Banks, backside Santa Cruz Island, when I had my most interesting encounter with one. I was diving with Debbie Grrr, which means that I was diving close. We were in 60 feet of water with about the same visibility. It is a large open reef with boulders. Early in the dive, a large mature Giant Black Seabass showed up and seemed curious about us. It stayed within 5 feet of us for most of the dive. It must have been following out of curiosity or else it was looking for a handout. In hind sight, I wish that I had broken an urchin, or something, and tried to feed it. I was somewhat pre-occupied though, because my buddy was a bit inexperienced. Also, the circumstances were a bit novel. We just kept diving and it just followed along. I was concerned at one point, because Debbie went around a boulder and came back over it. That put her right on top of the fish. Well, many land animals are touchy about getting in that position, because large cats tend to attack from above from trees. It did not bother the fish at all. I really do wish that I could have fed it.
Another time at San Nic, I was swimming back to the Peace through the kelp canopy, with about 30 feet of water above and below me. The vis was good and it was a very pretty path that I was following. I saw what looked like about a 10 inch ring in the water in front of me at the limit of my vision. When I got nearer, I saw that I was directly head on to a very big fish. This was probably 300 pounds. It was funny that the mouth was visible, but not much else until I got closer. This one was a bit wary and when I got closer than about 20 feet, it left. It was really something to see though.
At the west end of San Nicolas, it is common for divers to encounter an extremely large one that has been referred to as Humphrey. I have not met him yet.
Probably, the greatest fascination of the Giant Black Seabass is its size. The juveniles are quite pretty to see, but a 300 to 500 pound fish is something really impressive. They are too stupid to shoot though. They became almost extinct in California where divers hunted them in the 50's and 60's. Now that it has been illegal to hunt them for a number of years, they are making a comeback and it is not too uncommon to encounter them. Probably, hunting should remain pretty restricted, because they will vanish quickly again. They are better for sightseeing and as a real addition to the majesty of the kelp forest.
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