CopyRight @ 1997
Spring is usually the time of wind and storm on the California Coast. Sometimes though, a good dive can be made in March, towards the end of the lobster season, but still before the big Spring plankton bloom turns the water murky. It is a good time to catch a ride out of Santa Barbara, with Truth Aquatics and hope to make it to Santa Rosa Island or perhaps even San Miguel. It is also a good time to get horribly seasick too. Not this time though. We woke up and it was a special calm day that does occasionally happen. Being the middle of March, this was one of the 2 days of the double season when you could take lobster and abalone.
San Miguel Island is relatively small, about 7 miles at the biggest stretch. It is the furthest north island in the Channel Islands chain. It is exposed to the seas above Point Conception and the weather can howl down the coast from Alaska with no interruption before it gets there. This accounts for why it is lightly dove. With an average wind speed of around 30 knots, you cannot just go there any time. This island has an Elephant Seal Rookery at Point Bennet. The remoteness and rough conditions can has left the island such that the diving can be pristine. The bottom terrain tends to be huge pinnacles covered with colorful filter feeders. Wall diving is the norm. Keep an eye open for another pinnacle, nearby, off in the haze.
The Truth was moving up the shore near the north end of the island. There is a small island offshore about 100 yards, called Castle Rock. We were going inside this to an extremely remote dive area, which on a normal day is far too rough to dive. As you get past the rock, you can see that you are in a ring of reefs and rocks that is about a mile across. This place is known as Shark Park. With good reason. This is the open ocean. Next stop is Hawaii. There are Great Whites and Open Ocean Makos here. While they seem to rarely present a problem, it you have seen one of these landlords here, you do not forget it. On an extremely clear day, you may find out that they are there, but tend to stay past your vision. Orcas show up here too.
There were abalone boats parked near the outer part of the ring. This is an area so remote that it is one of the few areas where commercial abalone hunting is still feasible. They will take care of that soon enough.
My buddy had gotten on the boat and decided that she would rather be on the bigger boat, the Vision. They were at the other side of the island and missed the best diving. We jumped off about 7:00 in 40 feet of water. The visibility seemed about 25 feet, which is good here. I was carrying a pole spear since there are good rock fish to be found as well. The bottom here was rather flat rock with occasional boulders. I saw a number of red rock fish, some of which ended up in my bag. There were many Red Abalone. A few were legal, but all the big ones were already cleaned out by the commercial fishermen. I picked up a couple of fattys, because a well prepared abalone is wonderful. The scenery was beautiful and the rocks were covered with a huge variety of life. I was supposed to be looking for bugs, but I was spending most of my time on the scenery. It was a great dive.
For the next dive, they moved the boat just a short distance. I wanted bugs, so I left my spear and just figured on using my gloves. It was a bit deeper and vis was a bit poorer, near 15 feet. It was an open area of flat rock and I was moving fast, looking for good terrain. After a while, I finally found what was probably the top of a ridge. On both sides it was rather smooth rock rising to a sort of shallow trench where the top of the ridge had eroded. The trench was about 20 feet wide with lips that went up 2 or 3 feet. In this trench were a fair number of rocks and it looked like the right place. There was no guessing how far it went. I had already lost sense of where the boat was, but I knew I was not moving towards it. I was swimming and pulling as fast as I could go. At that speed, a 2 pounder got scooped up before it could move. The poor vis helped me here. My air was a bit low, but it seemed like perfect terrain, if I could just find the right spot. There it was. Big bug, with a good hole. Again, speed saved the day. I got a hand clamped on the base of his antennas before he started to move. It was funny that when I went to shift hands to put him in my bag, my first hand did not want to let go. I had turned towards the surface as soon as I made the grab. This is good practice when you find a lobster and know that air is low. After grabbing any lobster, you can be sure that no matter how controlled you are, you will have sucked some air. He weighed up at 8 pounds. Biggest I got that year. The crew of the boat liked it, because most divers were doing poor and they like to say "see, they are down there, you just have to find them".
As a note of dive humor, there was a diver with twin aluminum 72's. I had never seen a rig like this and I am not sure that he ever had either. He wanted to go off the swim step instead of doing a giant stride. He looked rather inexperienced, but not enough to get more than a suggestion that going off the step might be the hard way. Well, after the dive, I noticed that the abalone he had taken in his small red bag, looked a bit small. If they look small to me, they are. So I politely told him that I wasn't sure they were legal. When he replied that they were, I said that I would bet that they were illegal. At this point another diver glanced over and said that they were short. They were not all that close even. He may have thought they were another specie or he may have just been stupid. Anyway, he said that he would re-plant them at the next dive. This got better later.
After that we headed back and stopped near Prince Island, in a cove at the west end of the island. I had been here a few times and really did not plan to hunt unless something unexpected got in my way. It is only poor hunting, but excellent sight seeing. There was a diver from Germany who was rather unfamiliar with cold water diving. He had sat out the first two dives, since most of the divers were after bugs and seemed to be foaming at the mouth... or whatever. They dive differently in Germany. Apparently, to get an air fill, you must be a member of a club and game taking is verboten. They are also strict about buddy diving. I talked with him some and was going to set him up to try hunting until I asked him if he had a fishing license. That scotched that. He wanted to buddy dive though, so I said "let's go". When I do buddy dive, it is almost always with a buddy with more limited water time, so I follow them and if they look back, I just point where to go. This is appreciated by divers with limited confidence. I always stay at the same spot, just to the edge of vision. Well we were cruising through the lush kelp and bottom crawlers when I found what I was looking for, a nice plump rock scallop. I popped it of, cleaned it and had the muscle cut in half immediately. He had stopped to watch, so I put one piece in my mouth and offered him the other... It took a moment, but he ate it. He did seem like a comfortable diver. Back on the boat, he seemed to think that that was memorable.
After the dive, the boat headed towards Talcott Shoals. That is some spectacular diving with lobster, but almost no abalone. Well, Mister short ab with the big tanks, he had taken down his bag of abs and re-planted them, carefully I hope. But... he had grabbed the wrong red bag and had planted someone else's nice legals. I think that this sort of got resolved by his friend donating his legal take... I'm not sure if he had gone too deep or had just held his breath too long once. You shouldn't hunt if you don't know what you are doing.
It was a fun dive. It is wide open diving on reefs that extend for miles off shore. There are lots of fish of all kinds, but no lobster decided to show. The German guy had me sign his log book, because though he had enjoyed a solo dive, apparently he would get scolded back home. I dive because of the freedom it offers me...