New Years Day 09 Bug hunt

The conditions are good. Can you make it?

This is a story of a fun, somewhat challenging dive trip hunting lobsters, but really for me it was more. I haven't been diving much and I know I'm not in shape for the long distance swimming and serious cold of lobster season. The demands of work and family had left me poorly prepared mentally. Luckily, my friend Mel wouldn't take no for an answer. He called as I was driving home New Years Eve. What could I do? Ya gotta dive. I needed to get back in the fins again. I needed to be a diver. I needed to hunt bugs.
Last week I had put my HP 100s in the shop and gotten one hydro and one VIP. Those tanks had NITROX and I had an old Aluminum with a good air fill. I searched for and didn't find every piece of gear I wanted, but I did find everything I absolutely needed.


It was clear and cold the next morning when I started out of the valley at 5 AM, but the news radio was talking about thick fog causeing accidents over the hill in LA. It wasn't too bad at first near Westwood, but it got thicker by the airport and at the harbor it was some serious fog. That's not a great thing for open water diving. It was bad enough that I only saw the freeway sign for San Pedro at the last minute and had to circle back.

It was beautiful at the landing with boats looking like ghosts as the first light turned the still fog from blackness to a thick grey. Mel was ahead of me, but we were in no hurry as we really needed more light. Unfortunetely reports suggested that the fog was not going to clear.

We took our time looking over Mel's treasure map. The topo one showing all kinds of interesting reefs to explore and look for game. Mel had been doing great on these and had picked up a number of bugs, including half a dozen over 7 pounds that he released... after scratching an "M" in their carapice to see if he could find them again. The biggest were over 10 pounds.

It was glassy as we carefully went through the harbor and was about as calm as we passed through Angel's Gate. Then again, it's hard for there to be this kind of fog unless it is extremely calm. Because of the fog, we opened the plastic so we would have some visibility, but that did make it breezy and very cold.

You couldn't see anything further than 100 yards and mostly less than that. Mel kept his eyes glued to the radar. We went near a boey that showed up and checked out the local crowd.

After travelling for a while we started zeroing in on an interesting reef, but as the we got to it, we could see a thick grid of lobster trap boeys covering the area. Mel mentioned that a few traps are OK, but this looked a bit much. We might want to look elsewhere. Soon we were at another target and there were only about 4 boeys. We metered around to make sure we were where we should be on the reef. The lobster traps tend to be off the reef itself and out a bit into the sand. This makes sense as the traps are supposed to catch them when they are foraging on the sand. We wanted to catch them during the day when they are hiding in the rocks of the reef.

We suited up and luxury of luxury, the Rapture provides warm water to fill up a cold suit. I had my camera and said that if Mel saw a bug right away, I'd get a film of it. Since I don't wear booties, the key for an entry for me is to avoid a jet of cold water up my leg. That went OK and swimming to the anchor chain I only felt a little chill water up around my shoulders. It was cold, but at least it wasn't noticably colder than being in the air. It was pretty dim, but visibility was good enough that we saw the reef well before we got to it.

The reef was a small rock at 80 feet that stuck up perhaps 8 feet with a rock field sticking 10 to 20 feet out past it. There were a fair number of fish as I looked around, but Mel signaled that he had seen a bug so I limbered up my camera and was able to get the scene of him grabbing a bug. I see that he makes it look easy. It's not. Notice the curving grab from the side.

More bug grabbing movies

After that, I went left and he went right. There were a lot of the short laminaries that cover reefs like this. They were just a stalk supporting a couple of large dark golden brown leaves. They can get pretty thick and are often useful for pulling yourself across the reef, but these were a bit small for that and were not attached to large rocks. I was working around the bottom of the rock pile looking for suitable hiding places that might have bugs. I saw one that looked legal and grabbed at it, but really wasn't on yet and it got away into its hole. I couldn't feel the back of the hole so I looked along the reef to see if there was a back entrance or a way I could dig into the rocks and perhaps get at it. It didn't look promising. Then I saw a tail sticking out of a small hole. Ha! I grabbed that and pulled the little sucker out. Cool. A nice legal.

I continued further and right away saw a another nice one on the sand between two rocks. I swatted that and bagged it. It was a nice one at least 3 pounds. A bit further I swatted one and completely missed. Oh well. This place seemed fun. I continued along the rocks moving in and out over the rock field to see if there were any out there. You can sometimes find a surprisingly large hole under a small rock or even a bug tucked in a small hole where you wouldn't expect it. The trick is looking through the kelp to find it.

Up close the growth on the rocks was pretty. There were worms, colorful corynactus anemones and a number of golden sea fans, but this is not the absolutely most scenic spot. This was about bug hunting. There were a lot of fish including clouds of blacksmiths, rock fish, various types of bass, sheephead and others. Overall it seemed a fairly vital spot. I love the short brown kelp forests you find in deeper waters. They look dark and cold and mysterious. A lot of life hides under those big leaves.

I saw more bugs, some out, some deeper in holes. I was cruising along the wall of the reef when I came to the anchor again. Hmmmm. This is a small rock pile only perhaps 60 feet across at the outside of the main boulder field. The rock pile was something like 20 feet across at most. I had not asked Mel which direction the reef ran and I had no idea which way to go over the sand to look for more rocks even though the vis was pretty good. You could see kelp at least 35 feet away, so I made a bigger circle looking at the smaller rocks and seeing if I could spot any more rock piles in the distance. Really though, I was taking it easy enjoying being in the water looking at the plants and animals around me..

Though I had some gas left I decided it was time to go up. I didn't want to get cold and there was no reason to push it. I had done good on the bugs for the first dive, including the one big one.

It was no accident that I came up near the boat. I'm used to currents in the open like this and that would not be good in this fog or if I had to make an up current swim for the boat. I really liked Mel's new open sided ladder. It made it fairly easy climbing to the swim step with fins on.

Mel was up in a few minutes and had done well. We both used the shower again to fill up on warm water.

It was nice. It wasn't like I had been diving all year, but I was back in the saddle... errr... mask again and I had grabbed well which is always a good sign. Diving is just natural to me, so comfort underwater really didn't come up. Above water though, the air was a freezing dismal thick fog.

The anchor came up with no incident so Mel was just trying to figure out the next spot. He thought the biggest areas would be trapped heavily so he was looking a bit off the beaten track, He had learned new tricks with his plotter and knew how to read it better. He told me the techniques he used to try to drop his anchor right on small rock piles. The vis around here is normally bad. This 30 feet we had was a bit unusual. If you don't get the anchor on the reef, you're only going to find it by luck. The fog would get thinner in patches and we would say "oh, you can see over 100 yards". Then it would close in again. We never saw a single boat until late in the afternoon.

It was time to fill up on warm water and follow the anchor line down. This was a bit away from a better known reef so it wouldn't be big, but it might be productive. I asked this time and Mel said the rocks lie East to West. Ah, cold water, but cold and invigorating. It was cold and dark, but not that green gloom that makes everything almost impossible to see. There was a flat rock sticking up and lots of fish in the short kelps. I looked around a little, but Mel signaled me so I went over and got a film of him grabbing this really nice bug. Then I wanted to get off and explore.

This reef was similar to the last one, but far larger at about 75 feet. I headed west staying to the south of the ridge while it seemed Mel was staying to the north. I was finding holes and there were bugs. There were a lot of various sized species of rock fish including some cabazon. I also found a big lingcod. Mmmmm ....tasty. Every so often I came to larger structure sticking up fropm the bottom rocks. There were corynactus and beautiful golden sea fans, but few bugs. I do like these cold deep laminarea fields on rocks in the sand. They remind me of the diving at Santa Rosa Island, my favorite place from long ago.

At one point, I was following a small ridge and came to a lobster trap. Since I wanted to look in the rocks it was setting on I looked in it and could see that there was a large cabezon in the trap. When it saw me it started thrashing around trying to get out. There were no lobster in the trap, but there was really little I could do for it. I checked out the rocks under ther trap, but didn't find anything.

I covered a lot of territory and saw a lot of stuff, but no more lobster so I started moving up. The vis was good enough that I could see a large area of the laminarias on the rocks. I've noticed before though that any time you look at kelp reefs even a little below you, they are a world away. You are only in the kelp forest if you are under or in the canopy. Otherwise everything is hidden from you and the gold crown of the kelp becomes a dark opaque brown.

Mel came up about 75 yards north little after I got on the boat. He had picked up a few nice ones. He said he had found another one that would have been good for filming a bit after the first, but when he looked around I had been gone. It was still frigid in the fog.

I had only one tank left so I said that I was going to sit out the next dive. Mel decided to look for something small to drop in on. After a bit more traveling by radar and GPS we came to a spot that was supposed to be two rocks together, but little more. As Mel dropped in, I laid down above. I was just getting comfortable when he came back. There had been nothing there so he wanted to save his gas for a dive on another location.

After debating a bit, he decided to try a wreck where he had gotten a big bug a couple weeks earlier. He told me it was in three parts from east to west. After a bit of metering and repositioning, he dropped anchor and we entered. This was supposed to be shallower at about 50 feet and vis very might well not be good. It was dark going down the anchor, but out of the gloom appeared a bit of a pinnacle sticking up about 10 feet. It was too skinny to be natural and was covered with thick growth. There were vivid red corynactus with some scallops in between and golden fans in various places. The main part of the reef was about 20 feet long by 10 feet wide. The lower part looked like a wreck, but the upper part was so covered by life that it didn't show sign of anything artificial.


I went about half way around when I saw a murk spot that made me think that Mel had grabbed something as he got there ahead of me. I looked it over. It was dark. The wreck was beautiful, but I didn't see any bugs looking out. I went over it again slower looking in all the holes that I probably couldn't reach anyway. At one point, a couple feet down, behind some kind of bar there was a space between two flat boxes. At the bottom of that, I saw one antennae sticking up. There was no way I could get near it.  



I widened my circle and planned to head south to where the next section of wreck should be. It was dark, but I could see stuff in the distance. It wasn't that the vis was bad, it was just so dim. I went a ways, but couldn't see any more structure so headed back checking out the debris at the limit of sight from the pinnacle. I finished the dive taking pictures of the beautiful growth on the first part of the wreck. It makes for challenging diving when it is so dim during the day.

I got up and the fog was clearing. A little later, Mel came up with a couple more bugs, but not the big one he wanted to find. He said that really he wanted to catch one of the ones he had scratched his initials in the shell of. Finally, late afternoon it was clearing up, but I only saw one sailboat in the distance. Getting the anchor loose was a challenge and eventually Mel went down again to free it. Even then it was a problem, but we got it up and moved on

Mel was debating making one last dive. I didn't care and really as I wasn't expected anywhere until late. You won't get bugs without diving. He decided on another spot. When he went down, I took a hot shower and changed. It was odd that neither of us had eaten all day. I think we had some adrenaline going. I ate chicken and other things I had brought. Ah, that was comfortable and the air had finally warmed above the the 50's, I think. I just tried to absorb the gentle movement of the waves, wind and smells. Eventually I heard the ping of my automatic warning that I should be seeing Mel soon. I remembered that he had used one of the full air tanks so he might be a few more minutes. It was fun to scan the water looking for his bubbles as I have done over the years. He came up to starboard and when he got close he asked if my camera was ready. He lifted his bag above the water and had a huge bug in it. It's hard to say, but this looked like serious bull. On deck it looked bigger. The huge legs were what made me guess it was over 12 pounds. The best reading from the scale was 12.5 pounds. We were both jazzed. It was an incredible bug and Mel's personal best. He said he reached into a round hole from above and was able to get a hold of both antennas at the base and then had to lever it forward from under its ledge into the hole so it could come out. He said that actually he had gotten it fairly early in the dive. I asked how many times he checked his bag on the rest of the dive.

Big Bug


It was getting late. It was an amazing end to a good, challenging dive day. The gloom was coming back after the short sunny afternoon break in the fog. We relaxed for the trip back to the docks. I wondered how sore I would be the next day. My diving had been fine. Even in the fog, a sunset is beautiful as the night gently sets in on the sea.

  • The Mel Diver Page - It's all for the fun of it.
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