Good Catalina Night, Bad SBI Day

One hunts lobster because it is his life.
One hunts lobster because it is his obcession.
One hunts lobster because it makes him high.

It had been a tough week, but it was time to go diving. I got to the docks in San Pedro about 5:30. As usual on a Winters evening, it was dark, quiet and mostly deserted except for the cats, racoons and the occasional person quietly walking through. Nicely, there appeared to be only the lightest of winds. Even though I was early, Mel was already there at his new boat. This was the first time I had seen the Rapture and it was nicely bigger than the Raider. It was a beautiful boat and I knew that Mel had put into her what he had learned from his years of improving the Raider for diving.

There were a lot of things that might make it a special trip. Here I will mention that special and memorable can be very different things. It looked good though. In ways, it was Mel's first real lobster trip in his boat. We were going to real good spots. We planned to do the night at Catalina and then, if the weather was good, go to Santa Barbara Island for some day diving. We could get fills at the Isthmus before going across to Santa Barbara Island.

This was going to be good for me. I just have not been diving enough and this was my first dive of the season. I do like the Catalina night diving, but I have really wanted to get back to Santa Barbara Island for a couple of years. It is my favorite island and there is some good lobster diving there. I wanted to take pictures as well. On the other hand, my back had been giving me some nasty problems and the wifely warned me of dire consequences should I come back tweeked just before the big Saint Louis party... So I only brought my two HP 100 tanks. I could always free dive.

Another thing was that Shel was coming along so this was even more than usual guaranteed to be about serious lobster hunting. Funny thing about Shel. Different divers dive for different reasons. Different hunters may even hunt for different reasons. Lobster diving is just Shel's life. Things come and go and change in his life as they do for all people, but for him, lobster diving remains what it is all about. The result of this is that he is almost certainly the best lobster hunter in California and has been for years. And then he lets the big ones go. Mel dives for lobster because he is obcessed with it. The guy is nuts. He's hooked on the thrill of the active hunt and he's good. Sometimes, I don't know how he does it, but some years, he's probably been the second best hunter behind Shel just based on persistancebased on persistance as much as skill and maybe some londergemain. Yah. I think he has mellowed some, but not that much. Me. I'm always game for lobsters. Hunting releases my instincts and perceptions. I become hyper aware of everything around me. I hunt lobster for the fun and excitement.

She hunts cuz she's mean.

With the usual new boat thing kind of delays, we were late getting out, but we got there. We were asking Mel about gear stowing and what the procedures there were to take care of all the usual things involved with getting under way. Mel said that he figured it would probably take a year for him to learn all about his boat. There was some moon, but going throught the harbor is always spooky. There are a lot of potential obstructions. When we passed Angel's Gate, the ocean was flat and Mel let his auto pilot take over. We were all just a bit agog looking around at the roominess, the electronics and the speed. We were making 24 knots and the boat was quiet.

Oh. first dive was going to be Mel's Rock #1012. I had been there once before. This was a pinnacle in 108 feet of water that was about as tall as it was wide. It only came up to a small point at about 55 feet. Good warm up dive. Mel said that he thought he had the anchor on top of it and we geared up. It ended up that Shel was not diving this spot.

Mel had gone in ahead of me some and I was hurrying down the anchor line after him with my light off. It was really black, but since I was at was 80 feet already, I figured we were not on the pinnacle. I turned my light on and looked for the rock but couldn't see it. At 100 feet I could see the sloping weed covered sand of the bottom and figured to follow it up. Sure enough there it was and I could see Mel's light a bit to the right, so I went left. Yahoo! Here I was. I was 15 feet from the bottom at this point and tried to scan for bugs in the boulder field at the bottom. What I really wanted to do was look at the area around 70 feet where there was a bit of a ledge. I headed up the wall and sure enough, I immediatly saw some short lobsters in the open. A little bit further and I saw a nice legal. I swatted him and got it in the bag before it could start moving.

I was at the ledge. There was broken rock to the left. To the right was a large rock wall and Mel. It might not produce any lobsters, but I had to go to the right a short ways. Sure enough, the yellow zoanthid I had seen here last year was still there. I had to check it out closely. It is so very delicate and beautiful. There were other critters and some sleeping fish, but really a lot of the reef is mostly flat rock and so there is only so much that can find a home here.

I quickly headed back to the left and nailed a couple more legal lobsters on the ledge. I continued on and came to a real nice spot that went into a deep crack. There were lobsters crawling all over the area. Some were in the open and some were further in the crack, but none looked legal. At times like that, I try to do a quick count. I got to 24 in the small area and asked myself why I was wasting my time. I continued around the pinnacle to the left and was now in a flat area open to the current. As usual, there were all kinds of small lobsters skittering around like a bunch of, well, bugs. Some were in the 5 inch realm and the one I grabbed just did not feel legal.

I continued to work my way around the rock and up. Here there are more kelps and a fair amount of invertebrate life. I kept seeing shorts, but no more legals. The lobsters sure were in the open though, as shorts tend to be. There were also a lot more fish sleeping in any little crack or hole that they could find. Then I saw a nice two pounder walking towards the top of the pinnacle. That was in the bag. After that I was on a rock very near the top of the pinnacle when I saw Mel 20 feet away on another rock near the top. It's just not a big reef and that's about all there was. After a short time, I started up along some kelp, but it ran out and it was a careful open ascent from there.

That was a good first dive. Mel had gone to the face of the reef in the current and had found some legals, but mostly he had found many many shorts.

We got organized and moved on to the next spot. This was Isthmus High Spot and while it is a place I like, I sat it out without regret to save my last tank for the next dive. I was hoping we would go along the shore where I usually have so much fun. Mel and Shel both did OK there, but nothing special.

We then went south for a few miles and anchored off of a place I have dove before, but really am not sure where it is since I mostly go at night. I wanted to go all the way to shore and I knew that Mel would stay a bit further out. One of the keys to good lobster hunting is to avoid any other good lobster hunters.

Got Bugs?

I swam in a bit to where the kelp started and dropped to the bottom in 25 feet. This is a nice area with a lot to see besides lobsters. I started to head up through some nice ledges and holes, but there were no bugs. As usual, I saw some nice sized sheepsheads sleeping under rocks. As a matter of fact, I saw a lot of neet sea life of all different kinds, because I simply wasn't seeing any lobsters except for 1 or 3 shorts that were far apart. There was even one on top of a rock that had to be less than 3 inches long. I went right against the shore, but there was nothing to be seen there. Since there was nothing there, instead of working the shore slow and close like usual, I kept moving north as quickly as possible. After about 150 yards, I started to see bugs. There were little bugs and big bugs and they seemed to be out. Considering it was near 3 AM, that only seemed appropriate. I was keeping my light close to my chest so as to keep it hidden from any lobsters further on and saw a nice one that tried to hunker down in a small hole under some weeds. Not fast enough. It was another nice 2 pounder. I was really finding and grabbing the lobster, but it felt like I was getting past them, so I started back. I got to where two rocks came together at an angle and stuck up about 6 feet. Right in the middle was a nice 4 or 5 pounder walking up the crack. As soon as my light hit him he paused and slowed giving off that message of "I'm busted". It's like a gun fight with both sides waiting for the other to make the first move. I wasn't going to fool this one by shining my light away. Lobsters that size are the best fighters and can break a good grip. He was ready to jump and I was debating dropping my light to use two hands. He who hesitates loses so I grabbed him and pinned him in the crack. Then I had two hands on him and he didn't have a chance. A bug that size can be really hard to get in your goody bag though and I had to fight with him a fair amount.

About this time, I popped up to look for the boat. It was way down there. It was time to finish here and head back. I found some more legals and even got another near as big as the other one, but it is far more exciting to find them out walking. I picked up speed as I passed out of the area where the lobsters were. I wanted to swim back to the Rapture under water. It is a beautiful dive area day or night, though tonight I saw less life than usual. I did come upon a really large calico bass that was not thrilled with my light, but it was really fun to check out. When I figured it was time, I followed the reef out through the kelp and surfaced fairly near the boat. It had been a 1 hour and 40 minute dive in the shallow water. Mel came in a bit after me and had done quite well. One cool thing was that I actually had the biggest lobster at this point. It was just a bit bigger than Shel's. Experience had shown that I should enjoy it while I could. It wasn't likely to last. It was 3:30 AM and time for sleep...

Santa Barbara Island has a harsh beauty above and a lush beauty below.

Now things got interesting in another way. Why do we best remember the trips that go bad? The infamous boeys trip out of San Diego or my last Hawaii trip when I got hurt were not about good diving, but they were quite memorable. You know how that goes. Well, I couldn't sleep. Within an hour my stomach was rumbling. Later that morning we went into Isthmus for air and breakfast and my stomach was more than rumbling. I had a good breakfast there, which I regretted later. It was beautiful at Isthmus. The air was clear and crisp. I just kept getting sicker. To be polite, I was on a very nasty diet. Nothing was going to stay in, anywhere. We got to Santa Barbara Island and I was happy if I could just stay in my bunk below, but no, I had to come out fairly regularly. I know that Mel metered on a deep reef to check out another time. We ended up on the back side of the island very near the arch. Mel and Shel did well. Shel was free divng for lobster and got a nice 7 pounder. That didn't surprise me. He said it took him about 8 dives to get it out of its hole. He let it go later.

There's a 7 pounder in Shel's bag.

The Rapture is already a great dive boat and is going to get better.
It was a great day and quite calm. Santa Barbara Island is such an amazing place, beautiful above and below water. I took a good look around one of the times I was forced topside by my stomach. The Pelicans wheel above the stark cliffs and the water surges throught the boilers. I really wasn't much able to enjoy it though. I guess it just means I'll have to get back there again soon.

Enjoy the diving, seahunt

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No clue.