Bouncing For Bugs

At San Nic

CopyRight @ 1998

It's a nice idea, go diving at Nic on the opening day of the lobster season. Malibu Divers always chartered the Peace for the first Wednesday of October. Since it was a mid-week dive, it wasn't too hard to get on, if you made your reservations 2 or 3 months in advance. Unfortunately, the weather is often poor on opening day. Not this trip though.

People were on deck early. A beautiful dawn was breaking over San Nic and it was calm! We had a couple of miles to go to the island, but some divers were already suited up and sitting by the gate. I was hustling into my gear myself.

I had gotten some friends to come. They usually went out by private boat, but for this, they took my word and came. Don and Pat, as well as Alan were along. Pat was going to sit out the first dive, but Don and Alan were quickly getting geared up.

There was no wind and the sea was basically calm as Mike Roach brought the Peace to a bit more than 300 yards from the island, about 1/3 the of the way down from the west end of the island, on the frontside. The vis looked great too. It looked easily 50 feet. We were in some kelp, between a large bed in front of the boat and a smaller one a bit behind. This is what we wait for.
I was about fifth off the boat and headed back of it, simply because no one else had gone that way yet. I went down to 40 feet and after a bit of sand, I came to the rocks that were the base of the smaller kelp bed. These were boulders with sand around them. Some of the bigger rocks stuck up, say 5 feet. It looked like the reef was no larger than perhaps 100 feet by 150 feet. The plant growth on the rocks was not heavy. I planned to cover it methodically.
There were a fair number of fish, but I was only interested in bugs. There were holes and cracks between the rocks, with sand at the bottom. Right away, I found a "slow" 2 pounder that was alone. Then a bit further on was another one like it. I had about half the reef to cover, when I hit a well protected crack between two rocks. I got my hand on a 7 pounder. It was not a complete surprise or a clean grab, so here I am with my face jammed against the rock and my gloves barely on the lobster. I did have a hold on a horn though and he did not have rocks under him to grip, just sand. He was in the bag pretty quick. There were a couple of 3 pounders and a couple of other legals in the hole as well, but by now, they were far out of reach.
When you have your head crammed against a rock like that, with your arm stretched up a hole as far as you can go and it's going to be a battle of strength, skill and will to get the bug, it is best to focus your concentration as best you can. Still, you cannot usually help but notice the beautiful critters growing on the rock, that you might normally fail to notice because of their small size. Well, if your mask is crammed against a rock and you're going to be stuck there for a while anyway, you may as well enjoy the view. It is small, but very pretty.
I had found another legal and pretty much had covered the reef, so it was time to move back towards the boat. I was going back over the reef and came back to the hole where the 7 pounder came from. Like the rest of the reef area, by now there was no business to be found. Another diver was coming onto the reef and I was just nasty enough to try to point out that all the lobsters here, were already in my bag. Whoops. It was Don. Well, I had done it to him before.

It was the usual chaos on the boat as everyone is getting on and quickly trying to get off enough gear to get their tank into line for a fill. Some people had gotten some nice bugs, though I still had the best bag. This was looking like a great day.

We did another dive that wasn't all that memorable or productive. Then the boat was moved a bit and anchored more than 200 yards out from a cove. This entire area is rocky reefs, with light kelp. It looked like the shore was pretty calm, so I told Don, Pat and Alan to try to get in real shallow. I was off as soon as the gate was opened and was swimming towards shore on the surface. When I got to 20 feet, I headed down. It was typical low reefs with sand channels. I was shallow enough to be seeing a lot of green algae and some eel grass. This is the land of perch and bass. I really wasn't seeing anything that looked like a place for bugs...
Then, as the bottom came up to about 12 feet, I got to large rocks. These extended all the way to shore and made a large area of tide pools with lots of brilliant green eel grass growing on the tops of the rocks. The depth was between 6 feet and nothing. True, it's a clam day, but this is Nic. Get in here and expect to bounce around a fair amount. The holes and cracks between the rocks are not really big enough to crawl through. You have to go over. And there were bugs. Big bugs, little bugs and in-between bugs. It's the in-betweens that give me problems. I'd flop over some rocks to a hole and try to look past the eel grass. As the surge moved the grass aside, there would be 3 or 4 bugs in each hole. You would look across and there would be a nice 2 pounder on the other side of the hole, but as you move forward, you could look down the side of the hole that you were on and there would be a 4 pounder looking up at you from 18 inches away. Grab and grab fast.
The 1 to 3 pounders are no problem, because you can get a good hold on their body just by grabbing or swatting. The 7 pounder I found wasn't to bad to grab, because a good grip will hold onto them. But the 4 to 6 pounders are these strong feisty youngsters and I have to admit, that a number of times I would flop over a rock, see a nice 4 pounder, grab it and the thing just explodes. Your hand is bouncing everywhere for a few seconds and the bug is gone. Whoa.
It should be noted that I was not supposed to be anywhere near this close to the island. This is Navy owned and well protected. Quite often all or major portions of the island is closed to private boats. When it is not closed, boats are not supposed to come closer than 200 yards, though it seems that they may get ignored a bit closer. Often a truck comes down near the water to keep an eye on dive boats. They have radar that looks at the shore and take security very seriously. If they see you on shore, arrest is likely.
Diving in shallow tide pools like this is great. The light makes everything crystal clear and easy to see, but that is only if the eel grass is not in front of your face. You wait without moving, for the surge to move the grass, then you can see the hole. If there is something you want, better move fast or it will disappear. You never know what you will see sheltered in a hole.
I was bouncing around and picking up bugs, moving across the reef. I got to the shore and was looking there. The shore is rock with about a 6 foot vertical edge at the water line. There are rounded rocks against this edge and rounded rocks that extend across a sort of channel that is 20 feet wide along the shore. This is the zone that is too rough and has too much moving rock, for much to live. At the time, there were lots of rather large Black Abalone right near shore. I took a couple, partly because there are few other abalone on this side of the island and also because these were very large for Black Abalone. They were about 6 1/2 inches, while only 5 inches is legal for this species. Though they are smaller and tougher than the other type of abalone, they have an excellent flavor and the shells have a real nice mother of pearl on the inside.
I spent most of the dive bouncing around in these tide pools, finding occasional bugs. Realize, in this shallow water, I was carrying my 104 cubic foot tank, so that makes for a long dive. It was a long trip back to the boat though, so I headed straight back at about 700 pounds. That took me about 2/3 of the way back to the boat. I of course wanted to get my tank filled immediately and see if I could go back. A couple of other people had gone in shallow and were completely amazed by the diving, so Mike Roach rather reluctantly agreed to stay for another tank. He had reason to grumble.
While I harassed and finagled to get my tank filled quickly, bottom time was not any issue, I was trying to scope out where I had been and where I was going. As anyone knows that has navigated through coves and around points, straight lines are very deceptive around shorelines. The cove we were in was about 200 yards deep and 400 yards wide. The boat was in the middle of the cove. I had been towards the west side of it. The shortest route to shore was straight in, but there was some kind of offshore reef and some nicely shaped waves were breaking across it about 100 yards out. It seemed like a good idea to stay outside of this just a bit.
Well, I'm racing in to shore across the surface and can see the raised flat rock that makes up this reef. I can also see that I am getting more onto it. I can also see that a set is coming. I could also see where the rock drops off to about 15 feet. The question is whether or not I can get off of the rise into deeper water before the wave gets to me. It is not really dangerous. The waves are not that big and I could use scuba to get down to where I can hold onto the rocks, but I didn't feel like a cold water spin cycle and it seemed like a fun race at the time. I won. It was a big enough wave for a tumble, but I cleared the reef just ahead of it. In the deeper water were huge green anemones and lots of purple urchins.
I made another long shallow dive and the long swim back to the boat. I had headed back with some air, because I didn't want to be too late and I didn't want to be the last on board. That can get frowned on. Two divers were behind me. This is why Mike Roach was grumbling. It was now 1:30. That means that they don't get the boat back to dock until 7:30. They're good sports about that though.
The people that went to shore had done great. Don, Pat and Alan had done really well. Don had gotten 3 that were about 7 pounders and he said that he had seen a bug go by that looked like a medium sized dog. Pat is not a big hunter, but she had gotten a few including a nice 4 pounder that Don said had been held onto with a death grip.
Jim, a diver I knew from other trips, asked if it was me that he saw going over the falls on a wave on that offshore reef. I couldn't really figure for sure. The diver he saw, looked like they went over in pretty much disarray. Like maybe some gear went flying. It may have been me, because I was just barely in front of it and it must have looked a bit dramatic, but it is hard to say. Few people swam to shore and none admitted that they went over the falls big time.

We were immediately heading home. It was now time to relax after the adrenaline fueled mayhem of the diving. I got undone and hung my wetsuit. It was time to make a sandwich and get into the hot tub. One advantage to running late is that most divers were done with lunch and some were in their bunks already. I spent a while in the hot tub before showering and going below. After a dive like that, you are so wired that you don't expect to fall asleep, but you do.
When I got up, it was about an hour before sunset and we were a few miles from the backside of Anacapa island. It was really beautiful and the ocean was basically calm.

About this time, Mike Roach had been listening in on a distress call from a sailboat at the back of Anacapa that had run onto the rocks. It was possible that we would have to go to assist. As we got closer, we could see about a 40 foot sailboat right up against the island. You could see it rise with the swell and then the swell would fall back, then so would the sailboat. Correction, not right against the island, on it. Some other boats were there to help, so we continued on.
The sun was setting and the birds were winging it home. It is incredibly beautiful on the ocean in the evening. On the bow of the boat is a cool stiff wind. By the time the sunset show is over, we were approaching Ventura Harbor and it was time to gather gear and get the wetsuits off of the drying hangers. The day has been so full that you don't mind it coming to an end. You just hope for more like it.

Back To Start