Bug Season Closer 09

I said there was good diving here

It was the last weekend of bug season. The plan was to do a night dive at Marina Del Rey break wall, then decide the next morning if it was good enough conditions to go on to Santa Barbara Island. It had been an incredibly stressful week at work and the hour and a half drive through traffic didn't do much to unstress me. It was nice at the marina though. It was cool, quite and peaceful as the docks tend to be. Mel was pretty much ready. We were both excited to get out before the season ended. It was going to be different for me. After the last trip I had decided that I was going to focus on video rather than hunting. The task loading from trying to do both had left me almost confused and really lousy at hunting. This time it would be worse because I wanted to carry a light to get some of the vivid colors of the corynactis that just didn't show last time. Unfortunately, in my usual habit of half baked dive solutions I was going to use my big Pelican dive light for lighting instead of a real (real expensive) light made for videography. That was OK too since I was using a Canon point and shoot camera for taking the video rather than a real video camera. I cut out a piece of plastic from a plastic container and taped it to my light lens to act as a light diffuser. They used to do stuff like this all the time when diving was young. It would take both hands to hold the light and camera. Real lobster hunting was not likely. It was really bright though.

We left the harbor at dusk. There was supposed to be minor swell from the south and west. We hoped Catalina would block the south swell. It was a little bumpy, but not to bad. The problem was that the waves were coming very close together.

We rounded Point Fermin and headed north. The lights of LA glowed like holiday decorations. I was trying to relax and enjoy the sea as I always do, but I was distracted by several distracting demands I didn't leave back at the docks. We watched the lights of boats anchored in Santa Monica Bay. The Catalina Express overtook us on its way to Marina Del Rey. They are fast boats. We watched the radar and plotter for things in the way. The only real worry was the floats for the tankers off the Hyperion Power Plant. Those are big.

I watched the multi-colored lights onshore and off wheel past as we talked about the water and diving. The planes rose above LAX. Then I felt it. I wasn't in touch with the sea as I often am, but it was calling to me. It was saying "what are you thinking of". "What are you doing? You're here. Look at my beauty. Feel my peace. Taste my breezes. Relax and enjoy life." And so I did. I was there again. It was so special, the way it had always been since so long ago when I fell in love with the ocean. I seemed to just get happier and happier. The gloom and stress of the week was left behind.

We passed the deserted streets below LAX and the lights of the Hyperion. In the dark we started to make out the features of Playa Del Ray Harbor. There were a couple of hoop netters with light sticks marking their nets. It was a lot sloppier that we expected with the waves coming in at very short periods. They weren't big, but they were there. As we came to the outer break wall, I was fascinated watching all the pelicans along the top of the rocks. A number were in flight. With the large moon and the shore lights they were just large black silhouettes as they stood in groups or flew with their wide wing spans. While I was watching them, Mel was looking at the rocks in the dark. His "I don't know" comment didn't sound promising. I looked down at the base of the rocks and as my eyes focused I just said "no way can we dive that". The waves were just a bit big on the rocks and coming in way way too fast. Every 5 seconds they slapped against the rocks and rose up. It would be dirty at the bottom and as far as diving it would be violent. You would get sucked in and out of holes, which would include getting slammed into rocks. One of us or both would most likely lose a mask. We looked a bit to see if there was any chance or if that might be the top of the set, but it just continued itís fast splashing on the rocks. We commented that maybe some years ago...., but I'm not sure even then I would have tried this.

We continued on around to the inside and debated our options, but the best idea seemed to be to anchor and take it easy. Inside the wall, water was calm. The night was beautiful, the quiet only broken by the call of sea birds. We watched a video taken by a fish/free diver at San Clemente Island on a sunny day in the kelp when the visibility was at least 100 feet. It wasn't diving, but it was pretty darn fun watching some great diving and far warmer looking than what we had been thinking of. It was time to sleep early to be ready for the diving of the day.

The next morning we both got up before dawn and took our time waking over a cup of strong Cuban coffee. At dawn we pulled anchor and headed south. The idea was to get to Point Fermin and look at which way the waves were really moving. It was far smoother than the night before so it looked like we could go where we wanted. The waves on both sides of Point Fermin looked mild so we headed off for the days diving. It was surprisingly overcast with a lot of cloud cover. It took a while, but soon enough we were anchored far off the island.

Mel wanted to go to areas he was familiar with that where he had found big bugs before. It was dim when we hit the bottom. Vis was at least 30 feet over a laminaria covered rocky reef. I followed as Mel headed south. There were lots of small fish and there were patches of colorful corynactis anemones growing on the lip of the ledge we were following. In just a short ways Mel reached in a hole and quickly pulled out a legal. A little further he reached in another hole and worked around for a bit. He came out empty handed and signaled he had no idea where it went. We continued along the ledge and sure enough, Mel signaled that he had found something. I moved past and kept my camera going. he dropped his bag and took his tank off before going in the hole. It only took a couple moments for him to come out again with a nice 11 pound plus bug. He had a bit of trouble persuading it to go in the bag, but he is particularly persuasive so soon it was bagged.

At this point he signaled that we should loop back. About that time a nice ling cod zipped by. I got a good sequence of the fish going by, but it really brought to mind how different diving is with a camera. When hunting I am so hyper aware of everything. I was seeing everything, but it was different. I felt like I was missing a lot as well because my attention was so taken by working with the light and camera. I really had no idea how the videos would come out with the light. It was bright, but the ocean is big and swallows light. It really wasn't made for this. I followed with the camera on. I knew it was distracting, but I was surprised when I looked at my pressure gauge. I was far too low on gas for being at 85 feet. I boogied. My ascent was faster than it should have been, but I wanted to do as long an interval as I could at 15 feet. I stayed there breathing as shallow as possible before moving to 10 feet after a couple minutes. I then stayed at 10 feet until my air was gone. It is comforting at times like this to be on NITROX.

Mel was actually up to the boat before me which made me feel better, but I don't like being forced to hurry an ascent. He wanted to dive another area of rocks in the sand that he knew of that was actually a little deeper. I decided to sit it out since I only had one more tank anyway and it seemed like a good idea to skip it. It took some metering to find it. As we slowly cruised along we saw birds and seal lions grouped together in various areas. Sometimes we could see the baitfish they were looking for break the water as they tried to flee something below them. There seemed to be a lot of bait around. It was brighter, but still completely overcast. We were surprised at how smooth it was after the rough night. There was no current. It was a capital day for diving. We anchored. Mel suited up and entered the water. For me it was time to relax enjoying the sea breezes and sea views. It seemed a short time before Mel was back. He hadn't seen much on the small reef so he brought back half a tank.

We traveled about a mile to another area he thought might be good. We organized and entered. My tank was full, but he had only half a tank left from the last dive. It was supposed to be a quick check of a small area. Vis was nice again, though not quite as good as the last spot. We went over this rock and under and back and over and back again. I thought there wasn't going to be much in the way of bugs and worked to get some images of the corynactus on the higher rocks as well as the fish. Mel doubled back again and I followed him off the rock pile to an area of large flat rocks that didn't look like they had much habitat for bugs to hide in. A little further on though he obviously found something and had his arm way in a smallish crack that was where a large flat rock had broke in half long ago. I circled around to get clear water between him and my camera. He was really working it and had to move a rock to try to get at it from behind, but it didn't look like he ever let go with his right hand. The water got a bit messy from his work and it was taking time so I kept him in the background of the video while moving over the rock getting other things in the image. There were small corynactis patches on the rock and a bright yellow puff ball and some sea fans and ... well this was going on for a while. If you want a bug, sometimes you have to work them until you get them. Mel was working this one. I also assumed he was checking his air... He did start with half a tank. He kept working him. I swam around him a few times. I could never see what he had his hands on. At one point I wondered if he could be stuck. This was going on and on and on by now when finally he pulled out a bug far larger than I imagined could be in that small crack. It was a beauty and turned out to be over 8.5 pounds. As he headed up I got a bit of a shot of it. Unfortunately I turned off my camera before he flashed his air gauge at me showing only 150 psi left. Well, part of why a good bug hunter is good is because they try harder longer. He went down with 1500 pounds in a LP tank and fought that thing. I had used 2000 psi in an HP tank watching him. Another way big bug in the bag.

After pictures we put him on the swimstep to let him go back in. He didn't move though so Mel nudged him back into the water with his foot. We relaxed for a while on the surface and munched some food while trying to figure out where to go next. There are a few small wrecks out here that Mel said often held big bugs. He wanted to look at them. If they are in the sand, bugs would concentrate on them. I'm game, especially because I was down to less than half a tank and wrecks tend to be small dive areas. We headed down the anchor and immediately it was clear that it wasn't going to be clear. The waster was green and vis was no more than maybe 12 feet. It was also clear that there was going to be more to photograph though. There were corynactis and snowy white metridium anemones. Fish were everywhere. I had to look closely to make out much of the wreck. It was oddly shaped for a rock reef, but that was about it. It was covered with life and Very little looked like an artifact of humans. Vis was just bad and I was following Mel, but I was concentrating on shooting the colorful reef. It looked beautiful in my light and I was hoping the camera saw the same thing. I learned that cameras see more than the eye does. I sort of noticed Mel going in around an outcrop in front of me when he popped back with another really nice bug. It had to be a 9 pounder at least. That perked me up fast. He had it in the bag in a few moments and I decided to stay close for what gas I had left. Whoa.

We went a little further and Mel was looking in a hole surrounded by nets. Nets are about the scariest thing there is underwater, but these were finer with about 1 inch holes. They looked to be made of heavy string rather than monofilament too so I didn't worry too much, but I still didn't really like it. Then Mel signaled me to go in this hole he was looking at between where the net was wrapped. Hmmmmm. OK. It was like a big square hole that turned back in a ways. Obviously it was a feature of the wreck. I positioned to go in with my camera and light in front of me. I moved to avoid smashing a couple of metridiums at the entrance. It was a bit small for me to comfortably go in with my tank, but I got in a ways and could see a big bug tucked in a crack at the back bottom. I wasn't going any further and with my arms like that I was even having trouble getting the camera in. I came out and let Mel do his thing. Tank off. Push it in the hole in front of him... He went way in and then started working back out. Dang if it wasn't anther 9 pounder. He had to get it in the bag with the other big one. ... Oh yah... I started this dive with half a tank. We were at 75 feet. It was time to go... after one last shot at some colorful corys.

There was more to this. I was on the boat watching for Mel when he surfaced. He said I wasn't going to believe what happened. Sure enough, he came aboard with about a 20 pound halibut on his stringer. He was going along the wreck when he saw it laying right on the wreck. He got out his knife. He grabbed it by the tail and stabbed it at the same moment. He figured it had to have been asleep for him to get onto it like that without it moving. He stabbed it a couple more times and pinned it to the bottom. There was no way to get it into the bag with the bugs, but because of past experience he always carries a fish stringer. That was quite a haul from one dive. He had now found four trophy bugs in a day as well as the hali.

It had finally cleared up nicely. It was a beautiful day out. We were blown away by the day so far. It was just an amazing day. The wind still didn't come up and the swell just wasn't here. We took our time just laughing about how the day had gone so far, but Mel wanted to check out another wreck he knew of. I had been to this one before and knew it was covered with colorful corynactus anemones, but it was hard to hunt. Mel had an extra tank, so I was a going. It wasn't a long trip so we were good on our surface interval before we entered. It was 75 feet again, but this time the vis was on the order of 5 to 6 feet. Hmmmm. This wasn't going to be easy. I followed Mel to the wreck looking around a bit and he was gone. Not a shocker. It was green and dirty. Hmmmmm. What to do. It was dirty enough that this dive could be skipped.... if I were one to skip dives. So I leisurely continued over the wreck photographing the anemones and trying to photograph the fish. Suddenly there was Mel again and again there was a huge bug in his bag. Unbelievable. He signaled me to follow him. I kept close and followed the white panels of his fins. His head was out of sight in this vis. He knew the wreck fairly good and wanted to check it out carefully. I had no idea where I was. I just had gas and that was OK. We went here and there. We went along walls with patches of red anemones. We looked in holes in...something. There were no bugs. We went over this and that unidentifiable in the gloom object. There were colors and fish everywhere. There was lots of terrain, but not much in the way of lobsters Mel just looked everywhere. Then He signaled me to go in one hole. I knew it had a bug in it and I tried to change state, but kept the light in front of me. It was a big enough hole, but got smaller as it went in. I went in about as far as I could and way in the back where it went to no size I saw abut 2 inches of antennae sticking out. Nah, that wasn't going to happen. I came out and signaled him to go ahead, but even he couldn't get to it. We saw so much on this wreck. Soon it was time to go back up towards the light. Wow. That had been a dive.

Mel made it back to the boat ahead of me. as I was getting on he was getting the bug out of his bag. It looked near 8 pounds and then I saw the tail. It was a female! That was about the biggest female lobster I have ever seen. For that matter I remember seeing one about that size before, but I couldn't remember when or where. It had big swimmerettes, but it wasn't like a near legal female as the swimmerettes didn't overlap in the middle. I guess they only need to be so big to cover the eggs and so were not proportionately the same size as on a small er lobster. Mel hadn't noticed and was amazed. We took some pics and quickly sent here back on her way to produce a million eggs or so.

Normally I can remember a dive afterwards in detail, but between how much there was to see and how much attention I had to pay to the camera and light, I find that I didn't have my usual detailed recollection of the dive. Well, I guess I did get some dandy footage and any way I look at it, it was one of the most fun dive days ever.

It was time to head back. We wanted to get on our way and finish up before long. The ride back was serene watching the waves and the birds. We got inside the harbor as the light was starting to get an evening's softness. It didn't change anything. There I was, on the ocean, on the beautiful sea.

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