A Golden Day of Bug Diving

The sunrise lit up the clear morning sky like golden fire. As we left the harbor it was upon a golden sea.

There were birds on the water, a sign of squid below. Mel said that the small blue dots on the depth recorder were probably tentacled. Mel wanted to check out an area near Point Fermin to see is there were any yellowtail about, dining on the squid. It was crystal clear as and the ocean was flat as we headed north to Palos Verdes. Soon we saw porpoises, among the royalty of the sea, breaching and jumping after their morning repast. Mel slowed to let them ride our bow. These weren't traveling far though and soon went about their affairs. Below the cliff top at Point Fermin there was a ghostly layer of thin fog, not quite on the water and not likely to last long on this sunny day.

With the sun up some, the winter day was already looking like it could be a spectacular. We could see the mountains above Point Magu and the snow on Mount Pinos and Mount Wilson. As we anchored outside the reef the kelp was a golden forest in royal blue water. There was some wind here, but the diving looked great. The reef went of for miles before us and behind.

Mel geared up for freediving and assembled his gun. He said how a friend of his came here almost daily to explore the kelp and hunt later in the season when the white sea bass came here. I wanted to just take it easy and nap, but I knew that in an area like this I would be drawn to explore the vista like looking over Yosemite from Glacier Point. You can take it all in just a glance, but you can look closer and closer seeing the beauty of each new detail you focus on. Pelicans skimmed over the water looking graceful and sleek instead of so ungainly as they look when still. Small flocks of sea birds splashed as they took off and landed in synchrony, but seemingly chose their destination at random. The kelp looked like maze with complicated paths through it. Look far beyond the kelp and see the mountains of Catalina behind the lighthouse on the cliff. Look close and see small golden fish peeking out from under the floating fronds.

Mel said he would be back in a while. He entered the water smoothly, gun in hand and trailing the 100 foot line that would tether any fish to big to easily control. Like the predator that an underwater hunter is, he moved through the kelp with little disturbance. I moved into the sea dream watching the rise and fall of the water, on this clear day looking out upon the whole world of sea land and sky. Mel was just a black spot in the golden sea.

In a little while there were two black spots. Sure enough Mel's friend was out enjoying the water and came over for a visit. There is something magical about bumping into a buddy a half mile off shore.

After a while, Mel was back with a report of good vis, warm surface water, fun diving and no interesting fish. We got the anchor up and headed off across the channel in calm seas. It was time to look for bug.

We anchored far from the island in 85 feet where Mel wanted to look. We had discussed that before I focused on hunting I would stay for a while with him and try to get some footage of him catching a lobster. We headed down through pretty good vis and turned east. After about 100 feet he dropped down and plucked a nice one out of a crack with one quick sweeping grab. As I followed him with the camera I could see another bug about 6 feet below him. As soon as he bagged his, I grabbed for that one. As I grabbed the camera again, I saw Mel had dropped his bag and was taking off his tank. That looked interesting so I caught up and kept my camera on him. He moved a rock aside and started into the hole. It seemed like he was screwing himself straight down into the hole. It also seemed like he had to be in too far for his regulator hose to reach. In a bit he started backing out and I wondered what he had a hold of. He came out with a huge bug in both hands. In a few moments he had it in the bag and had his tank back on. As I looked around, I saw a nice lingcod right under me.

Well, any dive tends to get anti-climatic after a catch like that. I went off on my way and shortly found a nice 2 pounder under a ledge. I had to grab around some to get ahold of him. Task loading with a camera while hunting lobster is a bit silly, but I took his picture before I went for him.

It was a beautiful reef with lots of fish. It went on for well over 100 yards, sticking up as much as 12 feet in places. Much of the raised rocks were covered in thick vividly colorful growths of corynactis anemones in every color of pink, red lavender and yellow gold. There were stars and occasional green and gold lipped scallops. My one picture of a nudibranch turned out as a white spot on a rock. There were a number of vivid lavender Spanish Shawl nudibranchs with their goldish orange defensive tentacles swaying above in the currents. Soon it was time to head up.

A little while later Mel came aboard and he had three more legal sized lobsters. The story was interesting. This is what he told me: I was swimming along and I saw a lobster trap. I always look at the lobster floats before diving as I always check for too much competition, so this came as a surprise I hadn't seen any in the area. I started pulling down the rope some and sure enough it was just a frayed end where the rope had been cut off, probably by a boat prop. I saw some lobsters in the trap so I opened it and took them out. There were two sheep crabs in it as well so I took them out too. They tried to get me.

We relaxed on the boat. It was already warming a lot. It was a beautiful sunny day. The sun reflected brilliant white gold off the ripples on the water. We discussed the next spot, a decision I mostly just leave up to Mel. He knew of a nice reef area to check out. We could go down and see if I could get any footage of him finding a bug right away. Then I was going to go off and look for anything I could find.

It was about 80 feet again with nice vis. It was a bit dark, but you could see 35 feet easily. It was a beautiful reef. The main part of the reef stuck up 10 or 12 feet above the rock piles around it The top was covered with laminarias and gave the whole bottom a golden glow. I followed Mel around for a while and though the reef looked great, there wasn't much in the way of lobsters. I finally took off on my own in the opposite direction. There were lots of fish including gold patterned Calico bass and dark gold striped perch. I saw some large purple pisaster starfish and one big bright orange gold pisaster that was wandering the rocks looking for lunch. There was good cover and some deep ledges, but there was no evidence of any lobster. I think it is clear that the heavy trapping through the past month had reduced the number of legals to be found. After a while I wanted to head back towards the boat, but I couldn't see any significant reefs that I hadn't covered on the way out. There were nice laminarea areas on both sides so I headed towards them hoping I would see some structure. I always like swimming through the short laminarias anyway. They are thick and provide cover during the day. I got low into them so it was like traveling through a dark forest of golden brown trees. There is always life in them, but it is different from on the rocks. Calicos hide under the leaves and look up at everything that passes. Soon the gas was gone and I had to ascend. It was a beautiful dive.

A little while after I got back I saw Mel come up in an entirely different direction. He said he had made a big loop after I had left. He had another 9 pound bug and a great story to tell. He said that the bug wasn't too hard to get but he just wasn't able to get his goody bag open. He put the bug in his other hand and tried some more, but he still couldn't get it open. Finally he put it between his legs and rode it like a horse until he got the bag open and then in it went. I took some pictures and back it went in the water.

It was a beautiful warm afternoon for the trip back. The sea was calm, the wind was gentle. The lowering sun reflected brilliant intensely gold off the windows of Palos Verdes. It was a fine ending to a golden day of diving.

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