Venice Beach Fishing Reef

I've been diving a lot in Southern California. Many of the places I could go, I've been. That is one of the reasons I was looking forward to tonights trip. It was going to be to a place I had never been before.

Brian had been a delayed, so we left San Pedro a bit late. The plan was, if things weren't too rough, to head north and go diving in Santa Monica Bay or else go to Catalina if there seemed to be too much swell to make the dives we planned. Mel wanted to visit the Venice Beach Fishing Reef, Santa Monica Pier and the outer Marina Del Rey Breakwall. I had not been to any of these spots before, so I was looking forward to some exploring.

As we turned north out of the harbor, there was only minimal swell. We wouldn't know for sure how calm it would be in the bay until we turned towards Santa Monica Bay at Point Fermin, but it looked great here. I had brought along a night scope to see how it would work out here, but it turned out that there seems to be far to many lights near LA to use it. As we headed up in the bay though, we did use radar. There are a lot of unlighted items floating out there including the large buoys off of the powerplant near the Hyperion.

We metered around a bit to fine tune an old GPS number. The map we had showed 4 large (perhaps 60 feet across) rock piles seperated by perhaps 75 feet of sand. Also there was a group of 8 smaller piles (perhaps 25 feet across) shown together, seperated by perhaps 40 feet. It didn't take long to find the rock piles. They stick up really good. We had decided to visit the smaller piles since it looked easier to travel between them. Really, I had no idea what to expect once I got down there.

We all got it within a couple of minutes of each other and I was the second person in the water. I descended the anchor line with my light off. The bioluminescence was very bright and as I descended, I was whipping the anchor line back and forth to light them up. Eventually, I turned on my light and there was the first rock pile right in front of me. It stuck up sharply about 15 feet and as figured, it was about 30 feet across. The visibility was very surprising at perhaps 40 feet. I knew that that was very unusual. Immediatly I could see that it was a very healthy dive spot with lots of animal life on the rocks, but actually very little in the way of kelp or even algaes. It looked like it would be good for bugs. The rocks were microwave to washing machine sized, so the holes were not really big enough to go in, but they were just right to offer cover to sea life.

I quickly headed around the rock pile moving up and down as I went. The first thing I noticed was all the sculpins. Big sculpins, little sculpins. Sculpins all over the rocks. The second thing I noticed was the gorgonian sea fans, especially because I saw one with bright yellow zoanthids on it. I always like seeing those so I stopped to look around for a bit. The reef looked odd with no algaes, but there was a lot of life. Besides the sculpins were a number of crabs, anemones, urchins, barnacles, tunicates and starfish as well. Towards the top off the rock piles were some small scallops and some nice pink Corynactis anemone displays. I saw some lobsters in the cracks out of reach, but I wanted to move on and try my luck at the next pile. At this point, I had no idea how hard it would be to find. I took a careful compass reading and headed across the sand. It was easy to find the next pile both because it wasn't very far and also, it was fairly easy to read the terrain of the sand between them.

This was another rock pile like the last with lots of life on it, a fair amount of fishing line as well. Again it was beautiful diving, but this time there was a nice bug walking out at the bottom. That was that. There were other bugs, but they were out of reach. In the sand around it were a fair number of fish sleeping as well as other life.

I went around and over it a few times and then made sure that I was leaving it heading due west. That brought me to the next pile and again there was a legal walking near the bottom. Again the life was thick and again the bugs near the top were in their cracks. This time though, I saw signs that there was another pile to the north. That was not on the map I had looked at, so I headed there. Again it was like finding an isolated reef (in the sand off one of the islands) teeming with life, but no kelp. I went over it and compassed back to the rock pile I had come from. I went from there over the sand due west and found another rock pile. Amazingly, it was just like the others, sculpin, crabs, urchins, stars, fish, gorgonian sea fans and a couple lobster in the cracks.

Well, comes a time in every tank of air when it is time to turn around. In the open like this and at night I didn't want to come up too far from the boat anyway. The map hadn't shown anymore rock piles this way, but I wouldn't bet on it. I went back over the 4 piles using my compass to get between them with no problem and came up in front of the boat.

Well that was a unique dive and fairly exotic. It sure was beautiful with lots of life, but odd with no kelp or algaes. Not bringing a camera was a complete blow it. It looked great for lobster hunting. Mel and Brian did OK, but what I saw was only mediocre. If I had been after crabs or sculpin, I would have gotten a real good meal.

Post Script ...
This could have been a challenging dive ... a new spot, at night, requiring careful navigation. It was a very relaxing, easy dive though and I couldn't immediatly figure out why. I wondered if it was because the rock pile was artificial. I finally concluded that it was because there were no kelps. The kelps just provide camoflage to everything and make it much more work to visually analyze everything you're looking at. Lack of kelp made everything much less complex visually and so it was a lot less work to figure out what I was seeing. It made for an easy dive with great visuals on individual critters... I still prefer the kelp though. Lots of it.

Enjoy the diving, seahunt

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