Catalina Island: Casino Point on Scuba

29 Dec

From an older blog June 2008, this one I originally titled “the black sea bass magnet”

It’s 3:45 am and my alarm clock goes off like some kid crying on an airplane. I can’t believe its time to get up already, any time before I do something fun I have a hard time sleeping and this was just another one of those times. It was twelve midnight when I finally had fallen asleep. Jesus the things I do for fun. Once a year I usually try to gather the “guppies” (my term for the noob scuba divers that work at the Aquarium) together to do a deep dive.  I generally don’t like scuba diving as much as freediving, I use it more as a tool for work to collect things that you can’t get on breath hold.  It’s just a pain in the ass to wear all that cumbersome gear, heavy tank on your back, hoses to get tangled in the kelp, and the dread of knowing you can only be under as long as that air lasts in your tank.  On the plus side I’ve seen some remarkable things while on scuba and every trip is a bit different.  I rub the sleep out of my eyes and gather up my scuba gear and head out to meet my friends at the landing.

Instead of the normal bumpy ride on my small boat, we find ourselves on a glass smooth ride on a gigantic catamaran, the Jet Cat.  Minutes later I’m snoring peacefully to the delight of my friends. One of my super hero powers is the ability to fall asleep at any place at any time, what a waste I wish it were the ability to become invisible or have adamantium claws or something cool like that.  The ride is uneventful and I luck out and don’t get cats or pig noses drawn on my face and as the engines wind down the changing sounds wakes me up.  A few hours later and we are bobbing in the middle of the ocean in the preserve at Casino Point (Avalon underwater park).  
I signal my buddies and we slowly drop down.The B.C is shooting air thru the dump valve and I find myself slowly being pulled underwater with a regulator in my mouth, I have to remind myself that I’ve got a tank on and to not hold my breath like I usually do. I glance downwards and keep an eye on everyone as they clear their ears and drop into the blue water below. At first the water is warm and then there is a fuzzy layer of water where the thermocline is and all of a sudden I feel a bit of a chill which is almost instantly met with scalding urine. Ahhh my mini jacuzzi ;)! It beats the heck out of me how some people can dive in a dry suit because I’m always peeing when I’m underwater, I do it so often it’s hard to remember not to do that when I’m in a crowded mall or sitting at my desk.  If you think that’s gross you should smell my dive boots.  One time I told my coworker Tom, “hey I used some weird detergent, does my dive boots smell like strawberries to you?”  Of course he fell for it and took a good wiff before wrinkling his nose and coughing and sputtering and of course I rolled over with laughter, but that’s for another blog.
It is beautiful on the reef and I see soft corals everywhere, their colors are so beautiful it looks like a painting. I click on my dive light and peer into the caves and sure enough see lobsters nervously clicking their antennae towards me.
This is by far my favorite reef, its more of an advanced dive in this spot so you don’t see a lot of new scuba divers in the area, they are usually working the shallows right in the front of the park. A boat wreck points out in one area and there is a steep ledge that drops down to 80 feet. Way too deep for a rookie freediver like me to hold my breath. On scuba though it’s great fun. The thick kelp blocks out the light and in the midst I see a school of spanish mackerel nervously flickering in a large bait ball. Must be predators around.
                        Spanish Makeral, one of the signs I look for when hunting pelagics
We keep working around the reef and finally I see what I’m looking for. Wedged into a cave is a three foot horn shark. I try to shove myself into the cave but I’m too big dammit. But I see faint light flickering so I move to the back and sure enough find another opening. The rocks are pushing against me now and I squeeze into it and grasp the shark by the back all while trying not to get stuck. Immediately it pulls its head upwards and tries to bite me but horn sharks are harmless anyways so I hold it carefully and bring it out for my friends to check out. They hold it and take pictures and then I stroke its belly when he’s upside down and he falls asleep. I wake him up and then let him go and we watch as he returns back to the reef.
There’s a lot of life on this reef.  I see bright yellow kelpfish weaving their way thru the blades of kelp,
A small octopus eyes me from the safety of his den.  There’s so many fish around us, treefish on the bottom, kelp bass all around and I even see “Oscar”, the gigantic resident sheephead that hangs around the wreck.  
There’s even more if you take the time to peer into the rocks, scorpionfish hide exceptionally well and often look just like rocks.
     Take your time and look really close  in the center of this pix under the red soft coral, you’ll see his eye and then the rest of his body.
Once a long time ago I got stabbed by one of these guys, their sharp fins are loaded with a foreign protein toxin, in minutes my whole hand swelled up like I was wearing some clown gloves and it felt like every single bone had broken.  One of my buddies once said it feels like you are getting kicked in the nuts.  Your best bet is to soak it in the hottest water you can stand, the protein breaks down in the hot water.
I didn’t even see it at first, but noticed some movement to my left. I spun around and was looking eye to eye to a massive head covered with tiny parasites. Jesus that’s a big black sea bass! It is a different fish than the white sea bass that I hunt during the wintertime, while the white seabass is in the croaker family, the black sea bass is in the true sea bass family and is protected in California. The sea bass looks at me and moves along, I’m alone but I find my friends and grab them and motion to my mask: look! Then with my hands: big fish! We turn around and the fish had disappeared but sure enough five minutes later there are two of them, mammoth old fish dark black and gray in color with a few spots. I don’t realize it but I have a huge smile on my face.
Seeing a big black sea bass is definitely humbling, you feel like a little kid standing next to an elephant. I kick gently up to the fish and it’s way bigger than I am! I guess the weight of the big fish to be over 200 pounds, the girth on it made it look like it was a cow. The fish turns and looks at me for a few moments and I reach out to touch it but it’s mammoth tail swings back and forth just beyond my reach. My friends all see the fish and they have huge grins on their faces, for some of them it is the only black sea bass they have ever seen I their life. I check my gauges and I’m still smiling, man there are just some days where you are on top of the world and this is one of them. It had to be one of the best scuba dives I’ve been on in my lifetime.

We empty our tanks three times at catalina and see black sea bass on each dive. Besides on scuba I’ve seen them on almost every single freediving trip this year. I just can’t seem to get away from those things, I must be carrying around some kind of sea bass magnet 🙂

The day zips by like it was seconds and too soon we make our way back to the docks to catch the boat back to the mainland. We start nodding off one by one with dreams of giant sea bass swimming through our heads…

A couple of links on some video that I put together of black sea bass

The first one is on scuba from this trip.

This one is a collection of black sea bass videos I took while freediving.


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