Bug Hunting off of Santa Barbara and Catalina Islands

This past weekend (just yesterday actually) Lindsay and I went bug hunting down in SoCal. This was both the first time bug hunting (aka “bug grabbing”) as well as the first time diving in Southern California, and only the second time doing a charter in California.

I’ve been stressing (as I tend to do!) for the past few weeks trying to make sure we had everything we needed for the trip. It turns out that there are quite a few things that needed to be done in preparation:

  • Sai needed to be watched
  • FOUR dive lights needed to be purchased
  • We needed to get new kevlar gloves for grabbing bugs
  • Various fishing licenses and report cards
  • Bags and mounting hardware to carry bugs in

And the list goes on. But the point is that on Friday, when we were leaving, I was a bit paranoid that I had forgotten something, or that something I had purchased I had failed to pack, etc. In the end, the only thing I forgot was a spare mask strap that I had purchased but we ended up not needing it.

So Friday night we get to the port of LA around 11pm. We park, unload our dive gear, and bring everything on the dive boat. The boat itself was great. It wasn’t fancy, and had clearing been well used by divers over the years, but still it was very well organized. Lindsay and I were given a “state room” which was basically just a private bunk room instead of the other bunks which just sort of lined the walls. It’s a bit difficult to explain, but it’s not really a “room” with a big door you walk in and furniture and stuff, it’s just a small cabin with a piece of fabric for a door. Again, not fancy, but 100% perfect.

We went to bed shortly after getting on board, and next time we woke up it was 7:15am and it was time to dive. Thanks to Nick for being our alarm clock on this trip btw. Anyway, when we came up on deck everybody was already getting dive gear on. Lindsay and I sat in the galley for 5 minutes and ate some breakfast (they had breakfast to order, all the more impressive because the cook was also the plumber and the kitchen was the size of my kitchen, which is to say tiny). Then we suited up and started the dive!

The diving was amazing. I put together a very short video, but honestly the first two dives which I didn’t record were probably the best, visibility wise. NOTHING like what we’ve seen in the past in Monterey or Morrow Bay. Just awesome. 60+ feet I’d guess on some of the dives. The dives off of Catalina Island had SLIGHTLY less amazing visibility, but still amazing.

We saw tons of stuff. More seals then I’ve ever seen, sometimes 5 or 6 at a time. I guess Santa Barbara Island is a mating location for the sea lions. We saw some rays, some small sharks (very small), TONS of morray eels, a huge variety of fish, more sea urchins then sometimes I’d have liked (at times it totally covered the ground and you couldn’t easily put your hands down while digging for bugs), and of course a large number of “bugs” or spiny lobster. The BEST thing though, I think, is the kelp. Swimming through the kelp forests is an experience that is unique for the West coast, at least in my dive experience.

We didn’t catch any bugs, but we did get close on a bunch of the dives. Next year I think we’ll do better in the bug category, but honestly next year I think if we do this trip (which I’d love to) we’ll do it without the specific goal of catching bugs, we’ll just do it for fun.

All in all, we did 8 dives (which is a lot for us, we did five dives just in the first day), one of those being a night dive. It quite honestly seemed like TOO much at times (when you were tired, and just had gotten back from a bit-too-long swim to the boat) but looking back I’m really happy we did so many dives. It was a challenge and we had to make ourselves get in the water, but we did.

It was also really nice to see Nick, and to hang out with some of our other LA friends (Andrew, Jimmy, and Jeremy).

I’d give the trip a 10/10. Perfect score. It would be nice if we hadn’t needed to drive back home Sunday night (we didn’t get home until 11:30 or so), or if after we did get home (exhausted) I didn’t need to spend an hour+ cleaning out dive gear, but that’s the price you pay! Speaking of price, just for my own personal memory, I believe the dive trip was $300 a person, plus gear. Which, looking back, was 100% money well spent and if I had it I’d spent it again in a second.

OK! Time for work! The video, again, isn’t really anything to write home about. I’ve gotta get the underwater housing for the camera as helps with focus issues that happen under water.

First spearfishing experience

This past weekend Lindsay and I drove down to Morro Bay to do some camping and diving before next weekends big bug grab. The “bug grab” being a live-a-board dive charter we are doing with a bunch of friends (Nick included!) down near/around/on Catalina Islands off from LAish area.

Anyway, the trip was great/awesome. We got a late start from Oakland (didn’t leave until after 8pm on account of Lindsay having a Cross Country meet), so we didn’t arrive at the campsite until 12:30 pm or so. Thanks to Nick (hey buddy!) for staying up (or getting up?) and calling us at the exact moment that we drove by the campground. This is difficult to appreciate, but somehow at the exact moment that we drove by the campground (we totally missed it and had no idea where we were going) he called. Perhaps it’s because he was using Find my Friends (?).

So we got in, setup camp (and by camp I mean the tent) and were in bed by around 1am. This is around the time that the raccoons really seem to come out. This campground is actually really awesome (we went a few years ago with Nick and some of his other LA friends) but the number of raccoons that live here and come out at night is probably off the chart, if you were to chart the number of raccoons in all campgrounds with a reasonable upper limit drawn.

Anyway, in the AM after a semi-restful night of sleep Nick, Beau and I took off for the docks (Beau had some work to do and found a coffee shop). Lindsay would have come, but we ended up having two dogs for the weekend and sadly it was too hot for the dogs to be left in the car/tent. Lindsay if you read this I love you and am sorry you didn’t get to dive! That message to Lindsay aside, I think the first dive we did would have probably been something Lindsay wouldn’t have exactly loved anyway. The dive was to ~70-80 feet, with maybe 10 feet visibility. Shawn, our dive boat captain and dive master and really the only other guy we went diving with, tells us that even for the relatively poor visibility in the Morro Bay area, this was particularly bad vis. So that was a bummer. On the bright side though, we did manage to dive in what I’m guessing (and hoping) are significantly more difficult dive conditions then we will dive in next week, so it was good practice!

Morro Bay

The second dive, was awesome. The visibility was still not great, but we went spearfishing! Which, although I haven’t posted about this yet I don’t believe, is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time! And something I want to do again! It was awesome. Shawn had a speargun which he let us borrow, and he showed us the proverbial ropes. Not sure if that’s a proverb or not, about ropes, or whatever, but anyway he showed us how to shoot fish. Turns out it’s not so hard, and WAY more my style then fishing with a hook and line I think. You are down there, looking under rocks, watching out for sharks (not really), finding some great fish, BAM shooting them, reeling them in, and putting them on your stringer. Honestly it was pretty awesome. Especially for a perhaps less then super beautiful dive, it makes the visibility not so important because you’ve got a task you are working towards.

We only had a single speargun, and we shared between the three of us, but I was able to get a reasonably sized black rockfish. Perhaps not the most awesome looking fish, but it tasted great. Honestly next time I fish I think I’d go for more rockfish because I thought they tasted the best.

Anyway, we ended up taking 2 cabazon, 1 lingcod, and 1 black rockfish. Honestly I think we could have probably had 10 rockfish but we were only shooting what we could reasonably eat (and even the four fish we got were plenty for two meals).

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When we got back, Shawn cleaned the fish for us (taught us as well). Then we went back to camp, picked up Lindsay, ate some lunch, at some ice cream, then went home and cooked up the fish.

Cooking our catch

Great weekend.