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Monday, March 5, 2018

Patience and the Hunt for the Giant Black Sea Bass

Time for another quick diving story and this one comes with a lesson of sorts.  First, some background though.  In my experience, divers can be broken down into a couple of groups and finding the one you fit into can be particularly hard if you’re like me.  One group of divers is in it for the thrill.  These folks tend to try to go deeper, swim farther and look for the “big stuff”.  The other group (and the one I tend to belong to) is the opposite.  They’d rather do a dive that’s twice as long in water half as deep and look for all the creatures hanging out in the nooks and crannies of the reef. 

My old diving partner, Donna, was exactly like me.  We were happy as hell to just wander the reef and look for octopus, nudibranchs, eels, etc.  Occasionally though, we’d dive with someone else who would be exactly the opposite and while you’d think that since we outnumbered them they’d dive to our standards, usually they just did their own thing.

Which brings me to my story.  Catalina Island sits off the coast of Southern California and offers some fantastic dive sites.  There’s a whole area cordoned off as a dive park and nature preserve.  It’s a wonderful place to dive and at certain times of year, you get an added treat of seeing giant black sea bass.  These fish are really, really big and they’re protected so seeing them is a real treat.  They tend to hang out in various places around the island so it’s not guaranteed that you’ll see them in the dive park, but they’re there more often than not.

Enter my friend Barry.  Here’s a guy who is an instructor and understands the importance of patience when diving.  He’s also very much a member of the “go deeper, go faster” group.  Barry was actually staying on Catalina Island for a week when Donna and I went over to dive.  The three of us met up to dive in the preserve and he dropped a bit of a bombshell on us.

As many times as he’d gone diving in Catalina, he’d never seen the black sea bass. 

Donna and I had seen them a few times so we decided to head over to the side of the park where they were most commonly sighted.  No sooner than we’d hit the bottom and all given the “okay” sign, Barry took off toward the far end of the park.  At first, Donna and I tried to keep up, but soon we decided to just let him go.  Eventually, we thought, he would realize we weren’t there and would come back.

Right about that time, as Barry swam further and further out of view, a large shape appeared out of the blue.  Yep, it was a giant black sea bass.  It hovered near us for a while, obviously curious about what we were doing.  I was able to snap a picture (below) that isn’t the best in the world but it’s the only one I have.  We hung out with it for about five minutes or more when it slowly swam away.

Of course, when the sea bass left, Barry came back.  He motioned to us that he hadn’t seen anything.  Donna and I didn’t know how to tell him what we’d just seen so we motioned the shape of the fish, stretched our hands out to show the size and then pointed in the direction it swam.  Barry’s eyes went wide.  He immediately started swimming that way, although slower than he’d swam before.  He was easily ten yards in front of us when Donna tugged on my fin.  I looked back and she pointed above us.

Right there was the sea bass, still just hanging out.  It kept pace with Donna and I while Barry continued to swim ahead.  We watched it for another two or three minutes until it finally turned around and swam off.  A minute or two later, Barry turned around and came back to us motioning that he was done.  He’d struck out while we’d seen the sea bass twice.  For most of that second sighting, Barry had been within 20 yards of it but never bothered to turn around to look.

There’s a moral to this story.  I think you can figure it out, but in case you need help this is it in a nutshell.


Lisanne Harrington said...

Not much of a swimmer, especially in the ocean, but I do enjoy fishing. Does that count?? :D

Cary said...

Just don't catch a black sea bass and you're fine. They're protected and the fine for catching one is outrageously high.

Anonymous said...

There's only thing that would get me subsurface - GOLD! otherwise, I prefer to not be part of the food chain with compromised mobility and other sensory faculties. Lots of bad experiences and near death associated with Santa Catalina - but good memories.

Black Sea Bass are fair game here in Washington (coastal waters). Perhaps ours are a
different variety - not the giant type but rock fish.

Cary said...

Back when Donna was still here, she was working harbor patrol. She said a live-aboard fishing boat came pulling in to Dana Point harbor with a black sea bass so big they could only get it across the back step of the boat. They were all excited about what they'd caught and came in to the harbor to find out exactly what it was. $15,000 later, they weren't as excited.