This past weekend a small group of us made the journey from the Southern California mainland over to Catalina Island. When I say “made the journey,” I mean we got in the car, drove for about 25 minutes to the port, then took a 45 minute boat ride on the Catalina Express. Not exactly an arduous nor epic journey, by any means. Although we did initially arrive at the wrong port destination, giving me the opportunity to blatantly run red lights as we found the right port destination (mind you, the Catalina Express is INCREDIBLY punctual. 12:30 pm means 12:30 pm.). But alas, we made it in time and were even able to grab a sandwich and a few beers at the terminal – which the cashier failed to mention had to be drunk before boarding the ship. Danny put down one of the fastest, non-collegiate bottled beers I think I’ve seen.
The ride over was fairly smooth, and arrival into Two Harbors was a fresh of breath air. Catalina has a legitimate “island feel” to it, particularly when you get away from Avalon, it’s main city. Walking down the dock onto the sand I felt a bit like I was walking into a scene from Flipper – it was bright, sunny, and laid back. It had been a long time since I’d been to Catalina, so the nostalgia was setting in pretty hard. But the purpose of the trip was not to reminisce, it was to catch and eat things. Mainly lobster, and anything else we could find in the waters of Little Harbor.
Getting to Little Harbor was easy – there is a van that’ll drive you the 6 or so miles on a dirt road. You can also make the hike or ride bikes – both of which we considered, and both of which we shot down due to our short amount of time on the island and large amounts of gear we had with us. The campsite is pristine. There is not much more to say about it. Sunset Magazine rated it as the nicest campsite in the west, and they might be onto something. It sits in a little cove surrounded by cactus covered hills and gives you the feeling you are thousands of miles away (in fact, you’re about 35 miles away, but out of sight, out of mind). We unloaded our stuff, set up camp, and proceeded to chill hard on the empty beach before going out for an exploratory dive.
Eventually (about 30 minutes later) I got antsy and wanted to get in the water. Both Riki and I geared up no knowing what the visibility would be like and proceeded to get wet. We swam around the point and across the bay, hugging the south shore of the harbor at times. Visibility was okay – but what was more concerning was what my head felt like free diving with a mild sinus infection. I managed to deal and even grabbed a few slightly undersized california spiny lobsters. The dive lasted for about an hour and a half, and by the time we made it back to shore I felt worse than I have ever felt after a dive. This photo is evidence.
That night we did our camping thing, cooked up a nice tri tip and some sweet potatoes, enjoyed a few bottles of wine (I use the term “enjoyed” loosely as there were still very few things in life I was enjoying at this time. I wanted my head to explode.). It was a fairly early night – and before I knew it we were up the next morning, making oatmeal, and getting ready to get back in the water. This time I popped a few sudafed.
The visibility this morning was much better – and I was happy to be back in the water. I figured I would break the dive in two parts – looking for bugs and hunting with the spear. The first part was not very successful. Again I found quite a few lobsters, and again they were mostly small. I think moving forward I’ll only go lobster diving at night as it seems it is getting harder and harder to bag any bugs free diving. Unfortunately I’m not one of those “4 minutes under water” guys. But while I was out there I saw some beautiful fish – including a massive school of barracuda – which awakened the Captain Ahab in me.
I went back in and got the spear, then swam back to the mouth of the harbor to where they had been. Oh, I forgot to mention that on the first dive I bagged a nice octopus – we ate him for breakfast. The barracuda were still there, and I tried to control my eagerness. For some reason barracuda is a fish I am moderately obsessed with. There is one seafood meal I always remember, and it was BBQ barracuda at an outdoor restaurant. Since that day I’ve craved the flesh. They are not easy fish to spear, although they do move fairly slow. They are thin and spear-like themselves, and despite swimming around a school of a few hundred, managed to miss at least 6 shots. This is annoying, let me tell you. I even hit two that tore off the line. But eventually, I got my guy, and when I did, I swam him back in with a death grip and clinched to my chest. I was happy and he was not so happy. But such is the circle of life. I grilled him up that night, doused in BBQ sauce as my craving required, and shared his flaky white flesh with a few friends. The fish was as tasty as I remembered.
So, in summary – Catalina is rad, the spearfishing is pretty good by California standards, legal lobster are kinda difficult to get free diving, and the red abalone seem to be coming back in force on the island.
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