Scuba Diving with the Giant Black Sea Bass at Casino Point
Jason Daniel Shaw
AVALON | CATALINA | CALIFORNIA
Coming face to face with a giant black sea bass while scuba diving can be a bit of an adrenaline rush. These sea creatures can be in excess of 560 pounds and more than seven feet long. Despite their size, it is somewhat rare to spot them because there is only estimated to be around 500 with only 40-50 returning to Catalina to spawn. Amanda and I had the fortunate experience to encounter seven of them during our weekend trip to Catalina.
CATALINA EXPRESS | LONG BEACH TO AVALON
The plan was to dive on both Saturday and Sunday with a return back to LA on Sunday, meaning, we had to take the ferry from Long Beach to Catalina. You aren’t able to dive and then fly within the same 24 hours due to nitrogen buildup in the blood. Even if you remain at low altitudes, flying is an unnecessary risk. The ferry also has an advantage over flying in that you don’t have to worry about weight (other than what you can carry) which means that we could take our own dive gear. Despite the countless number of trips that I have made to Catalina over the years, this was only my second trip via the Catalina Express ferry. It was only Amanda’s second trip to Catalina at all (her first being the day we met), her first time on the ferry and her very first time in Avalon.
HOLIDAY INN RESORT | AVALON CATALINA
As you may know from past posts, I frequently stay at IHG hotels so we used some of those accumulated points to book a two-night reward stay at the Holiday Inn Resort on the island. It is fairly new to IHG and I have been wanting to check it out since I heard about it. The room that they gave us was bigger than our apartment in LA. The one bedroom flat included a full eat-in kitchen, living room, separate bedroom and a huge bathroom with a beautiful glass shower and giant jacuzzi tub. We even had a balcony two balconies, one looking out toward the mountains and the other overlooking the pool. The hotel is tucked back into the canyon behind Avalon, near the golf course and the residential area, which gives you more peace and quiet than being down in the hustle and bustle of all of the tourists. Although, it is Avalon and not NYC. The hotel does offer a free shuttle service that takes you back and forth to and from the town and the ferry boat and there is never more than a couple minute wait. However, the walk from the town is also a nice way to burn off those calories from eating and drinking too much.
OPEN WATER CHECKOUT | CASINO POINT
Casino Point is the perfect place for both beginning divers and the more seasoned diver. The conditions are great, the visibility is good and there is an abundance of sea life to remind you why you decided to take up diving in the first place. The water is also just a few steps from where you put on the scuba gear so the entry is very easy for new divers. Amanda’s first attempt at finishing her open water checkout back in December was not successful due to the poor conditions at Shaw’s Cove. We decided to wait until July and combine a mini-vacation and my birthday celebration with completing her scuba certification in Catalina. She arranged for one of her instructors to meet us in Avalon for a private class. She would complete one dive on Saturday and the remaining three on Sunday.
PADI OPEN WATER DIVING | CATALINA
While we were preparing for the first dive on Saturday afternoon, we heard that some divers were reporting sightings of the giant black sea bass earlier in the day. I was excited to get in the water and see what we could find – Amanda was a little apprehensive. The first dive was Amanda’s first time back in the water since Shaw’s Cove, seven months earlier so it was as much about getting re-acclimated as it was about completing her skills so we didn’t push it too hard. We didn’t see the giant sea bass on the first dive but Amanda did well, finished her skills and had a renewed excitement towards diving. We even got the chance to tour the kelp forest a bit.
GIANT BLACK SEA BASS AT CASINO POINT
Sunday was the big day with three dives and three more chances to see the giant sea bass. The first couple dives were focused on her completing the skills and building confidence under the water. By the time of the last dive, she was much more confident. The kelp forest is one of my favorite parts about diving in California and we were amazed by exploring them when it happened. We turned a corner and there was a giant black sea bass. It was longer than I am and weighed double. I was looking him right in the eye and it was looking right back at me. Not bothered by me, it casually swam off but not before revealing another couple more in the distance. These giant creatures are so graceful and beautiful to see in their natural habitat. With so few numbers of them in existence, I feel honored to have had the opportunity to share the water with them. Amanda lucked out on her check out dives with getting such an amazing experience. In the end, she completed her certification and is ready for our next diving adventure in La Paz, Mexico in October. Follow along for that and more adventures that we have planned for the rest of the year.