The western third of Catalina Island is commonly referred to as the “West End” and some of the best, yet less frequented, dive sites can be found here. In general, there is more game, more fish and more color. The weather can be rougher here but calm days are not unusual.
A prominent landmark and great dive in this area is Arrow Point. The east side of the point is more protected, but when the west side is calm the diving is best here.
At the point itself the diving can be spectacular but is nearly always current swept. The predominant current direction is from west to east. Right off the point is a large boulder at 50 feet, rarely dived because of the currents. Just inside the point on the west side is a wall that drops nearly vertical 60 feet. All of these areas at or near the point are infested with animals that love the current. Tall stands of colorful gorgonia in a variety of colors decorate the rocks, filtering food from the water. There is an occasional rock scallop but not enough to hunt.
Food chain activities seem to be more in your face at the point. Bait fish swirl about picking tiny snacks from the water. Look for blacksmith, anchovies, jack mackerel and other fish that may show signs of physical damage. This is a sure indicator that larger predator fish are about, such as yellowtail, white sea bass, barracuda, and black sea bass. Favorite food of the black sea bass is small pacific barracuda. If you find a school of barracuda near the surface, look underneath for a black sea bass lying in wait.
More inside the cove the bottom turns to a steep slope with huge boulders. There are a lot of overhangs, caves and crevices. Just to the east of Arrow Point is an invertebrate preserve. It is illegal to take lobster, scallops and other invertebrates. But on the west side of the point, you are out of the preserve. You’d think that being just outside the preserve there would be more lobster. Unfortunately, this is not so. Arrow Point West is light on the bugs. They are there but better hunting lies farther to the west at Parson’s Landing and Johnson’s Rock.
This is, however, a good area for sight seeing and animal observations. A lush kelp growth is always present providing a food base for the many critters. Feeding on the kelp are abundant norris top snails. They can be easily identified by their bright orange flesh and green spot on the underside of the shell. Other interesting mollusks present include wavy turban snails, chestnut cowries (the only cowries to be found along the California coast), and even an occasional green abalone. Remember, they are fully protected. Never remove them from the rock but it can be fun to feed them kelp leaves. Break off a kelp frond and dangle it in front of abalone’s mouth (thinner end of the shell). The abalone will raise up and grab the free lunch. They are still rare but look under ledges in 10 to 15 feet of water and you might get lucky.
Under the kelp near the point 200 yards to the west the boulder field and kelp extends about 75 yards out. The rocks terminate in a sand bottom at 55 feet. Throughout the boulders there is much to see. Moray eels, some large, are found in the recesses. Brightly colored but tiny blue-banded gobies dot the rocks. Spanish shawl nudibranchs seem to be abundant this year and especially at this site. A pleasant sight is the large number of rockfish that can be observed here. Once in diminishing numbers, the groups of rockfish here are refreshing to see. All are small and not worth hunting. Kelpfish are common and easily approached, a treat for photographers.
Don’t ignore the upper kelp forest. Fish are more abundant here making the play of light and life more special than ever. Blue halfmoons, green opaleye and bronze señorita fish dance in the surge under the kelp canopy.
If the seas are calm and you have the chance to dive on the west side of Arrow Point, jump at the opportunity and you will enjoy the animal parade.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Frontside of Catalina Island toward the west end. Clearly marked on nautical charts.
Access: Boat only.
Skill Level: All levels inside point, intermediate or better off point with current diving experience.
Depths: To 80 feet off point; 60 feet inside of point.
Visibility: Very good when calm, averaging 50 feet but can go down hill considerably with wind and waves.
Photography: Excellent wide-angle with great kelp and fish visas. Macro good as well with a wide variety of subjects including small fish, nudibranches and other invertebrates.
Hunting: Poor. Only a few lobster. Better lobster hunting farther to the west. Some spearfishing off the point for yellowtail, white sea bass.
Hazards: Currents off point. Seas can come up and pound the point. Watch for boats that cut too close to the point.