There are dives where one can be content by just gliding through blizzards of fish, different colors, sizes and types, but most of all, just thousands and thousands of them. Catalina Island has some great dives to do just that.
Farnsworth tops many of California’s best lists—best pinnacle, best advanced dive, clearest waters, best color and more. Two things stick in my mind about this site—purple hydrocoral and fish—lots of them.
One dive in particular I remember had exceptionally good visibility—well over 100 feet. From the surface the top of the mountain seemed to be wreathed in smoke, only the smoke seemed to have a life of its own with billows shifting at random. Descending, it become apparent that these were schools of fish—blacksmith (actually a blue-smoky color), jack mackerel, anchovies and others. Blizzards of them surrounded me.
Farnsworth is a series of deep underwater pinnacles off the backside of Catalina that rise to within 55 feet of the surface. Most of the diving, however, is 80 feet or deeper with a lot being available much, much deeper. Make no doubt about it; this is an advanced dive. Intermediate divers can sometimes get by only when calm and when accompanied by an experienced divemaster or instructor. But this dive site alone is worth getting your advanced diver certification.
AVALON UNDERWATER PARK (A.K.A. CASINO POINT)
One of the most easily accessed dive sites at Catalina is also one of its most fish infested. Colorful blue-banded gobies dance over the rocks by the tens of thousands like so many fleas on an unbathed dog. I have two favorite areas. The first is to the left of the stairs in 30 to 45 feet of water under the kelp. Calico bass are big and fat and will pose for photos all day long. You can get within inches of their faces. The kelp provides perfect framing. My other choice fish spot in this underwater park is over by the area known as Casino Reef to the east of the water entry stairs. Another landmark reference is the Cousteau memorial. While there is not a lot of fish here, the sheephead are my favorite. Big males move in really close, almost to the point of being downright aggressive. The male sheephead are distinguished by their tri-colored body, bulbous head and snaggly sharp teeth. Although nobody is positive if it’s the same fish year after year, the same dominant male shows up year after year. In 20+ years of diving this park, could it be the same fish? I have heard several names for moose but the most common is Oscar. To draw him in close, simply rub two rocks together. It is like ringing the dinner bell.
I never tire of sitting on the west end of Eagle Reef and just watch the action. The prevailing current at Eagle Reef moves from east to west and the west end in the leading edge. Anytime you get on a reef with a current, tropical or otherwise, head to the leading edge as this always has the most fish and the most action. I have seen in this area huge schools of bait fish, yellowtail, and a whole host of reef fish. The pinnacles along the ridge and the valleys between are just as good with bat rays, rockfish, garibaldi, kelpfish and more.
Long Point, true to its name, is a length extension into outer waters on the frontside of the island. Like Eagle Reef, the point is bathed in nearly constant current, bringing in water borne food that the fish food chain love. What makes this dive spot special is there is a variety of bottom topography and textures offering not only a variety of diving for all experience levels, but different environments for the full spectrum of marine life. The great thing about long point is you can explore most if not all in one dive.
Inside the point, to the east, is Pirates Cove. Here you will see moray eels and a variety of rays and flatfish on the sand flats. Off the point a reef extends with an extensive kelp forest full of fish schools, calico bass, treefish, and more. Head around the point and the drop-off, you are likely to see giant black sea bass. Just a few hundred yards to the west, at Italian Gardens, you are almost guaranteed in the summer to see these underwater blimps of several hundred pounds.