It wasn’t just a dive trip. This was an adventure, as charter boat owner Jim Smith positioned the dive charter boat Raptor near a “mystery” dive site. Jim decided to explore this area because his electronic scan of the bottom showed an interesting profile of rocky ridges. Since the site had no official name, he proposed an informal contest of sorts to name the location. So I went off with a “name the dive site” goal in mind.
Descending to the bottom where the reefs meet the sand at about 45 feet I was immediately greeted by a lingcod. But it quickly swam off. I gave pursuit but immediately lost the creature in a blizzard of schooling fish. Lots of fish. A good sign.
I enjoyed my excursion cruising up and down the predicted rocky ridges. It was an excellent location for my goal of macro photography. I love the challenge of photographing fish. First I set my sights on the many blacksmith fish that allowed me to get unusually close.
The rocky ridges were landscaped in small gardens of colorful gorgonian in a palette of red, golden and purple. While purple gorgonian are not unusual at Anacapa and west end of Santa Cruz Island, they seem to be especially plentiful on the mainland side of the west end of Anacapa, where they form large clusters. I was in the photo zone, zeroing in on the large number of ghost gobies (also known as black eyed gobies) that were scattered here and there. I was pleased to photograph one perched on a branch of purple gorgonian.
And then? Another lingcod. This one was far more willing to pose for portraits. He looked delicious — I mean, lovely. (Lingcod are highly desired by sport and spearfishers for their firm, tasty meat. When cleaned the flesh has an odd bluish-green hue but it changes to a creamy white when cooked.) This area of Anacapa is, however, a marine preserve, as is most of the mainland side of Anacapa Island.
Additional fishy encounters included a large yellow and black striped treefish with rich red lips.
The fish count continued, as I spotted numerous large calico bass, a big male sheephead, and a number of black perch, opaleye, and painted greenling.
Spotting photogenic fish was easy here as there was little to no kelp, unusual considering the excellent bottom topography. Also odd was the curious lack of nudibranchs, one of my favorite invertebrates to photograph. There were a few shy lobsters in the reef crevices but the sandy area was quiet.
Heading back to the reef as my dive drew to a close I came across yet another, even larger, lingcod. As I hung out at my safety stop I contemplated what I’d name the dive site. Back on the boat, there was no roar from the crowd when I announced my entry, “Lingcod Lair.” So what if I didn’t win the contest; I sure had a winning dive that day.
Special thanks to the dive charter boat Raptor for assistance with this article.
Location: On the mainland side of Anacapa Island (a chain of three islets), 11 miles off Port Hueneme. At GPS 34°00.990′ -119°25.920″, it is wedged between the dive sites known as the Pelican Preserve (which can only be dived in November and December) and Goldfish Bowl.
Access: Boat only.
Depth: up to 50 feet on sand.
Skill: All levels.
Visibility: Fair to good.
Photography: Excellent macro/fish photography.
Hunting: Not allowed.
Notable hazards: Occasional strong currents.