The frontside of San Clemente Island, for the most part, runs in a straight line to the southeast. Steep slopes or cliffs plunge into the sea and the slope continues underwater. There are some prominent and exiting dives here such as Fish Hook, Window Pane, Wagon Tracks and more. But here and there are also fringing reefs along this coast. A few points mark larger reef structures offshore that are by no means hidden but rather given away by heavy kelp growth. Hole-In-The-Wall is just such a location with an extensive kelp forest and shallow reef system ideal for a leisurely dive.
The name of the site is derived from the rock archway in the point. The kelp forest and reef lies to the northwest and it’s a big one. Depths vary from 15 feet on the inside to 45 on the outside. Jumbled boulders and rock ridges make up the reef that has only a moderate profile.
Lobsters are abundant but as with nearly any location on the frontside of San Clemente Island, they are all far below legal size. The kelp is thick but opens up in spots to make “rooms” in the forest. In these openings take time to settle to the bottom and relax. Kelp bass, opaleye, halfmoons and other fish of the kelp forest will venture forth and fill the void streaming with sunbeams.
Fish are abundant here. Sheephead are numerous but small. In the spring and early summer, look for the many juvenile sheephead that dart in and out of the rock piles. They are about two to three inches long and bright pink with a distinctive horizontal white stripe and black spots. Other fish include nesting garibaldi, especially in depths 30 to 20 feet. Schools of blacksmith move in and out of the kelp forest and kelp “rooms.” Yellowtail have been known to cruise the outer fringes of the kelp, picking off blacksmith and other small fish that venture too far from the cover of the kelp. If you go stealth, such as in free diving, you might see white sea bass up in the kelp thicket. These fish are prized game fish that take great skill to get close enough to spear. They look like a large salmon or trout, whitish gray in color sometimes with black bars. Spearfishers call this illusive prey “ghosts.”
The rock bottom is dotted with blue-banded gobies. Stars provide additional color. You will find blue-gray pisaster stars, bat stars, which come in a wide variety of colors, and the fragile rainbow star. The fragile rainbow star moves quickly for a sea star and can even capture mobile prey, including fish.
Venturing out onto the sand you are likely to encounter bat rays, some very large with “wing spans” of up to five feet. Bat rays feed on worms, clams and crustaceans that are buried in the sand. It is not unusual to find them in a cloud of silt as they dig deep into the mud. They use their powerful jaws to crush even hard clams to extract the soft meat. If you find them digging for food, it is often easy to approach them quite close.
Conditions at Hole-In-The-Wall are generally good. The frontside of San Clemente is nearly always calm. Currents are common along the frontside of the island but the kelp forest here is close enough to the island that it escapes the worse effects of the current. But this means that water clarity is not as good as at other spots further south along the island.
Hole-In-The-Wall is an excellent second or third dive of the day after a deeper dive at the drop-offs and pinnacles down the island at Window Pane, Fish Hook or elsewhere. Take time to enjoy the many roomed mansion of the kelp forest.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: On the frontside of San Clemente Island. GPS coordinates N32°57.476′, W118°30.898′ (GPS is for reference only. Do not use as your sole source of navigation.)
Access: Boat only.
Skill Level: All
Depths: Shallow to 45 feet, deeper shelf out further.
Visibility: Fair, averages 25 feet.
Photography: Good, fun wide angle in the kelp forest with lots of fish.
Hunting: Poor to fair. Lobsters are here but nearly all are short. For skilled spearfishers, yellowtail sometimes patrol the kelp fringes and white sea bass can be found in the forest.
Snorkeling: Good on shallow