There are times when I like to find the perfect spot and just stay there for a while. Three-day weekends are like that. With everyone driving here and there, it is sometimes nice to find a superb dive site and have everything you need nearby. Anchor Bay fits this description nicely.
Anchor Bay is located north of Gualala in Mendocino County and access to the ocean is through a private campground. Nestled in a large stand of redwoods and amidst one of the prettier parts of the coast, this campground has a reputation of being a friendly haven that caters to both divers and fishermen alike.
The campground empties directly onto a large beach and, due to a eastern cut in the coast line, faces directly south, providing excellent sun exposure even in the winter months. The bay also provides protection from the prevailing northwest swell, making it one of the calmest dive sites on the coast during the summer months.
The best diving is near Fish Rocks on the west end of the beach. Fish Rocks consist of two main rocks with a narrow beach between. A large colony of California sea lions resides here. Old sailors used to say that all one had to do to make Fish Rock Landing in the fog was to listen for the barking of the sea lions.
On the open water side of Fish Rocks the bottom begins in 20 feet of water and slopes to over 100 feet to a sand bottom. This area is highly textured with tall pinnacles, deep cracks and high-sided canyons. The tops of the pinnacles are covered with palm kelp, and just below are colonies of red corynactis anemones. Large rose and giant green anemones dot the surge channels. Many of the pinnacles and walls between 40 and 70 feet deep are covered with fluffy white metridium anemones. In some places these anemones cover large areas, appearing as a field of over-sized cotton balls extending out to the limit of visibility.
This area is the most productive for spearfishers. Lingcod in the 10-15 pound range are consistently taken, along with the occasional 30-40 pound monster. Good-sized black, blue and other rockfish can also be found here in abundance. These fish find shelter in the many nooks and crannies of the reef or swim in and out of the kelp beds.
The kelp bed east of Fish Rocks and between the rocks and the shore is very productive for seven-to eight-inch red abalone. Here the bottom consists of small boulders and some sand with most of the abalone located in the cracks between the boulders. A large healthy bed of bull kelp covers the surface throughout the area, while palm kelp extends three to four feet above the bottom. Abalone divers are most successful when they can swim through the layer of palm kelp to find the abalone that hide below.
Many divers miss seeing much of the colorful invertebrate life as they search for game. Under the palm kelp exists a whole community that many never take the time to see. Many species of nudibranchs can be found here, including the clown nudibranch, the thick-horned aeolid, and the outrageous white-lined dirona. Many small featherduster worms, orange sea cucumbers, and numerous purple ringed top snails are also commonly found.
Anchor Bay offers first class abalone hunting and fishing grounds, along with beautiful underwater topography and marine life. This is a family campground and non-divers will find plenty to do beachcombing, exploring, or just doing nothing.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Just north of the Town of Anchor Bay at the southern end of Mendocino County
Access and Entry: Access is through the Anchor Bay Campground. Turn into the campground at mile marker MEN 4.64 off Highway 1. You must pay a day use or camping fee. Enter the water at either end of the wide sandy beach.
Visibility: Generally good 15 to 30 feet.
Skill level: Beginner or better.
Photography: Good macro and wide-angle photography at Fish Rocks.
Hunting: Good abalone hunting and good spearfishing for rockfish and lingcod.
Facilities: Restrooms, coin-op showers, a fish-cleaning house, and fresh water are available at the campground. Small boats may be easily launched from the beach. The town of Anchor Bay has a deli, grocery, several restaurants and inns. Reservations are accepted by the campground one year in advance, call: (707) 884-4222.
Hazards: Watch for big swell and surge, thick kelp in summer, and boat traffic.