Now that the crowds of summer have gone, divers can safely get into nooks, crannies and reefs of Isthmus Cove usually jammed with pleasure boaters during summer months. Perhaps the most popular mooring areas is Cherry Cove on the west side of Isthmus Cove. There are a total of 103 moorings in the cove (controlled by the Isthmus Harbor Patrol) and a Boy Scout Camp on shore. On the north side of the cove is the popular dive site known as Lion Head. Although boat traffic can be heavy, there is generally no problem diving here any time of year as they are well clear of the mooring area. On the South side of Cherry Cove, however, there is a wonderful reef but due to its proximity to the area of heaviest boating activity, it is rarely dived. It is also frankly poorer with regards to visibility that the popular nearby sites of Lion Head and Isthmus Reef have.
But what it lacks in water clarity it makes up for in marine life and game. This is a good spot for lobster. Jumbled boulders drop off steeply to a sand bottom at 70 feet. Within the boulder a plenty of deep holes holding the tasty crustaceans. None are big but there are many legal sized lobster. Farther to the south, toward the tiny town of Two Harbors, seems to be a bit better.
In the spring this is a breeding ground for white sea bass. They move up into the shallows of the kelp forest and pair up in 20 to 30 feet of water. More than any other fish, serious California spearfishers seek out this fish for it challenge in the stalk, hunt and its wonderfully flavored flesh. To even consider approaching a white sea bass you have to be a free-diver with decent skills of stealth.
Other game at this location include sheephead and calico bass, although most are small. Better for the scuba diving spearfisher would be the halibut that frequent Cherry Cove itself. Just always be aware of boat traffic hazards.
Photographers and sightseers are best to stay out of the cove and concentrate on the rocks and the sand that drops off into the deep sections of Isthmus Cove. There are a lot of blue-banded gobies flitting about the rocks. Their small size and cautious nature always make them challenging macro photo material. Hopefully a sign of a stronger sheephead population is the large number of juvenile sheephead that can be found at this location.
As an underwater photographer, I was especially drawn to the large bull kelp plants in deeper water stretching out across the sand. Unlike Giant Kelp (macrocistis) which uses a multitude of gas bladders to support a tall stalk with many leaves, bull kelp uses a single grapefruit-sized bladder anchored to the bottom by a single strand. Five or six very long, broad leaves then stretch from the branches off the bladder. In the current, the big leaves stretch out in the flowing waters like a maiden’s long hair in the breeze. It is an impressively large plant with interesting textures and qualities of light absorption that make for interesting photos. Backlight the kelp with the sun and overexpose the kelp itself a half to a full stop to bring out the subtle textures. Without current the blades lie flat on the bottom creating another strange environment in which fish, crabs and lobster hide.
And if you choose to bring your own boat over, there are a lot of moorings to choose from in the winter. The snorkeling is excellent along the shallow sections of the reef and in the upper kelp forest. Kayaking is good inside the normally calm Isthmus Cove. At Two Harbors there is an air fill station, a small general store and a restaurant. If you want to try a completely different island experience, consider staying at the Banning House, a supurb B&B from the old Banning estate. In addition, you can camp at the Isthmus and rent kayaks and other watersports equipment depending on the time of year. For more information, visit http://www.scico.com on the web.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: West side of Isthmus Cove, the rocky point off the south side of Cherry Cove
Access and Entry: Lots of mooring (fee) at Cherry Cove where its a short dingy or kayak run to the point. Or if the boating crowd is light, just anchor off the point. Waters inside usually calm and protected
Depths: 20 to 80 feet
Skill Level: All
Snorkeling: Good in shallows.
Visibility: Fair, better water clarity at nearby sites.
Photography: Good for macro of small fish. Wide angle good in kelp forest, particularly on the deep bull kelp.
Hunting: Good for lobster, fair for white sea bass and halibut.
Hazards: Boat traffic