Although Church Rock is just around the corner on the backside of Catalina, it seems like a world away. It often has the feel of the outer, remote islands — rough and rugged. There is plentiful game here, a fascinating reef to explore, and occasional surprise that is truly remarkable.
Church Rock gains its name from its appearance at a distance with its rocky fingers looking much like the spires of a church. Its congregation must be birds and fish. On the rock, birds perch like gargoyles. It’s a great place to photograph pelicans, terns, cormorants, and gulls.
In the kelp halls of this shrine, underwater members include schools of blacksmith, opaleye, and señoritas. Sheephead are abundant with an occasion fish of decent size. Kelp bass are numerous too, some big. You will find them up in the kelp in the day and down in the holes at dusk and at night. Attach a light to the end of a short gun to land those calicos bass seeking sanctuary in the reefs deep alcoves.
Spearfishers should also take the time to venture out across the sand as halibut are often seen here. Don’t be startled if you come across a big bat ray out here.
This is a good dive site for hunters. When lobster season comes around, definitely check out this spot. Bugs are abundant and some are good sized. You will not, however, find many rock scallops here worth taking.
The underwater terrain is highly varied. Most diving is done on the east side of the rock because of the prevailing swell coming from the west and most of the reefs are on the east. The rock offers some protection from the swell, but not much. Reefs are as shallow as you can stand the surge, and there is a lot of surge here. Try to stay at least 20 feet or deeper
to stay out of the worst of it.
In 20 to 40 feet massive jumbled boulders form all kinds of holes for fish, lobster and other marine life. Farther out, reef bottoms out in sand at 60 feet. Massive wedges of rocks extend out into the sand. Some are covered with gorgonian sea fans swaying in the surge. Mini-walls rise up 20 feet from the ivory sand bottom. Look for the big sheephead in this area.
It is also in this area I once encountered a Mola Mola. A few months later, we pulled anchor after a dive here and spotted, of all things, a sea turtle. Church Rock seems to be a corner at some ocean junction.
Conditions are variable here, subject to the whims of the swell direction. Just up the coast is a loose bottom area that gets a lot of silting. Church Rock often catches some of that. Currents do come through here, but not severely so. Your best bet is to hit this site in the late summer through fall, say about lobster season? Maybe I’ll see you there!
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: East end of Catalina Island, just around the corner from Avalon on the backside. GPS N 33°17.805′, W 118°19.619′. (Do not use GPS coordinates as your sole source of navigation.)
Access: Boat only.
Skill Level: All levels but must be comfortable in the surge.
Depths: 20 to 65 feet.
Visibility: Variable. As good as 50 feet some days; others only 10.
Photography: Fair amount of subject material but surge and variable visibility makes it challenging.
Hunting: Good. Spearfishing for calico bass, a few sheephead, and occasionally yellowtail. Halibut on the sand. Lobster abundant, some big.
Hazards: Surge. Boat traffic.