California winter diving can best be described as beauty or the beast. When winter storms are raging, divers can certainly experience marginal conditions. The time between storms, however, produces the calmest, clearest and warmest water of the year. Choosing a dive site depends on accessing the various sites against the wind and swell conditions. When a moderate northwest swell is running, a great spot is Fire Rock.
Fire Rock lies south of Pescadero Point at the northern most point of Carmel Bay. The line between Fire Rock and the point defines a shallow reef. On the lee side of this reef is a protected dive site with lots of marine life that offers a comfortable dive even in a moderate swell.
Most of the shallow reef consists of a jumble of boulders, 15 to 40 feet below the surface. The shallow waters are an interesting place to explore for those who enjoy macro photography or looking for tiny invertebrates. The rocks are adorned with an assortment of strawberry anemones, cup corals and sea cucumbers. At least a dozen different species of dorid nudibranchs may be found here on any given day, along with an assortment of crabs, shrimps and little reef fish. Many of the rocks are covered with a layer of colorful encrusting sponges that act as colorful backgrounds for photographers.
At about 40 feet the bottom falls away in a vertical wall that terminates on flat rock-and-sand bottom at 80 feet. On the wall you will fine large, bright red, fish-eating anemones and large sunflower stars. Trees of hydrocoral may be found in deeper waters. Orange cup corals and colorful sponges cover much of the wall. The wall is split with numerous large and small cracks. Numerous species of rockfish take refuge in the shelter provided cracks and by the boulders in deeper water.
The bottom at the base of the wall is mostly flat with piles of small boulders. The ragged bottom offers a shelter to many species of rockfish. Large gopher, black-and-yellow, and brown rockfish may be found tucked into their favorite crack or hole. On my most recent dive, there were a dozen small vermilion rockfish (AKA: Pacific red snapper). This is a particularly good place to see many species of rockfish in one place.
Large lingcod are often found here throughout the year, but late fall and winter are good times to look for really big lings–when the big females come inshore to mate. After the nest is made and the eggs fertilized, the females return to deep water and leave the males to guard the nest. Spearfishers should not shoot a nest-sitting ling, since all of the eggs will quickly be consumed after the male is taken.
With all of the interesting critters on the wall and hiding among the rocks, divers focus their attention on the wall or bottom. Fire Rock is not the place to forget about the open water. On past dives I have seen thresher sharks here. In the fall molas enter the bay to be cleaned, and gray whales often pass by Fire Rock, particularly on their northern migration in mid-spring. Sea lions, harbor seals and otters are year-round residents and are frequently found here.
Location: Fire Rock is at the northern point of Carmel Bay at: N 36° 33.556′, W 121° 56.975′ (Do not use GPS as your sole source of navigation.)
Access and Entry: This is a boat dive only.
Depths: 15 to 80 feet.
Visibility: Generally good, 20 to 30 feet.Hunting: This site is within the Carmel Bay State Marine Conservation Area. No invertebrates may be taken, although spearfishing is permitted.
Photography: This area has unlimited possibilities for macro and wide-angle photography.
Hazards: Watch for boat traffic.
Charter Boats Serving the Area: www.montereydiveboats.com