Unlike the coastline of Central and Southern California, the Sonoma Coast has relatively few protected areas. Some coves face northward into the predominant northwesterly swell and make for inhospitable diving. Others face southward and are calm havens for divers. At the north end of Salt Point State park is a moderate-sized cove that offers a comfortable dive with excellent abalone hunting.
Fisk Mill Cove takes its name from the lumber mill that operated here in the late 1800s and is the most recent acquisition to Salt Point State Park. This large, south-facing cove can be very rough when the southern storm swell is running, but divers can usually enter the water on the south side of the point when the northwest swell is up.
At the large dirt parking begins a mile trail that leads across the bluff, fords a small stream, and switchbacks to the beach via a wooden staircase. This is the safest, and most direct path to the water. The rocky beach entry gives way to a high-relief bottom with large boulders, massive rock formations, and a few caves large enough to swim through.
There is a large bed of bull kelp offshore, and the shallow areas of the rocky reef are covered with a layer of palm kelp. Otherwise, the rocks are also covered with coralline algae, giant green anemones and encrusting invertebrates. There are small greenlings, and a few small rockfish hiding in the palm kelp. The three-dimensional nature of the bottom and the splash of color here and there makes this a fun place to dive.
The near-shore area is an excellent area to hunt for abalone. The shallowest areas have been picked clean, so you will have to dive to 15 to 20 feet and about 25 yards offshore to get your dinner. At that depth numerous eight to eight 1/2-inch abalone are in plain view. There are no trophies here, but few shorts either. To the left is a relatively flat rock bottom with an occasional bowl. Looks for abs in the bowls. I have not seen any fish worth shooting in shallow water in some time.
On calm days better diving may be found by hiking around to the north side of the point, and divers can enter on either side of the point depending on conditions. The bottom consists of rock bottom that gently slopes out to 60 to 70 feet. Numerous rocky ridges and rock piles dot the bottom a short distance from shore and are where a large population of abalone may be found. There are more shallow-water abalone here than in the easer-to-get-at entries, but again no trophies. This area has a reasonable population of lingcod, cabezon, and vermilion rockfish, and is where you want to dive if you are spearfishing. Some divers haul kayaks to the beach for offshore diving, but it is easier to run a boat up from Gerstle Cove.
Those with a rope and climbing skills may want to climb down the steep cliff near the center of the cove. Again, divers will find a high relief bottom with lots of abalone. There are more fish inshore here than at the other locations discussed. In my youth I used to haul tanks down the cliff, but no more. Most free dive here.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: At the northern boundary of Salt Point Stat Park, Sonoma County.
Access and Entry: Most divers may park in the free, dirt lot on the west side of the road at mile marker SON 43.06. Follow the trail to the left across the bluff, and scramble down bluff or take the wooden staircase to a rocky beach. Alternatively, you may the longer trail on the right to the rocky point. Divers may park in the well-marked park entrance at SON 42.63 and park one of the paved lots. There is a restroom in the northern parking area. This lot provides access to a steep cliff where several eyebolts have been placed to aid divers with ropes to rappel down the bluff face. Those with good climbing skills should only attempt this dive, and you should bring a rope.
Skill level: Intermediate or better on calm days; advanced with a shore break.
Visibility: Acceptable, 5 to 25 feet.
Hunting: Great hunting for moderate sized abalone; poor fishing inshore, better offshore.
Photography: Generally the visibility does not allow it.
Hazards: Watch for big waves and swell. Fast, south flowing currents are common once you get past the protection of the north point. Bull and palm kelp may be thick in summer months.