The big, grand dive sites around Catalina Island get all the press. Ship Rock, Isthmus Reef, Bird Rock, Eagle Reef—these are all incredible dive spots but rarely does a weekend go by where they’re not visited by several dive boats. I personally have an affinity for smaller, lesser known coves. All along the frontside of Catalina are dozens of calm little coves, perfect for just one charter boat or a couple of small boats. Little Geiger Cove is just one such gem.
Little Geiger Cove sits just to the west and inshore of the massive Eagle Reef west of the Isthmus of Catalina Island. Because it is inside (or east) of Arrow Point, it is nearly always calm and protected. Anchorage is good on a firm sand bottom.
There are reefs and kelp forest to both sides of the small cove with a sand bottom in the middle and pebble beach ashore. The beach is controlled by a private yacht club so please do not land here. While it is possible to cover both sides of the cove in a single dive, you’ll swim a lot and not see as much. I recommend rather to concentrate your efforts on the right or west side of the cove where the reef is more extensive and interesting and kelp the thickest.
You’ll have probably the most fun here just diving head-first into the thick kelp. It is lush and luxurious like a dense rainforest. Fish are everywhere in the cover of the leaves. Tiny brown cigar-shaped señorita fish move about in schools. Blacksmith form loose schools and also congregate in holes in the reef. Kelp bass are present but the bigger ones are shy. Garibaldi are not as abundant as you might think, but still there. Other fish include rockfish, sheephead, and opaleye.
Moving among the jumble of huge boulders, take time to look back in the holes and crevices. This is an invertebrate preserve so no lobster may be taken. The specimens here are, consequently, quite large. It’s fun to poke around and see several five-pound lobsters on one dive. Bring a light as most are deep inside the holes.
The relief of the bottom across the reef can be profound. Some truck-sized boulders reach up 15 feet. Other crevices swallow up divers entirely. As you move seaward the rocks become smaller and more scattered and the kelp thinner. The reef finally peters out at about 45 feet. Most diving over the reef is 25 to 35 feet in depth.
Another interesting underwater section of the cove is the border of the reef and sand flat. Skirting along the edge of the kelp you can move freely in and out of the forest and observe the animals that live successfully in both realms. Crabs are common, the largest being the slow and lumbering sheep crab. Octopus often make their dens in the reef here to take advantage of nocturnal feeding from lobster off the reef or clams from the sand flat. Their dens can be easily spotted by the pile of debris of empty shells nearby. Halibut like the kelp forest fringe as well. Here they can lie camouflaged in their favored sand environment, while waiting to pounce on any small fish that ventures too far from the protection of the kelp.
Finally, take some time to explore the sand flat itself. In Little Geiger Cove the bottom is gently sloping and it’s difficult to get deeper than 35 feet. There are numerous little critters to see and observe on the flats. My new favorite is the Phoronid. They are a tiny unique invertebrate, orange, and look much like a Christmas tree worm. Thousands dot the bottom of this cove.
You may also want to move up into the shallows. Pipefish have been reported here, a rare treat for Southern California divers. They inhabit eel grass beds and take a keen eye to spot. Snorkeling is good in the calm waters.
While the cove generally holds placid seas, water clarity is not the best. Visibility is usually around 30 feet and often better elsewhere on the island. On the plus side, problems from currents are rare.
With dive depths of 40 feet our less, this is a good second or third dive of the day after a day of exploring deeper site such as the nearby Eagle Reef or Ship Rock.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Frontside of Catalina Island between Isthmus Cove and Arrow Point right next to Big Geiger Cove. GPS N 33° 27.428′, W 118°30.712′ (GPS coordinates for reference only. Do not use as your sole source of navigation.)
Access: Boat only
Depths: 10 to 50 feet
Skill Level: All
Visibility: Fair, averages 25-30 feet.
Hunting: Invertebrate preserve. Take of lobster prohibited. Spearfishing fair to poor. Some halibut, other fish too small.
Photography: Fair. Nice kelp and fish wide angle shots. Only a moderate amount of macro material.
Hazards: Boat traffic.