As great as they are, dive charter boats have to bypass some unique spots simply because you can only put so many divers on a small reef at one time. One such small yet delightful reef is Little Gibraltar High Spot on the mainland side of Catalina Island. We had the pleasure of visiting this site with a small group of divers on the charter boat King Neptune.
The reef is more of a spire than just a high spot. Peaking out at 35 feet it rises almost vertically from a 75-foot bottom on the seaward side. On the shoreward side, the pinnacle falls away in more of a rambling slope of boulders to a 55-foot sand bottom. The whole base of the reef is not much more than the size of small house and can be easily circumnavigated in one dive with time left over to poke around small satellite reefs and sand flats.
While the bottom profile is spectacular, especially on the seaward side, the main event here is the marine life adorning the spire. A light growth of kelp rises up from the reef. You will find swimming in and out of the kelp small sheephead, a permanent school of blacksmith fish, garibaldi, halfmoons and more. In the late spring through early fall, giant black sea bass sometimes cruise by or circle the reef.
This is a favored spot for hunters, especially freediving spearfishers. Large calico bass are present and if you are stealthy you could spot a coveted white sea bass — great eating but a difficult fish to spot, approach and shoot. More approachable for scuba divers but still not always easy are the numerous lobsters, most of which are not of legal size. Remember, always hunt only in season and abide by Dept. of Fish and Game regulations.
Before thrusting your hands in a hole after a lobster, look carefully first for its frequent roommate, the moray eel. There are a fair amount of them in the inside boulder jumble. Lobsters and moray eels can often be found in the same holes to the mutual benefit of each other, hinging around the octopus. A favorite food of the octopus is lobster, and a favorite food of the eel is octopus. The moray benefits with its lobster friend acting as “bait” and the lobster benefits from the protection the moray provides. Does the octopus benefit? No, life isn’t always fair, especially in the underwater world.
Dancing across the entire spire are brightly colored blue-banded gobies. You can’t miss them in their bright red color with neon blue bands. They cover the rocks by the hundreds if not thousands. They are tiny, only one to three inches in length, and while numerous, they are very difficult to approach for a quality macro photo. Be persistent. Relax. Bring your breathing into a rhythm and approach low and slow. Again, be persistent and patient.
After exploring the reef, and if you still have air, spend some time out on the sand flats where you will likely find a bat ray, angel shark or halibut. In addition there are the reefs and kelp forest that skirt the shoreline close by.
Given that the high spot is set out away from the shoreline over 100 yards it is more exposed to moderate to strong currents. Plan your dive accordingly.
Bringing a private boat? There are many mainland ports from which to venture forth. There are launch ramps in San Pedro, Long Beach and several in Orange County.
Anchor carefully as currents can shift here suddenly. Always leave an experienced boat operator aboard while you dive and layout a trailing floating current line behind your boat with a float at the end. And remember to use a dive flag as this is a high traffic area.
This site is also known by a different name — Bill Kroll’s High Spot. The popular spearfisherman passed away here in 1996 pursuing his passion of freediving. A plaque was placed here in his honor.
Location: Mainland side of Catalina Island between Long Point and Rippers Cove. GPS: N33°25.385′, W118°24.570′ (GPS coordinates are for reference purposes only.)
Skill Level: All depending on diving depths and current.
Visibility: Very good, averaging 50 feet.
Access: Boat only. A professional dive charter is recommended.
Conditions: Sometimes strong currents.
Hunting: Fair for spearfishing. Some lobster.
Photography: Very good for wide-angle with many possibilities on angular reef. Small fish and morays give good opportunities for macro photos.