The coastline of California is enormous, and sometimes it is a daunting task to select a dive site. With so many kelp beds, rocky points, and inshore reefs to pick from, how does one decide where to dive? Monterey’s charter boat captains have an easier time making these decisions because with decades of experience they have dived it all. Their experience and wisdom coupled with the conditions de jour allow them to pick the best site possible on any given day.
For example, divers refer to the expansive reef between Sunset Point and Pescadero Point along the north side of Carmel Bay as Lingcod Reef. There is good diving all along this reef, but some areas are better than others, and Monterey’s dive boat captains know the best sites. One of these sites goes by the name of Outlook, which gets its name from the unique bottom terrain. The inshore side of the site gently slopes up as one heads offshore. At one point the bottom drops away in a steep cliff. This vantage point gives divers a good view of the deeper reef on three sides and resembles a scenic outlook in a National Park.
This is not the kind of dive where you need to do a lot of swimming. Rather, you should take your time to explore both the gentle and steep slopes of the reef and enjoy the area’s fish and invertebrate life. The bottom is mostly flat rock with scattered rock piles. Look for shrimp, gobies, sculpins and other small fish back in the smaller cracks. Rockfish are plentiful either resting on the bottom or swimming among the strands of giant kelp.
They don’t call it Lingcod Reef without reason, so look for and easily find lingcod hiding back in the larger crevices. During late winter and spring the larger lingcod move inshore to mate and lay eggs, and this is a good time to fish watch. Male lingcod will stay behind to guard the nest, while the larger females migrate back to deeper water. If the male is removed from the nest crabs and other egg-loving predators will quickly consume the eggs. Spearing a nest-sitting ling is poor sportsmanship and will unnecessarily remove a good portion of the next generation of lingcod.
The steep wall is a particularly good area to look for invertebrates. The Outlook sticks out into the passing current and is exposed to more water movement and nutrients than nearby sites. These conditions allow the proliferation of invertebrates that are more typical of offshore pinnacles than inshore reefs. For example, pristine trees of pink and purple hydrocoral are common here along the rock wall. Look for crabs and parasitic snails among their delicate branches.
The wall is also a good place to find nudibranchs. Sea lemons, white-knight nudibranchs, Monterey and other dorids are plentiful here, as well as the Phidiana and Hermissenda. Brightly colored sea cucumbers anchor themselves in the cracks and extent their orange or red tentacles into the water column to feed.
Outlook is a great spot to make the second or third dive of the day. The reef here is reasonably shallow, yet has plenty to keep the sightseer or photographer busy. Don’t forget to spend time at the “outlook” watching for pelagic fish and marine mammals as they swim by.
DIVE SPOT AT-A-GLANCE
Location: Offshore of Castle House and 17 Mile Drive, Carmel Bay. GPS: N 36° 33.675′, W121° 57.780′.
Access: Boat only, GPS in needed to find this site. Private boats may be launched from Stillwater Cove [call (831) 625-8536 for access information] or the Monterey Breakwater. Monterey’s commercial dive boats frequent this site.
Skill Level: Intermediate or better.
Depths: 56 to 81 feet
Visibility: Generally good, 30-40 feet.
Photography: Great place to get images of reef invertebrates and fish.
Hunting: This anchorage is very close to the north boundary of the Carmel Pinnacles State Marine Reserve. I suggest not taking game here.
Hazards: Watch for thick kelp during later spring through fall.
Charter Boats Serving the Area: www.montereydiveboats.com