In a current, the leading edge of the reef is always the most fascinating. There always seems to be a lot of fish and they are always bustling with activity. Fish jostle for the best position to pick tid-bits of food brought in by the moving waters. And there always seems to be a predator fish nearby to pick off those smaller fish that are less cautious. Rocks are covered with busy life that also capitalizes on food brought directly to them in the currents. There are critters that in turn feed on this filter-feeding life. Three-Fingers Reef is just such a spot — an underwater garden of color, life and activity.
Three-Fingers gets its name for the geological lay of the reef, a rough spread of three large rock wedges extending into the sea. This is a large reef area, covering roughly the area of three football fields, with the Three Fingers structure being of primary interest to divers. Three Fingers is the leading edge of an underwater feature known as Sea Cliff. Like Sea Cliff, the ocean side of the reef drops off steeply.
Surge and currents can be strong here but there a lot of channels and large crevices to duck into for cover. In the channels are ivory sand and jumbled boulders. Behind the ridges and channels, toward shore, is a flat rock reef that supports a healthy growth of kelp. The peaks of Three-Fingers are about 45 feet down, but most of the diving is in the 60-to 70-foot range. On the outside it drops off quickly to 80 feet and beyond.
The current generally runs from north to south, making Three-Fingers on the leading edge. And fish like this. Calico bass are especially abundant, many of good size. Its cousin, the barred sand bass, can be found hugging the bottom. Sheephead are also abundant, but not many are large. Also present, but on the rather small size, are a variety of rockfish. Black sea bass can sometimes be seen here in the summer. Experienced free-divers may spot the shy white sea bass in the kelp.
In the large gashes in the reef, rockfish hunker down out of the surge. Guitarfish, kind of cross between a shark and a ray, can also be found here in the deeper crevices. Some are quite large, reaching up to five feet in length.
Small and medium-sized fish call the smaller crevices of Three Fingers home. Look for black perch, opaleye, silver perch, treefish (a kind of rockfish), and a variety of gobies on the rocks.
This is a good spot for nudibranchs. The macro-photographer will enjoy the variety, quantity and sizes. Other good macro material here include corynactis and other anemones, gorgonian, shrimp, and tiny crabs.
In spots, rock scallops are fair in numbers and large. Lobster hunters will see a fair amount of bugs, but many are just a little too short.
Because of the currents, visibility is generally good at this location. The exception is during the occasional strong plankton blooms in the late spring and early summer. If this occurs, head for deeper water where the colder waters beneath the thermocline will be clearer but dark.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: North end of the Point Loma kelp beds. Look for fence line and green water tower ashore. (GPS N 32°42.564′, W 117°16.633′ – GPS for reference only. Do not use as sole source of navigation.)
Access: Boat only, short run for charter boats out of Mission Bay. Public launch ramps also in Mission Bay.
Depths: 45 to 90 feet and beyond.
Skill Level: Intermediate.
Visibility: Good, averaging 30 feet.
Photography: Very good for both macro and wide angle. Lots of fish. Good amount of colorful small creatures, too.
Hunting: Fair to good for spearfishing for calicos, barred sand bass. Fair for lobster and rock scallops. Occasional white sea bass.
Hazards: Currents, surge, boat traffic.