Sometimes when you’re out on an underwater photo expedition you want to target one species. On this particular dive trip I wanted some photos of the giant black sea bass (Stereolepis gigas). It had been awhile since I’ve had the opportunity to swim with these magnificent creatures and booking a trip recently on the Sundiver Express was one of my specific goals. I was not disappointed. I was in for the best encounter I’d ever had with these great creatures.

We rocketed out of Long Beach heading for Catalina Island with that goal in mind. Although I have dived Catalina thousands of times we pulled up to a dive site that I’d not dived in many years, Twin Rocks. I frankly had expected to anchor up at Italian Gardens, the proven grounds for black sea bass encounters for several years now. But pulling up to the rocky point I had to rely on the experience of Captain Kayaa to deliver me to the friendly giants. After anchoring just west of Twin Rocks, she simply pointed to a small kelp patch between where we anchored and the point and said, “There.” We were a mere 30 yards from the spot.

For reasons I do not entirely understand, the majority of the divers onboard headed toward the kelp off the bow leaving me alone with the massive fish. Dropping down, I kicked the short distance to the east at 40 feet. Out of the hazy visibility appeared a giant, then another, and yet another. A total of five of the massive fish were now surrounding me, all fearless. They were four to five feet long and probably weighed 300 to 350 pounds. I almost dropped the regulator out of my mouth and had to count them just to make sure. As the dive progressed, another two passed by. Wow!

Camera, oh yeah, I have a camera. I’d better get to work. For the entire dive I photographed the creatures. Most were fully mature and not actually black but rather a mottled charcoal in color. Some would face me down, others giving me a profile. Not only did I have the opportunity to get a variety of angles but also to bracket the exposures on my shots.

Giant black sea bass move into shallow waters during the late spring through summer. Some feel it is a mystery why they do this but aggregations of three to as many as nine fish have been reported, especially at spots in this vicinity of Catalina Island. To me it was quite obvious why they were here at this particular time. They were being cleaned. Looking closely on their face you can see numerous parasites looking almost like whiskers. Some parasites even infiltrate their eyes. While most of the big fish hung off the bottom 10 to 15 feet, they would seem to take turns lowering themselves to just a few feet from bottom and señoritas and small sheephead would move in to pick away at the troublesome parasites.

It is indeed a great treat to see such an incredible creature cruising our kelp forests. Although encounters can be expected this time of year at many locations around Southern California, your best bet is to hook up with an experienced skipper on one of excellent dive charter boats heading over to Catalina Island. Being lead to Twin Rocks at Catalina Island was not just an accident but rather the result of Captain Kayaa’s experience and her crew of the Sundiver Express.

Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: West of Long Point on the frontside of Catalina Island. Marked on most charts. The site known as Devil’s Slide is just to the west.
Access: Boat only although there is camping on shore at nearby Goat Harbor (permit required, call 310-510-8368).
Depths: 10 to 60 feet
Skill level: All, but watch for sometimes strong currents at the point.
Visibility: Good, averaging 30 to 40 feet
Photography: During the summer the main event is the black sea bass, but there are lots of other critters too. Good wide angle in the kelp.
Hunting: Some lobster. Spearfishing poor. Black sea bass are a protected species.