Gaining much of my diving experience as a young man around the west side of Palos Verdes (PV), I never seemed to lack lobster in my freezer during the fall and winter. Along this stretch of coast, sheer cliffs with sections over 100 feet high plunge to the waters below. Rocky reefs and thick kelp extend offshore. There are pinnacles, wrecks, coves and surgy shallows. This is prime lobster hunting territory. Those that dive here rarely go away empty handed.
So how does western PV look for the 2003-2004 lobster season? What are the hot spots now, and what will be good later in the season?
SHALLOW VS. DEEP
In general, lobsters like warmer waters and so stay shallow early in the season until storms force them deeper later in the winter. PV, like much of the Southern California coastline, has been experiencing unusually warm surface temperatures, 70-72°F, coupled with unusually cold bottom temperatures, 52-54°F, at 40 feet and below. This will most assuredly keep the lobsters in shallow as long as possible. And that is what the scouting reports from PV are indicating. Good news for PV as shallow rocky reefs with excellent lobster habitat are abundant.
Challenges? The warm shallow waters have been plagued with poor visibility due to plankton blooms. This, however, will taper off considerably during October and the waters will clear. Heavy surge can also be a challenge, but October through early December are usually the calmest times of the year.
The biggest competition you face as a lobster hunter on the west side of PV is with the commercial trappers. There are three ways to beat this competition. First, sport divers have a three-day jump on the commercial trappers. Get out early in the season. Second, commercial trapping boats can’t get up in the extreme shallows for fear of wrecking their vessel. Get up into the really shallow waters, 10 feet or less, especially early in the season when it is calm. And finally, commercial lobster trapping is prohibited in the Santa Monica Bay which includes the northern portion of west PV. The reefs off Flat Rock Point and the Margate area are always good.
HOT SPOTS NOW
With the lobsters in shallow, you would think that it would be a boon for beach divers. True, but with sheer cliffs there are very few opportunities for easy access. Malaga Cove is always a good producer opening night but expect to be sharing the waters with several dozen other divers. For best luck, head to the submerged pier pilings that lay in 15 to 25 feet of water to the southwest. It has to be calm, however, to dive here. There are other shore access points but they are very risky to ascend and descend at night, the best time for lobster hunting. Boat diving is highly recommended.
If the seas are calm, your options open up considerably. Try the large shallow reef off Palos Verdes Point. The freighter Dominator ran aground and broke up here in the early 1960’s. The rocky reefs and wreckage are filled with lobster. Right next door is Lunada Bay. Within the cove are shallow shelves that can be accessed by a dirt trail. Personally, I have always liked the boilers off the southern side of Christmas Tree Cove. There is a trail at Christmas Tree Cove, but it is steep, arduous and a long swim to the best reefs.
LATER IN THE SEASON
As the waters cool and a storm or two has passed through, the lobster will move to deeper waters. Along PV, they do not have to go far. One excellent location that is not only a good lobster hunting spot but also a fun dive is the wreck of the Avalon. She lies near a rocky ledge in about 70 feet of water. Not only is the wreckage productive, but the reef is equally fascinating and full of lobster later in the season.
On the south end of this coastline section is Point Vicente, my favorite. Offshore is a large wash rock that marks a steep rocky ridge below with walls, deep crevices, and caves. Not only is this a good lobster spot, it is also a spectacular dive. In addition, fish and rock scallops are abundant. Point Vicente, however, is open to both northwest and southerly swells. And it is difficult to anchor here. Currents can be tricky too. A professional skipper is highly recommended.
Diving the west side of Palos Verdes rivals that of Catalina Island’s backside in its wilderness appeal. Waters are generally clear and full of life — and full of lobster. Good luck!