Hunting for abalone is the most common excuse for getting wet in Northern California. These tasty mollusks are quite abundant, and are not difficult to find with a little knowledge and practice. In April of 2000 CDN published a primer for new ab hunters. In this issue we discuss how more experienced divers can come home with more and bigger abalone.
Under current California law abalone can only be taken by breath-hold divers, no scuba allowed. As in any type of diving, and particularly breath-hold diving, being relaxed and comfortable in the water is very important. This is not only true to bring back more game, but relaxing enhances your enjoyment of the experience.
Rocky Daniels, abalone hunter extraordinaire, suggests that divers try relaxation techniques before taking that first dive. Rocky suggests, “Without a weight belt and without using leg power, pull yourself hand over hand down an anchor line or kelp stipe to 15 to 30 feet. Relax and hang out for a bit. Let go and let your positive buoyancy rocket you effortlessly back to the surface. Do this exercise several times to warm up.”
Jerry McNulty of Marin Skin Diving has some good advice for hunters. “Visit sites that are rarely frequented by divers,” Jerry says. He adds, “These are often wide open spots that can only be dived on the calmest of days.” Jerry also suggest divers take a small light that can be fastened to your wrist, and spend a lot of time head down looking up for abalone hanging upside down in cracks.
“A boat helps to get divers to better hunting grounds,” says Lawrence Groth of Golden Gate Expeditions. Lawrence likes diving from a small boat or a personal water craft to get beyond the reach of shore divers.
Veteran ab diver Ted Wheeler of Aqua Tutus dive club recommends that divers scout new areas for diving. Ted suggests that divers, “Look for area that has old abs, ones whose shells are riddled with holes from boring marine parasites. If the area is not presenting any big abs, choose another location. Where one big ab is found another will be close by. Big abs are often found in dirty water, and on boulders in sand, and never in an area with a lot of loose rocks.” (Storm-driven rocks break abalone shells.)
Ted conducts systematically searches with help of two marker floats. The first marks the center of the search area, and the other is pulled around with the abalone hunter. Many attach a line between their ab iron and their surface float. Should you find a hubcap and don’t have enough breath to pull it, you can drop the ab iron as a marker and pop the ab on the next dive. A 30-to 40-foot piece of plastic tubing is useful for this purpose.
If you are searching for REALLY BIG abalone you should listen to the advice of John Pepper. John, as you may recall, is the holder of the world record abalone, a 12 and 5/16 inch monster, taken “somewhere off the coast of Humboldt county.” Pepper suggests you head north for bigger abalone, “You don’t find as many abalone here as you do farther south, but the ones you do find are usually big.” By north, he means north of Fort Bragg.
Go north or go south, but go diving and have fun. Remember to become “one with the ocean”—and relax.