2020 was a wild year for all of us. Due to travel restrictions, many a spearo was forced to stay dry and because of social distancing, there weren't a lot of people getting together. Thankfully, I live in Pacific Grove and was able to dive regularly all the way up until the end of the year. 2021 threw another curveball, but this time it wasn't COVID-19 related... it was huge swells and gale force winds. During the winter months, when it gets dark early, I am only able to dive weekends and for whatever reason, the past 3 months just didn't really have many weekend dive windows... This is by far the least amount of diving I've had since I started spearfishing.
Rewind to last Tuesday (3/9). I see the swell forecasted to be dying down to manageable conditions... could it be? A window? Just as quickly as my anticipation was building, it was jettisoned by my lovely bride reminding me that we had tickets to Harley Goat Farms to see the baby goats and buy unhealthy proportions of high end cheese. I love time with my wife and daughter more than I do time in the water, so it was not exactly a bad trade off, but certainly one of those "of course the ocean goes flat while I'm out of town" kind of nagging reminders. We had a great time yurt camping at Costanoa, visiting a friend's farm that burned down in the recent fires to see what progress was made in rebuilding, and playing with lots and lots of baby goats (yes, I know they're called kids... but that sentence would have sounded a lot worse...). Sunday morning, we pack up and start the 2 hour drive home.
Pulling into Monterey around 12:30p, the ocean catches my eye. Not only is it flat as a mirror, it's the right color too! Did you know the ocean has a right color for diving?! Yep. Bright blue, with patches of yellow and black. I can see the sand and rocks that are 20 feet underwater... from the drivers seat of our SUV! Apparently my eyes gave me away before my mouth could, because Jess (my wife) said "just make sure to find a dive buddy, husband..." GREEN LIGHT! I call my go-to dive buddy, no answer. I call 3 more friends. No answers. I start down the rest of the list... I got legitimately self-conscious for a moment - do my friends not like me anymore? What did I do? Finally, Chad, a friend I made late last year and fellow Triton, answers his phone. I tell him the ocean looks ideal and asked if he wants to dive. He said he just pulled his boat out of the water after a long dive sesh. NOOOO! So I keep making calls to people's voicemail boxes.
5 minutes later he calls back and says, "my wife is bringing me lunch and a coffee - meet me at the boat launch!" OK... a few things that make Chad rad: 1) he took me on his boat to Channel Islands - obvious cool points awarded 2) when we got back to Ventura my car battery was dead. We both planned on driving home that night and wanted to get on the road ASAP, but he stuck around and helped me break into my car using an abalone iron, a dive sock and a spear shaft... it was like the most MacGyver thing ever... definitely cool 3) Then this. He dove (dived?) all morning, had the boat already out of the water, was freezing, needed food, but knowing I wanted to buddy dive, he rallied. We launched the boat, made it to the dive spot in record time (the ocean was flat and his center console hard bottom RIB is part rocket) and proceeded to gear up.
Here's a little nugget of wisdom for all youz-guys (aaaaand gals) out there - purchase a pack of THESE little pouches of golden comfort. They are reusable too! Activate it, drop it down your wetsuit top near your chest, and have hours of warmth. Chad said they changed his life. I learned that trick when one of the Triton's founders showed it to me while diving off his boat earlier this year. Truly amazing. Also, let's give some cool points for the Tritons and the decades of experience that get handed down the line to newer members.
I don't care how much experience you have in spearfishing, when you jump off the boat, look down and see a thousand huge blue rockfish below you, it's a good feeling. A really good feeling. You know you can immediately drop and start hunting the holes below them. In fact, this spot was so stinkin' fishy, that I never ventured further than 30 yards from the boat the whole afternoon. That never happens for me. Amazing structure, amazing 30' vis, warm nipples... what can possibly make it a better dive session? How about hefty scallops everywhere? Every target species of rock fish? Minimal surge? It was great.
I even taught myself a new trick (old dogs... hardy har)! Toward the end of the afternoon, I found 1 deep crack that had 4 slug status scallops in it. I dropped my unloaded gun to mark the spot (loaded guns might go bang when knocked on rocks and I don't need any more holes in my body other than what God gave me to start with), left my bright orange scallop iron in the hole and headed to the surface to breath up. While I catch my breath, let's pause for a moment to give the scallop bar a shout out. First off, never ever use the non-elastic (static line) lanyards that 99% of dive lights and scallop bars come with. I make my own out of kayak bungee and a soft plastic tube that comes with THIS cheap amazon ab bar. $15 and just replace the black line with bungee... That way if it gets stuck, you can still pull your hand out and not die. A positive thing in my book.
I also keep it on my dive belt if I'm actively targeting scallops. Simply tuck it under the belt, take the bungee loop and wrap it around the prying tip twice. When I need it, a quick pull on the handle releases the loop and it's ready to go. And to you nay sayers that blast cheap aluminum pry bars, I have yet to snap this bad boy and sure have tried *play the reel where I'm holding the rocks with my hands and kicking the bar with my heel to try and pry this stupid (aka tasty) cement factory filter feeder off the rocks.* I'm not sure how they do it, but my apartment drive way pot holes sure could take a lesson from the cementing skills of these guys.
But seriously, the first scallop in the deep crack came off easy. The next one took 14 drops. I just couldn't get the leverage I needed to pry and the awkward angle wasn't making it easier. I twisted, pulled, pried, kicked, yanked, and blew bubbles that strangely sounded like curse words as they popped on the surface. Finally, a new idea (that hamster on the wheel was earning his keep on this one). Early last year, Princeton Tec gave me a new dive light (the Genesis 1000 lumen torch) and asked that I put it through the ringer. I was happy to oblige and proceeded to beat the living daylights out of it. We did a dive light review (ARTICLE HERE) after a few months of stress testing it and I've never had a reason to go back to my old dive light. I only mention that, because what I did next was a personal continuation of testing the limits of both the light and the cheap scallop bar. I reached wayyyy back in the crevice and set the light horizontally on the rock next to the scallop, then careful not to move it, reached waaaay back in with the scallop bar, and used the light as a fulcrum... then voila! POP!
Also, otters are jerks. As this was a last minute trip, I didn't think to bring my dive bag with me, so early in the dive when I got my first scallop, I stuck it under the beaver tail of my suit jacket near the booty. The second one was more daintily placed right under the tail but over my huevos. Not the most comfortable, but effective. So then I happen upon this invertebrate hole and have no where to put the next 4 scallops. I start to make a pile on the ocean floor just below where I was popping them out of the crack. I spend 14 drops, chance breaking my gear, get the thing out, put it on the pile, come up to gasp for air, and when I dropped back down, that 3rd one had disappeared. The otter I nearly mistook for a lingcod a few minutes earlier came back for take out dinner. At least it was only one from the pile. Jerk.
The last scallop in that crack gets to inhabit there a little longer. It was just not coming out. I resolve to head back to the boat and wouldn't you know it? Chad is there, hooping and hollering like a mad man. I thought, because he is rad, he was just extraordinarily pumped on my jack hammer like scallop skills and wanted to celebrate my scallop whispering feats. Turns out he shot a PB lingcod. One he said he's been hoping to get for several years now. It was a toad for sure! It made my DiveR fin look small when we laid it on it. Similarly to that feeling you get when you jump in the water and see a huge school of fish below you, is the feeling when you were with a friend who got an epic fish. There is a palpable joy to the whole experience.
Well this story is ridiculously long, mostly true, and as all stories should end, it ends on a good note. We got back to the boat ramp with several nice fish, a bunch of large scallops and stories to tell. When I checked my phone, I had something like 15 missed calls and text messages from all my friends who were already diving by the time I called them at lunch. Turns out I'm not a total nincompoop and my friends still might tolerate me for future dive sessions. Great day. Thank you again, Chad. You're rad.