I learned to dive in the warm, clear waters of Florida, where the fish may not always be monsters, but getting in the water is as easy as slipping on a 3mm wetsuit and diving in. Hunting meant looking for hogfish, mutton snappers and grouper or going for lobsters. Now that I live in Northern CA I’m learning that not all spearfishing and underwater hunting is the same and even though there are extra hurdles to hunting in the waters off this coast, I’m starting to love everything this ocean has to offer.
First of all, diving in the Northwest is just generally different. The water conditions aren’t just based on wind, the swell can be an issue too. Obviously it’s quite a bit colder (which I’m FINALLY starting to adapt to!) and visibility isn’t quite up to par with an average day in the Keys, but there’s something about having to put on a big 7mm, climb down a cliff and brave the cold water that just makes me appreciate the diving more. Plus, when I hit the perfect trifecta of a calm ocean day, having a day off and my buddies being willing to drive to the coast, I know it’s going to be a day to remember.
Plus, there’s nothing like finishing a day of cold-water diving by having a beer with good friends while sitting on a cliff overlooking the ocean.
I knew the fish would be different out here, but I can’t believe HOW different they are to hunt. Heck, they don’t even run away from you! They’re hard as anything to find though and depend primarily on camouflage for defense. So far I’ve spent my time trying to spot lingcods and capazone (or c-abalone as I’ve been mistakenly calling them) without even loading my gun. The band-pulling, aiming and shooting should all be the same, but I want to make sure I can find the darn things before I start worrying about bringing my gun.
If I ever thought I would be using my awesome Wong gun out here I was completely mistaken. On average days the visibility isn’t even good enough for me to see the tip of my shaft underwater let alone to see a fish beyond it. Northern CA hunting calls for much shorter guns or polespears. Since divers are able to get much closer to the fish they hunt, no one really needs a long gun anyway, like you would in Florida. Because of this I’ve switched to some shorter Omer guns, though I often visit my Wong gun in the garage and promise to bring it back in the water soon.
Mmm…So far this has been my favorite part of hunting out here. Abalone are an area delicacy and have long brought underwater hunters from far and wide. They’re not exactly an evasive animal, since they just sit on the rock, but the challenge out here is to find the big ‘uns. In this area getting a 10-inch abalone is something of a right of passage.
I’d compare abalone somewhat to conch for you Easterners who, like me, may not have heard of them before. The important difference is that abalone is legal to hunt in CA, as long as divers follow the specific guidelines for doing so. Ceviche, sautéed or fried this catch is absolutely delicious and unique.
So while I miss my warm waters, I’m surprisingly content with the cold water diving where I live now. Everyone from the Pacific Northwest always used to tell me, “If you try the diving here you’ll love it,” but I never really believed that until now. But now that I do, I find myself telling that same thing to people who I’m sure won’t believe me until they come out here and try it too.