Ever since I found out my company was hosting our semi annual meeting in San Diego, I had started tapping into the spearfishing community network to see how I could turn this trip into my first exposure to Southern California spearfishing. First of all, I want to say that this one day adventure is a testament to the spearfishing community because everyone that helped out did it solely for the love of the sport. After reaching out to Julie Riffe through a friend at Austin's Dive Center here in Miami, she responded with a contact in San Diego that could help me. She recommended I reach out to Damien Salerno, owner and operator of the James & Joseph Ships Chandlery and Spearfishing shop in San Diego.
After getting in touch with Damien back in April, I kept corresponding with him trying to make sure I was setup for the famous spearfishing in SoCal. Based on his recommendations, I was pretty much good to go. So September rolls around and I ship out part of my gear and take my guns along with me in my Armor bag as luggage. The CFO of our company had recently gotten into pole spearing and slinging so he asked if he could tag along. Of course I told him he was more than welcome. Although we had not gone diving together before, I was wondering how the scenario would have worked out if only Damien and myself had gone so I was glad to have him along. He subsequently ordered himself a brand new 55" Wong speargun that he brought along for his first spearfishing dive. Considering we were going blue water and he had never been spearfishing before, he was quite literally jumping into the deep end of the pool.
Our meeting finishes on Thursday, September 30 and the butterflies in my stomach started very soon afterward. I was pretty stoked about the whole event. That evening, we head over to James & Joseph to meet with Damien for the first time. We browsed through the store as he helped customers until he could speak with us. Once we were able to talk about the next day, we set the time table, exchanged numbers and addresses and a short while later we were on our way back to our hotel (very excitedly).
When I had a chance to think about it, I was concerned about quite a few things. Would I have my sea legs for this Pacific swell? Would my rookie dive partner be ok? Would I be ready for the type of fish we might be running into? Would we find the fish? Who knew? But I was getting wet one way or another!
The next morning we meet up at the boat after buying our California and Mexico fishing licenses (since we would actually be heading down into Mexican waters (see the waypoint map below). We headed out before dawn after picking up a half scoop of live bait to hopefully entice the fish closer to the surface. Damien was the perfect guide. As we headed out, he was constantly on the lookout for interesting sights and would slow down or stop so us tourists could get shots of everything from whales to a pod of dolphins speeding along side of the boat. He had expressed some concern about finding fish since the summer had been less than bountiful, but I told him that it was all new to me so, no worries.
Once we were in the area he wanted to check out, he started listening to the radio to "chase radio fish" as he put it. After listening for a short while he put out a request to see if anyone had seen any paddies that we could jump in on. He got a response from a fisherman who said that they had been working one and landed some fish but they had lockjawed and weren't biting anymore so he gave us the numbers and off we went. After getting to the spot in question, we found the kelp paddy and geared up for our first dive. The seas had picked up somewhat since our departure from San Diego and Damien had to point us in the direction of the paddy since we couldn't actually see it from the water until we were within 50 feet of it.
It was an impressive sight to me at first glance. I'm fairly used to seeing the weed lines we see in South Florida when we go offshore and while those are very large, the amount of structure that the paddy had was impressive. It was so thick near the surface that it almost looked like you could stand on it. Our first dive on our first paddy yielded only one fish which unfortunately got off when my slip tip didn't deploy (although we did get some great video of the shot). Needless to say, I immediately swapped out the slip tip for the dependable flopper and off we went again in search of more paddies.
In search of our first paddy we had actually ventured as far South as we were going, so in making way to another area that had slightly warmer temperatures and hopefully more fish, we ended up within sight of the Coronado Islands. The Coronados are an awesome sight even at the distance we were from them. The northernmost island appears to be a giant rock precipice with steep cliffs surrounding the island almost completely. The area in between the islands is referred to as the middle grounds (obviously not the same as the Gulf of Mexico Middle Grounds we're familiar with in Florida). Unfortunately for us, we ran out of time else we might have been able to explore the reefs around the islands and do some SoCal reef spearfishing as well (maybe next trip!).
As we headed back home, we ran into a giant pod of dolphins that were running along the surface for a very long time. We actually moved the boat closer to them and were able to get some shots of the dolphins swimming along side the boat as well as some free jumping in the distance. I've seen large pods of Bottlenose dolphin here at home, but this pod was at least twice the size of the largest one I've ever seen and was made up of dolphins that are considerably smaller than Bottlenose so there must have been hundreds of them!
Once we got back and refueled the boat, it was time to head out beyond the breakwater and clean our fish. Luckily I've done it once or twice before and was able to dispatch the cleaning duties relatively quickly, even though it was considerably more difficult cleaning the larger fish on a boat that was getting rocked by the swell and passers by. Either way, we made it back to the marina where we found out it is illegal for a restaurant to prepare fish brought in by consumers. So we ended up giving Damien all of the fish, which he hopefully enjoyed.