Abalone diving

By Bruce Ajari  ·



Wes Ajari diving for red abalone with cousins Todd and Brandon Ajari.  ·

At the end of June, my son and I went camping on the North Coast for our second annual camping trip with my nephew and his family. While I do not dive any longer, I took my son last year so that he could dive with his cousin, who is a great diver. My nephew grew up in Kaui and did a lot of diving in the ocean, as well as regularly diving the North Coast.

These North Coast trips were to learn how to dive for abalone. On the North Coast, red abalone (Haliotis rufescens) is the primary target of abalone enthusiasts. While there are seven species of abalone in California, only the red abalone may be harvested by sport divers. Red abalone is a mollusk that attaches to rocks in the intertidal region to depths of 80 feet. There is no commercial harvest allowed and recreational take is prohibited south of a line drawn due west from the center of the mouth of San Francisco Bay.

Declines have occurred in these remaining stocks of red abalone on the North Coast. The decline is thought to be due to overharvest by sea otters and divers. Other causes are mortality of juvenile stocks, competition from other species such as sea urchins, and loss of habitat. While diving with scuba gear is prohibited, free diving with mask fins and snorkel is permitted.

Because abalone is considered a delicacy, a Black Market exists for them and it is a highly profitable venture for poachers.

While the Department of Fish and Wildlife wardens do large-scale enforcement operations from time to time, more wardens are necessary to police such a vast area as the North Coast. Over limits of more than 30 or more abalone are not uncommon. Abalone is extremely slow growing and such overharvest may seriously impact existing stocks.

The current harvest limits are three abalone per day and three in possession with a maximum of 18 per season allowed, of which only nine may be harvested south of Mendocino County. The Fort Ross Area is closed to all abalone harvest. Abalone may only be harvested in the months from April to June and August to November.

Shore picking during low minus tides used to be a great way to harvest abalone for non-diving anglers. However, the decline in numbers has made this once productive method almost non-existent. The most consistent means of harvest is achieved by diving.

A shore picker or diver may begin taking abalone at 8 a.m. until a half an hour after sunset. They must possess a valid California Sport fishing license and an Abalone Report Card for anglers older than 16 years of age. Anglers younger than 16 years of age still are required to have an Abalone Report Card.

Once a legal abalone is harvested, it must be tagged immediately after the angler exits the water. The angler will fill out the date, time and location that the abalone was taken, detach the tag and then attach it to the abalone with a zip tie. At the end of the season, all Abalone Report cards must be returned to the Department of Fish and Wildlife by Jan. 31.

FISHING REPORT  (See Sightseeing for water levels.)

Boca | Inflow is at 88 cfs and the outflow is 274 cfs. Try powerbait or nightcrawlers. Throwing lures from shore has been working. Fly fishers have been catching some fish near the inlet, mostly nymphing and with streamers.

Donner Lake | Fishing has been good. Nightcrawlers and Powerbait seem to be the bait of choice. Mackinaw and Kokanee fishing has been fair. Fly fishermen are catching some fish with streamers.

Lake Tahoe | The Lake within 300 feet of a tributary is closed. Tributaries are open until Sept. 30.) Fishing has been fair to good for mackinaw. A guide is highly recommended if you are fishing for mackinaw for the first time. Toplining and shore fishing is fair. Most shore fishermen use inflated nightcrawlers.

Little Truckee River | The flow is at 88 cfs. Fishing has been fair to good. Keep an eye on the flows here. Try a dry dropper rig here. PMD’s have been the top producer of late.

Martis Lake | Zero kill. Catch and Release only with barbless artificial lures or flies. Some small cutthroats and an occasional large brown or rainbow can still be caught here. Smallmouth bass have been introduced in this water. It is probably too warm for fishing now. Wait until fall.

Prosser | The lake is fishing fair to good. Powerbait and nightcrawlers are the best bait. Lure and fly fishermen are taking some fish from shore and near the inlets. Smallmouth Bass fishing is fair to good.

Stampede | Stampede continues to drop. Fishing has been fair to good from shore. Kokanee fishing has been good. Mackinaw fishing has been good. Smallmouth bass fishing is fair to good.

Truckee River | The flow through Truckee is at 231 cfs as of June 29. Fishing seems to be fluctuating like the flows in the river. It can be good or fair; it is all a matter of location. Fish have been caught on nymphs, emergers, dries and streamers. The water flows seem to be fluctuating a bit and staying on the high side. The water is still a little higher than I like for dry fly fishing. Caddisflies, PMD and Little Yellow Stones are the main attractions. Your best bet is to nymph or streamer fish at these flows unless you see an active surface feeding fish.

Other Waters | Davis and Frenchman have been fair to good. The damsel hatch is in full swing now. Fish are being caught on blood midge patterns and Callibaetis imitations. Streamers fished deep can be productive.


Bruce is a long-time area fly fisherman and past president of Tahoe Truckee Fly Fishers.