Blake Island Reef

Date Reviewed:January 2003
Location:South Blake Island
Access:Boat Dive
Site Description:Artificial Reef
Main Attraction:Good NW Marine life representation

When I was a kid, my brother and I used to spend many a summer weekend at Blake Island with our parents in our small cabin cruiser. Two adults, two kids, and a dog or two all piled into a 21 foot Reinell for up to two weeks at a time. Although some might describe this as a living hell, to us it was heaven! I vividly remember anchoring on the Blake Island State Park buoys on the well-protected west side of the island. The buoys were located in about 15 feet of water at low tide. When vis was good and the sun was out, we could see Rock Sole patrolling the sandy bottom. Being an avid ten year old fisherman back then, I used to get extremely frustrate trying to catch these fish. I was convinced they were one of the smartest creatures on the Earth as they were able to defeat a cunning angler (namely me) and a razor sharp fish hook time after time, right before my eyes. I would drop a piece of herring down in front of a Rock Sole with a salmon hook. The Rock Sole would approach the hook and voila! The herring chunk was magically removed from the hook. Sometimes I had as many as four Rock Soles gathered around by hook taking turns picking it clean. I was convinced these fish should be working in Vegas with their death-defying act. I did not seem to take long for the sly Rock Soles to pick my brother and I clean of all our bait. If you see some old, large Rock Sole around Blake Island that look well fed, you know who is responsible.

However, I later learned that I was giving the highly intelligent Rock Sole more credit than it had earned. Next time you see a Rock Sole, note how small its mouth is. The poor fish could even begin to swallow the large salmon hook we used. Well, enough reminiscing about the good old days when SPF4 was considered heavy duty sun tan lotion.

If for no other reason, my childhood memories have drawn me back to Blake Island to dive to see what things looked like under the waves in these parts (and see how big the Rock Sole's are). As the dive site here is an artificial reef that rests in some current intensive waters, I have only tried to dive this site once before. On that cold, wet, windy spring day, we tried to dive this site at slack before flood. The adjustment for slack at this site on a slack before flood is huge - almost 3 hours. Anyway, we got to the site, anchored up, and waited for the water rushing past the boat to stop. However, it did no such thing - in didn't stop, change direction, or even slow down. OK - to heck with this, it's on to Blakely Harbor.

In talking with Alan Gill one day (charter operator for Spirit Diver and all around good guy), he mentioned that slack before ebb was the best time to dive Blake Island Reef. So, on another cold but not so windy winter day, three of us piled into my friend's bright red 14' Zodiac to try it again. As we approached the site, we notice that Alan had re-established a beefy red marker buoy here. We tied up to buoy after paying homage to Alan for setting it, and watched the water. Expecting a torrid current, we were elated to find almost none! Time to gear up!

Dive Site Profile: At the time of this review, the reef marker buoy is located in about 55 fsw. Alan has had trouble with people removing the buoy (I guess it takes all types in this world, but I am still convinced that there are some types we can all do without), the anchor is now secured with a very hefty chain.

This buoy marks the middle of another of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife artificial reefs, which means that the State has decided to dump tons of old concrete building materials into the water at this location in hopes of providing marine habitat for rockfish and other sought after sport fish. Like the other similar reef systems in the area, the debris is scattered over a fairly large area, and appears to be the remnants of some old bridge. There are some huge concrete bunkers, blocks, beams, and decking strewn about the area. The debris field - err, reef - extends from about 40 fsw down to about 80 fsw. Although not as expansive as KVI Tower or Gedney Island Reef, there is certainly plenty to explore. As with most of these reefs, they entanglement of debris has performed it's job well, providing some good shelter for a multitude of marine critters.

Around the perimeter of the reef, the substrate gives way to the typical Puget Sound sand. As you might guess, we pretty much spent our entire dive on the reef, as we can see sand anytime.

Marine Life: The marine life at Blake Island Reef is very stereotypical of other artificial reefs. The major players are Quillback, Copper, and Brown Rockfish, Lingcod, an occasional Cabezon, Painted Greenlings, and schools of Striped Seaperch and Pile Perch. I also found quite a few Kelp Perch at this site, along with gunnels and small sculpins in most hiding anywhere they could wiggle into. However, the fish that impressed me the most at this site were the Red Irish Lords - dozens if not hundreds of them! They were often clumped together in groups of four or more. Maybe they were just having a convention here this weekend. Regardless, I have not seen so many Red Irish Lords at one site before. They seemed to come in almost every size, and every shade of red, brown, and purple imaginable. And I left my camera behind on this dive!

Although I found the variety of species associated with this site fairly common, I was somewhat impressed with a number of different nudibranchs that I found. Although not as diverse as Gedney Island Reef, I did find white Nanaimo Dorids highlighted with rust colored rhinophores and gill plumes, bring yellow Monterey Dorids, always striking White Lined Dironas, brilliant yellow Anisodoris nobilis (Sea Lemons), and even a snow white California Berthella, which I do not find very often.

Around the outskirts of the reef where the concrete structure ends, the silty substrate is frequented by the occasional lone Ratfish, patrolling Sunflower Stars, and a few other common invertebrates.

Like most artificial reef dive sites, you often have to look carefully and poke around with a good light to see all the majority of what the reef has to offer. Cruising the reef from 10 feet above definitely provides a unique perspective, but also fails to reveal many of the treasures that the reef holds. To me it is much more relaxing to slowly pick my way through the reef, taking time to stop and appreciate the little things. On this particular dive, I was mulling around the anchor chain and noted a beautiful Heart Crab tucked under a ledge where the chain was attached to a concrete block. This very relaxed approach to diving has also decreases my air consumption by about 33%.

Getting Here: This is definitely a boat dive. The reef is 100-200 yards off the south end of Blake Island. Blake Island is a relatively small island located between Bainbridge and Vashon Islands, about 7 miles southwest of Seattle. The entire island is a State Park, complete with docks and a breakwater on the northeast side. Picnic facilities are available on different parts of the island, and hiking trails circumnavigate the island. Native Americans also host "Tillicum Village" - a wooden long house that caters to tourists with salmon dinners and tribal dancing. Blake Island is only accessible by boat or seaplane.

If someone hasn't swiped it again, Alan's red marker buoy will lead you right to the reef. If someone has swiped the buoy, you can find the reef with a depth sounder just to the east of the two State Park mooring buoy on the southern portion of the island in 40 to 80 feet of water.

Hazards: Like other fishing reefs, fishermen, monofilament fish line, stainless downrigger cable, and hooks from snagged lures are always of concern. In addition, this site does require an anchor line descent and a possible free ascent from 50 fsw or more. However, the biggest gotcha I have with this site is the current potential. There can be some serious water movement by this part of Blake Island. I have had friends dive this site at other times, but the advice given to me was it is far better to dive here on slack before ebb. The day I did this dive for this review, the flooding current was 1.0 knot, and the ebbing current 2.6 knots (Admiralty Inlet). We entered the water about 80 minutes before slack at Admiralty Inlet, had a 66 minute dive, and experienced almost no current the entire dive. At the end of the dive, there was just a hint of surface current running to the east - a much different scenario than when we tried to dive here the first time.

This is a nice dive, and in my opinion definitely worth seeing - especially if the Red Irish Lords are holding another convention. However, I don't think I would target this site as my primary dive objective on a regular basis. Although it is a descent site, some of the sites around Bainbridge, Vashon, Whidbey, and Point Defiance are much more spectacular.

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