Get a full wetsuit that fits you – that means a hood, gloves, booties, and a full body suit. Mendocino County’s water is cold, even (especially) during the summer. Most people prefer a 4/3 wetsuit to keep you adequately warmed, while still allowing some mobility. You’ll want fins as well, and knowing how to use them will make your job a lot easier (at the Abalone Camp they’ll teach you how to use fins if you’ve never used them before). You’ll also need a snorkel, mask, abalone bar (to pry them off the rocks), abalone gauge (to measure the abalone and make sure it’s legal), a weight belt, and some sort of dive bag (you have to keep your abalone separate from those of other divers). Many dive shops will be able to fit you out with all the gear you need, and it is all included during the Abalone Camp.
You’ll want to dive in water that’s relatively deep – deeper than 15′ is a good rule of thumb. Although it might seem like diving in the shallows would be easier, in actuality the waves will be moving you around, making it difficult to remove abalone from the rocks (and if the waves get bigger they can pose a danger by throwing you against the rocks).
You’ll need to acquire some basic diving skills, either from attending the instructional portion of the Abalone Camp, or by taking lessons from your more-experienced friend who’s taking you out diving for abalone. Knowing how to clear your snorkel and breathe through it without sucking in water, how to clear your ears when diving, and how to safely navigate the water is crucial.
Once you’re out there – relax and have fun. One of the keys to a good dive is not rushing it. Take time to recover your oxygen each time you surface. Enjoy your time underwater while you scout out likely locations of big abalone. Maybe grab some urchins or rock crabs while you’re down there.
When you do find an abalone you’re confident is big enough, approach it calmly and carefully – there’s a reason we call it hunting abalone. Swirling the water around the abalone will scare it, and it will clamp down on to the rock, which may make it impossible to get it off. You’ll want to carefully and quickly slide your bar between the abalone and the rock, and pry it off – taking care not to slice into the flesh, in case it is undersized and you need to replace it. Swim back to the surface and measure it with your gauge. Remember: if it’s over 7″ in length you must keep it. If you accidentally pried off an undersized abalone (and please, please try to be certain of their size before prying them off!), immediately dive back down and replace it firmly on the rock where you found it.
You’ll probably find the biggest abalone hanging underneath large rocks, and in other out-of-the-way places. Remember, your maximum catch is only three abalone – so take your time really scouting out your dive location long before you pry anything off of the rocks. There’s no rush, and it’s peaceful down there. If you get lucky, maybe you’ll come up with a monster 10″ abalone before the day is over!