By: Parimal M. Rohit
Lobster lovers rejoice! The end of September is near and that means it is time for lobster season. Harbors, piers, beaches, and the sea will be rather busy Sept. 27, the first official day of lobster season, with recreational and professional hunters alike. While most professional lobster hunters are probably experienced enough to know what they are doing, odds are there will also relatively inexperienced seekers of the spiny bug come the end of this month.
For both the savvy veteran and wet-behind-the-ears novice, here are some pointers to keep in mind when heading out onto the pier or into the water in search of lobster.
Since lobsters are nocturnal, they spend much of the daytime hiding in kelp or other areas where cover is easy. Lobsters are also social, so odds are if you find one, you will probably come across several nearby.
If you are a novice diver, it is best to go with someone who has experience in capturing lobster. According to several sources, lobsters do a good job of hiding in holes or quickly escaping the grasp of humans if seen in the open. It takes a certain amount of patience to wait for a lobster to become visible enough to catch. Once visible, the hunter needs to be nimble and quick to actually catch and hold onto the lobster.
Anyone who prefers to stay above water is best served using a hoop net to catch lobsters.
According to Jeff Barnicki, who regularly hunts for lobsters both as a diver and hoop netter, those who use hoop nets have greater access to more restricted areas where divers might not be able to approach, such as Long Beach Harbor.
As for ideal places to look for lobsters, large populations of the spiny bugs are normally found in the South Bay region, including Long Beach Harbor, Palos Verdes Peninsula, and the Redondo breakwater.
The Redondo breakwater and Long Beach Harbor are ideal for hoop netting. Boats are also ideal for hoop netting. However, if you are on a shore, hoop netting is not recommended.
There is a lot of kelp and lobster-friendly sea life near Malaga Cove just off the Palos Verdes Peninsula. An area at Malaga Cove known as “The Nursery” is considered a prime spot to hunt for lobster. Located at the northwestern-most point of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Malaga Cove is relatively accessible by just about anyone in shape. Accordingly, if a lot of recreational lobster hunters show up at Malaga Cove, odds are any lobsters in the immediate vicinity either be captured or driven away pretty quickly.
Elsewhere, several locations off Catalina Island are ripe with lobsters, as are the Channel Islands and the Marina del Rey breakwater.
With any location between Santa Barbara County and the California-Mexico border, be sure to check with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife about restricted areas where capturing lobsters or other wildlife is prohibited.
During the beginning of season, lobsters are generally found in shallow waters, within depths of 30 to 40 feet. However, as rain storms occur in the Pacific Ocean or in the Southern California region, lobsters tend to head into deeper waters in order to avoid being caught in heavier currents and stronger waves at the beaches.
Accordingly, it is not uncommon to have to head out into portions of the Pacific Ocean where the depths are 60 to 100 feet in order to find lobsters.
Barnicki told FishRap that divers really should use a boat or hire a charter, since the shore often gets “picked clean” by the larger numbers of people who stay along the coast or at harbors and piers.
This year, Barnicki believes the recent swells — courtesy of Hurricane Marie and Hurricane Nester — mean lobsters will be deeper at sea at the start of the season.
For those who would prefer to be at a pier or harbor, hoop netting is the way to go. According to state law, hoop netters must specifically use a net, as lobster traps are illegal for recreational lobster hunters.
In a conversation Barnicki had with FishRap he suggested anything smelly is good for bait. The smelly bait should be placed in a jar and closed shut by a lid with poked holes (allowing a lobster to smell the bait). This jar should be placed in the designated area within the hoop net.
Once the hoop net – with bait – is placed into the water, the waiting game begins. Ideally, the hoop net is as far under water as possible and on the sea or harbor floor. A lobster should be able to walk through the hoop entrance and toward the bait inside the net.
When a lobster walks into a hoop net, hope it stays inside. Hoop netters should bring the net to shore and hope any lobster that might have walked into it actually stayed inside. Sometimes the lobster will walk out before a hoop net is fully taken out, but sometimes you might also end up with something else inside, like an octopus or crab.
Ultimately, lobster hunting is all about patience. Just remember, it is better to search for lobsters at night instead of during the day. However, if you are “lobstering” during daylight, be sure to search for lobsters in crevices, reef caverns, sponge flats, or anything resembling a hole or hiding area. You will rarely, if ever, see a whole lobster in the open during the day since it is hiding from predators (including us humans). Yet, since California lobsters have long antennae, it is best to look for a pair of dark wires sticking out of a crevice or reef cavern or sponge flat.