california lobster hoop netting

Lobster Hoop Netting

October 1st marks the start of another California lobster season. It's a long season, almost six months long, and I'm looking forward to a better season this year. The water was cold last year and the lobsters didn't molt as often as usual so they didn't grow that additional 15 percent. Hopefully we get better water conditions and bigger lobster this year.

When getting ready to go out hoop netting for lobster, one of the most important things to consider is your bait. At my lobster seminars, the most common question I get asked is what is my favorite type of bait to use.

lobster hoop nettingJust about any fishy bait will work to attract the “Cockroaches Del Mar,” but red baits are the best baits. When the bugs are on the crawl and hungry, they will devour anything that doesn't move fast enough to get away. They are scavengers and opportunistic feeders, but remember, lobsters have a very sophisticated sense of smell. The lobster uses its antennules to “sniff” through the water column.

The more chum or scent in the water, the more likely a lobster will be drawn out of its hole and come looking for a free dinner. The whole object of this wintertime sport is to get the lobsters in the hoop net and eating so intently that they will have to be pried leg by leg off the bait once you get the net up and into the boat. If you need to pry them off your nets, try to do this carefully so these precious bugs aren't damaged. Legs and antennae break off easily and this slows down the animal's growth when it happens.

You will catch more lobsters if you have an oily type of fish in your bait cage or bait pocket — baits such as skipjack, bonito and the other tunas, salmon heads and parts, sardines, anchovies, and the lowly mackerel/saba.

When you drop a hoop net in the water with one, or any combination of these baits, an oil slick immediately forms and starts sending that odorous chum down current to attract a family of lobster hoop nettinglobsters for a meal. The first drop always has a lot of chumming ability, but after you have pulled the net up the first or second time, you might want to freshen up the bait/chum by adding some new bait or switching out the bait cage for a fresh one.

Many guys debate over which is best — fresh bait or “ripened” bait. I prefer fresh bait and I think it usually outperforms old or ripe bait. I just don't see ripe bait putting out as big of an oil slick as a fresh, bloody bonito or skipjack, and I know that if I were looking for something to eat, I'd rather it was fresh!

In the classic 1960's book “About Lobster” by T. M. Pruden, he says, “Lobsters will not touch putrid food. Lobstermen agree that fresh bait fishes best, and they would use it wholly if they could get it, but some think there are times when riper bait is actually better. They know that lobsters are more fastidious than crabs, which will eat anything even if it is rotten.”

Mackerel is probably the most common lobster bait used in Southern California. It is virtually free and available most of the season. When the opportunity is there, make all the bait your freezer can handle. Mackerel tend to migrate out of our local waters and disappear when the water cools off in the late winter, so get it while you can. Some fish wholesalers have 50-pound blocks of frozen macks available all year long. If you don't have a large-enough freezer to accommodate this amount of bait, try splitting it with another hooper.

Using a sabiki or Lucky Joe multiple hook rig is the best way to collect a bucket of macks in short order. I like cutting the sabiki rigs from six hooks down to four. It makes it a lot easier to reel them in and the mackerel don't tangle the four-hook set ups as often as the longer six-hook rigs.