Lobster Hoop Netting
October 3rd marks the start of another California lobster season. It’s a long season, almost six months long, and I’m looking forward to a good season 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.
Just 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 lobsters 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.
Know The Regulations
Now that we’ve got the bait covered, you really need to be aware of the lobster regulations so you don’t get yourself in a pinch. There has been a lot of confusion about them, so to help clarify them I’ve included a copy of the new regulations and a simple explanation of them.
Regulations can change from year to year, and the laws on lobster hoop-netting are likely to change again, so be sure to read the current regulations before you set out hooping.
Regulations governing the sport take of spiny lobster have helped to preserve the tradition of lobster diving and hoop netting in Southern California. The 2015-16 spiny lobster season regulations include:
- All persons age 16 or older who are taking or attempting to take lobster must possess a valid sport fishing license, ocean enhancement stamp and a lobster report card in order to take lobster south of Point Arguello. Children who are under 16 and fishing for lobster do not need a license, but must possess a lobster report card.
- The daily bag and possession limit is seven lobsters.
- Spiny lobster taken must measure at least 3 1/4 inches in length, and are measured in a straight line on the mid-line of the back from the rear edge of the eye socket to the rear edge of the body shell (carapace).
- Any lobster may be brought to the surface for the purpose of measuring, but undersized lobsters may not be held in a game bag or brought aboard a boat and must be immediately released.
- Harvesters may use hoop nets or bare (gloved) hands when skin or scuba diving for lobster. No appliance (such as fish spears or poles) may be used to assist.
- No more than five hoop nets may be possessed by a person when taking spiny lobster or crab (or two hoop nets on piers, jetties and other shore-based structures). No more than 10 hoop nets may be possessed aboard a vessel, regardless of how many fishermen or persons are onboard.
The major change from previous years regulations is the removal of the word baited from the number of nets allowed. No longer will you be able to bring extra un-baited nets along on those overnight island trips, and you had better think twice about picking up that abandoned float and net and then being technically over limit on your hooping gear.
The regulation now allows five nets per person or 10 nets maximum on the boat or yak. The other big change is the new two-hour time limit on unchecked or abandoned nets. How this time limit will be enforced is yet to be seen, although I know my local Redondo Harbor Patrol likes hoopers along the break-wall to be in visual attendance of their nets, and will confiscate unattended nets.
Jim Salazar is one of the most respected lobster fishermen in Southern California. He literally wrote the book on hoop-netting, and some of this article was excerpted from “Hoopin’ It Up: A Guide to Lobster and Crab Hoop Netting,” which he recently updated with all of the new California regulations.
If you want to learn more of Jim’s tricks, including the best rigging techniques and bait preparations, make sure to pick up a copy of his book. It’s a quick read and gives you the no-nonsense information you need to catch more lobster. You can find it in all of the major tackle shops in Southern California, or pick it up online at www.sabaslayer.com/html/book.html.