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California Bugging Basics

Well, we’re about three weeks into the 2012 California spiny lobster season, and by all accounts it’s been a good one so far. Since I wrote my pre-season lobster primer article called Hoop-Netting California Lobster, I’ve kept thinking about more details that were left out. So, here are some additional thoughts on how to improve your bugging success over the 2012-2013 season.

RIGGING YOUR NETS

My friend and I were working one of the crowded breakwalls recently, when he mentioned something about the different ways people rig their lines and marker buoys. One set of buoys had long spars sticking straight up, topped with flashing strobe lights — complicated, but highly visible.

Others had plastic milk jugs attached next to the buoys with light sticks inside. I’ve tried this, but found that wave action often hides these “lanterns” from passing boats because they’re sitting low in the water.

Others inserted light sticks into the floats themselves, but the floats flopped over on their sides and weren’t visible until you get right on top of them.

And there are always those who have no lighting on their buoys — figuring that some reflective tape is enough to help other boats avoid their gear. This isn’t a good idea, especially when fishing popular areas like jetties, breakwalls and bays.

Remember, other boaters are looking for their buoys, not yours.

Through trial and error we’ve learned to keep rigging simple. I like to have ropes rigged up that are at least 10 feet longer than the depth I’m fishing. With the line passed through the buoy and the tag end weighted, the float will settle over the net and the tag end will sink away, instead of floating on the surface where it could tangle a propeller. In strong currents, the buoy will move to the end of the tag end stopper (I use a large clip as a stopper, because it allows me to attach the tag end to the net frame for transport).

Based on the areas I fish most, I set up lines in 40-foot lengths with loops at each end. By taking extra extension lines with me and attaching new sections of line as needed using small, stainless steel clips (available at hardware stores), I’m able to quickly switch my nets over from 40 to 80 to 120 feet if I’m changing locations. It takes only seconds to re-rig each net. Later in the season, if I’m fishing all deep spots, I’ll change all the lines to a single set length.

As for buoy visibility, again, we take the simple approach. A small sinker inserted into the bottom of the float (you’ll have to drill a small hole) keeps it floating properly, while a chemical or LED light stick inserted into the top is easy to see because it always rides straight up.

We also put reflective numbers and letters on each buoy — on both sides as well as the flat end of the float. By numbering the buoys “R2” or “S4,” we’re able to tell our gear apart. It also helps us pull them in the proper order, even when we move them around. The highly reflective numbers/letters (again, available at hardware stores) let you see which nets are which from 100 feet away with a simple flashlight.

REFINE YOUR GEAR

There have been some new developments in bugging gear that make the job of tempting lobsters into your net easier. Promar, makers of the popular Ambush nets, have introduced hard plastic Bait Tubes.

Sealions have become a nuisance to many hoop-netters, and once a local population gets accustomed to robbing bait out of nets, they can make a fisherman’s life miserable.

These tubes, which retail for $18.99, protect your bait from a sealion attack while allowing scent to filter out and attract California spiny lobsters. The bait tubes score high points for convenience, as well. They can be loaded in advance and clipped into the Ambush net’s bottom ring for quick deployment.

Promar has also introduced a new line of waterproof LED lightsticks that operate on widely available button batteries. These can be used over and over and at a retail price of $5.49, will save money over throwaway chemical sticks over time. They’re available in blue or white. I’ve used them several times this season and they’re nice and bright, work in continuous or strobe mode, and have a “glow in the dark” feature that illuminates the stick if the LED runs out of juice.

To check out these items go to www.promarnets.com.

GET OUT EARLY

Getting out on the water well before sunset gives you two important advantages. One, it gives you an opportunity to get on your spot before the crowds arrive. More importantly, you’ll be in position to take advantage of the early crawl.

Lobsters go on the move at different times during the night, but you can usually count on an active crawl just as the sky becomes totally dark. You should have your nets baited and deployed a good 30 minutes before this time so your scent trail is well established.

NET PLACEMENT

Imagine your nets working like a chum slick. Whether you’re hooping a visible breakwall or a deep rocky reef, you want to position your nets so the prevailing conditions carry the scent to the lobsters’ front door.

Sometimes, the movement of swells and/or wind and waves will carry the scent of your bait. On calmer nights, it might be a subtle current pulling towards the rocks. You can see the effect of the current by watching the lines and floats attached to your hoops.

Sometimes, you really can’t tell what subsurface currents might be doing.If we’re fishing a deep wreck and certain nets start scoring, we’ll often move our gear around to take advantage of these conditions. Over the course of a night, we might move them several times as conditions change.

STAY SAFE

Hoop net long enough, and you’ll find yourself in some sticky situations, no matter how hard you try to be careful. I’ve had to quickly remove a hoop-net line from an outboard motor just outside the waves pounding on a jetty, and I’ve watched a friend dive into 55-degree water to cut a line from his boat’s running gear (fortunately, in open water).

Based on these lessons, we now take added safety measures. We always have the anchor out and ready to deploy when bugging near shore. Every crewmember is told in advance how to get the anchor down quickly and instructed that this is the first order of business as soon as an entanglement is detected.

There are also several items we don’t leave the dock without, including a Gage Deck Knife and a good waterproof LED flashlight. The Gage Deck Knife from Grundens USA is ultra-sharp and cuts through lines like butter. Its unique magnetic sheath lets you wear the knife on your bib straps with the handle pointed down for “quick-draw” performance in an emergency BD link (www.grundens.com). And after a few near-slips overboard from a dark, slimy, pitching deck, now our designated puller always dons a Mustang self-inflating PFD as well.

The best way to catch some California lobster is to get out there and start bugging. I hope these tips help you put a few more bugs in your nets.

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Ron Ballanti is a lifelong California angler and has been writing about fishing for decades. His articles and photos have appeared in some of the most respected fishing magazines out there, including Sport Fishing, Pacific Coast Sportfishing and Saltwater Sportsman.