In’s N Out’s of Lobster Hooping.

It’s that time of year again when summer begins to fade, and Fall is upon us.  It’s getting a little cooler outside, and it’s time for lobster season!  Before you go lobster hooping, ]  Let’s talk gear, rigging, and even regulations.  Let’s get started!

Regulations

It’s important that you know that lobsters are highly regulated.  Conservation of lobster is huge in California.  The Game Wardens are out and enforcing the rules.  It is your responsibility as an angler to know the regulations.  We’ll go over some basic ones here.

First, when hooping for lobster you need a lobster card.  This can be purchased at your local tackle shop or on the Department of Fish and Game website

Some key items that often get overlooked that you should be aware of:

  • Other than on a pier, every angler 16 years and older needs a California fishing license and a lobster card. 
  • Every angler participating in lobster hooping needs a gauge.  Everyone!
  • No more than 10 nets on a boat and if you’re hooping by yourself, in a kayak or a skiff, no more than 5 hoop nets. 
  • The angler’s GO ID must be on the buoy that the angler is pulling.  Only the angler with that Go ID may pull that buoy. 
  • Before hitting the water, lobster cards need to be filled out with the date, gear code, and location.  I tell people in my seminars to have a game plan to know exactly where you’re going, the area that you’re hooping, so that you can put your location on the dock. 
  • When lobster hooping, I like to ask people in my seminars what the most important tool is.  I get answers ranging from gauge, to bait, to hoop net, but the correct answer is simply a pen.  Yes, a pen, without a pen, you can do nothing when it comes to lobster hooping. 
  • Another important regulation is, when taking lobster from a certain area those lobsters need to be documented on your lobster card before moving out of the area.  Let me give you an example,

if I am hooping the Long Beach break-wall and I want to move over to San Pedro, I need to document the lobster I have taken from the Long Beach break-wall before putting my boat into gear

By picking up my nets and moving to a different location without doing this, you are in violation and could get a ticket. 

  • When it comes to soak times, know the two-hour rule.  After two hours of soaking, the net is determined, abandoned and could be up for grabs most likely by Harbor Patrol, Fish and Game or the Navy. 
EVERYONE on board should have their own gauge.

These are just a few regulations to get you started.  The regulations state, that anyone participating in lobster hooping (that could be holding a flashlight, driving the boat, or even just handing you a lobster gauge) needs a lobster card.  All this is considered in the Game Warden’s eyes as participating in the taking of lobster and would be considered a violation. 

Gear   

When it comes to gear, I like to keep things basic.  I would consider myself mostly a shallow water hooper.  Anything from 35-80 feet.  I’m a big fan of the Promar Ambush nets.  We have them in a 32”, a 36”, and a 36” XL (these net weighs 14 pounds and is perfect for heavy currents and those deep soaks at Catalina).  If you visit our website, www.Promarnets.com,  you’ll see many resources including instructional videos.  One of those videos is ‘Lobster 101’.  In this video, you’ll see me talk about an extension cord winder setup.  This is the perfect setup for me and contains all 75 feet of the rope and the buoy in one unit.  It also acts as a cleat to wind up or let out line to adjust for tide movements. 

Gilbert Hernandez is one of the best when it comes to Lobster Hooping, here he goes over a myriad of dos and don’ts for a successful trip.

Another accessory that is essential is the bait cage.  When it comes to bait cages, at Promar, we have a couple of different bait cages we like to push.  One is a wire bait cage that comes in a rigging kit.  The other is our seal/ sea lion bait cage, this is the most popular bait cage among our customers.  As it keeps the seals, sea lions, and other critters away from your bait.  it also helps preserve your bait. 

Next, we’ll talk about light sticks on your buoys.  At Promar, we have two types of light sticks, a chemical light stick, and a battery-operated light stick.  I prefer the battery-operated light stick as it gives me a few different settings like flash or solid.  This helps me be organized when pulling my lobster pots. 

Tools of the trade, fresh bait is key.

Rigging

When it comes to rigging, I always buy the Ambush net, 75 feet of rope, and a big lobster float. My favorite is the Promar Buoy White Float 5”.  I like this float because it gives me a blank canvas to personalize my lobster floats and make them my own, different from everyone else’s.  I also use reflective numbers on my buoys, the bigger the better.  You want to get to a point where even if your lightstick when out, you would be able to find your buoy with just a flashlight.  And remember again, don’t forget to put your Go ID on your buoys. It wouldn’t hurt to put your name and phone number on those buoys as well, just in case you lose some. 

One more note about buoys, the buoy out of the factory, is not counterbalanced for a light stick.  As you drill a hole into the buoy for a light stick, it’s going to want to roll over.  You need to put the buoy in a tub of water, drill a hole in the back and center and fill it with a lead egg sinker to counterbalance the buoy so the lightstick sits vertically.  When it comes to the rope, before I put my rope on an extension cord winder, I lay it out on my driveway and mark 5 feet increments with a zip tie.  I do this so that when I am in my kayak or on my boat deck, I can unwind the proper depth on my deck or my kayak.  At the end of my rope, before attaching to the hoop net I tie a figure 8 knot at the end of my rope and add a stainless-steel quick link, rated for 900-1000 lbs.  This is a great organization tool that keeps the hoop nets separated from your buoys for the night. 

Bait

In all the seminars I do, everyone is always concerned about bait.  What’s the best bait?  Stink or non-stinky bait?  Cat food, chicken thighs?  I also get questions from the guy that leaves his bait in the backyard for two days to get that extra stench.  It amazes me the lengths that people go through to make sure their bait is perfect for lobster season.  In all my years lobstering I will tell you what has worked for me.  Here it is salmon heads, sardines, and mackerel.  Most importantly, your bait needs to be fresh!  I would say, the fresher the better!  Over the years I have had many anglers disagree with me on this, but I seem to do just fine come lobster season. 

One more thing, the last couple of years, I have been playing around with fish scents.  I have found that the ‘BiteOn’ lobster scent works great for me.  Whether you buy the pre-scented cloth or the sprays, it all helps to get those extra bugs in your hoop net and gives your bait a little more life. 

And lastly, always make sure you have fresh bait on you.  If your bait is left soaking too long, it can lose its flavor, and then those lobsters lose interest, so always come prepared with extra bait. 

Pulling and Measuring

When it comes to dropping my hoop nets, I like to drop around structures.  I always say a lobster is like a Calico bass.  For them to survive, they need food, structure, and current.  These three things are going to make you successful when looking for lobster.   So, a depth finder or fish finder is key to a good night.  I never drop my net on top of a peak, or a rocky structure, I always try to find the valley or the dip in the structure.  In the first part of the season, I soak my nets for 25 minutes max.  Now remember, 25 minutes times 5 or 10 could be a long time, so you will be working.  Make sure all of your safety equipment is intact and wear life jackets as necessary. 

When pulling the net, make sure to pull steady and consistent.  I never bring my hoop net on the boat right away.  Once I see it come up, I let it hang at the waterline.  I look in it with a flashlight to make sure it’s safe to bring on board.  Don’t go reaching in the lobster net without doing this because there could be a sculpin, eel, or another critter that might take a bite or poke at you! 

When measuring lobster, short lobster needs to go back as quickly as possible.  I always say, the longer you hold that lobster in your hand, the more you’ll convince yourself that it’s legal.  There’s nothing more stressful than rolling into the dock, knowing you might have a short lobster.  Lobsters should be 3.25” measured from the carapace.  You’re allowed 7 lobster per day.  If you feel you might have a lobster that’s on the border, the best way to find out if it’s legal is the eyeball trick.  Hook your gauge on the back of the carapace. If the lobster gauge is tight between the eyes, that lobster is legal.  If there is any movement in the eyes, coming from the gauge, that lobster is short.  I have had this conversation with a Game Warden.  Lastly, don’t forget to document the number of lobster you are taking that night. If it is 0 lobster detained that night, you should have the number 0 on your card before you dock, or you will get a ticket. 

In closing, lobster fishing is supposed to be fun.  It can be very fun if you know your regulations and have your gear in order.  Do your homework, ask questions and most importantly be safe on the water, have a game plan, let someone know where you are going, wear life jackets, and have the proper clothing and lighting.  Lobster season runs from October through March. If you get a chance, always do yourself a favor and visit our page at www.promarnets.com. There, we have a wide variety of resources and tools for all to

Rodney Marquez is another great resource for Lobster Hooping, check out this video for tips.
Gilbert Hernandez
Gilbert has been representing fishing companies since 2004 and is part of many pro-staffs. He has had a large role in seminar activations at events such as Fred Hall Fishing Show and spring classic at Bass pro shop. Gilbert as also appeared in Kayak Angler Magazine, Western Outdoor News, Hobie Fishi...