Fall in most parts of the United States means that the leaves begin to fall, the air gets brisk and in some cases a flurry of snow. In San Diego, fall means California spiny lobster (Panulirus interruptus) season.
California’s coastal waters are home to a multitude of invertebrates (species lacking a backbone). The California spiny lobster takes a particularly special place within this group as a highly sought-after target of both California’s recreational and commercial fisheries.
Recreational lobster season opens at 6:00 a.m. on the Saturday preceding the first Wednesday in October and closes at 12:00 a.m. on the first Wednesday (night) after the 15th of March. **The season no longer starts at midnight for safety reasons** For current regulations, please visit the Current California Ocean Recreational Fishing Regulations for Point Conception to the U.S. – Mexico Border.
September and October in San Diego might be the best time of year for weather. Typically, the weather is in the high 70’s to low 80’s which in my opinion is the perfect time to drop some hoops for those tasty local lobsters.
The first month of the opener can be very productive so don’t wait until the last minute to make sure your gear is in order.
It is very important to follow the rules so that we can sustain our fishery for years to come. Please take notes:
Minimum Legal Size Limit: Three and one-fourth inches, measured in a straight line on the midline of the back from the rear edge of the eye socket to the rear edge of the body shell (3 ¼ inch carapace). Please see the lobster brochure for the diagram on How To measure your lobster.
Permit Requirements: CDFW Spiny Lobster Report Card and California recreational fishing license, available at CDFW Online License Sales and Service.
Skin and SCUBA Diver Gear Requirements: All skin and SCUBA divers must only use their hands.
Pier Fishing Gear Requirements: You may use up to two 2 hoop nets while fishing from a public pier.
Vessel Fishing Gear Requirements: You may possess up to 5 hoop nets while fishing from a vessel, but the total number of hoop nets from a vessel cannot exceed 10, even if there are more than 2 people on the boat
Fishing Locations: See CDFW Online Mapping Tool.
I will share with you what I know about our fishery in San Diego. I’ve had some very good nights hooping and some very bad nights hooping. I’m relatively new to the sport and have only been hooping now for 4 years. I have taken meticulous notes so I can figure out a consistent crawl which has been more than challenging. I’ve been asked to write this article more for my cooking skills than my lobster catching abilities (laugh out loud). Like most, I prefer to use the Promar conical hoop nets that look very much like a volcano. My bait of choice is fresh sardines from Everingham Brother’s Bait Company. I bring along a bucket from Home Depot; have the bait attendant put the live sardines in the bucket then I use a hoe-like tool to chop them up. In my opinion, you don’t want to over chop the bait, but it is also important not to under chop it either. You want to chop just enough so that you get those nice chum particles floating in the current to attract those tasty “bugs” to your hoop. I’ve been told that split salmon heads also work well. I prefer bait cages vs. the tubes which have become popular over the past few years. The tubes are particularly awesome if you are in an area where you are being harassed by sea lions. Sea lions can destroy your gear and make for a very frustrating night.
Fishing has a lot of mental aspects to it and I happen to feel more confident using the bait cages because, in my opinion, they allow the chum to flow out easier creating a better bait “slick” or chum trail straight to your hoop. I have also been using Bite-On Lobster & Crab attractant which was created by Tony Williams of Bite-On. I’m not sure what magic elixir is in the recipe, but I can vouch for it and tell you that this stuff works. Tony also sells scent pads that fit perfectly into his heavy-duty made bait cages. I figured a little extra scent won’t hurt and adding a little Bite-On improves my confidence.
I typically hoop in 25 to 50-feet on hard bottom spots in the harbor. Hard bottom spots will show up on your depth finder with a thick solid yellow mark for the ground. The more yellow the harder the bottom. Hooping next to a structure will increase your chances to score a limit as well. It is very important to keep your hoops out of the channel or you will be ticketed by Harbor Police or have a greater chance of losing them. If you are going to hoop the channel edges, you can add weight to your hoops by buying chain links and zip-tying them to the outer edge of your hoop. This will help keep them in place by making your hoops heavier for when tides are stronger. Based on my notes I have had more success an hour before slack or an hour after slack, whether it is an outgoing or incoming tide. I have had my worst nights on a full moon. I’ve also had very good nights during or after a hard rain. The freshwater runoff tends to flush the lobsters out of the rocks which creates a better crawl.
As a chef, I have had a lot of experience cooking lobsters. I’ve cooked them every way imaginable; boil, poach, steam, etc. My favorite way to cook them is by sautéing them in a pan. This method can be a little more challenging, but once you get it down there really is not a better way to eat your trophy catch.
I start by removing the tail from the body. I then split the tail in half with a very sharp knife. Be sure to remove the translucent vein that runs down the middle of the meat.
I lightly sprinkle the following spices on the pink meat:
- Chili Powder
- Granulated Garlic
- Onion Powder
- Black Pepper
- Kosher Salt.
Next, lightly drizzle either avocado oil or grapeseed oil on the meat and carefully massage the oil and spices on to the tail making sure it is evenly coated.
The purpose of using these types of oils is because the smoke point is higher and will not ruin the flavor of your lobster. If you use Extra Virgin or Sesame Oil there is a very good chance that the pan will catch fire or smoke which will destroy the lobster’s elegant flavor. Vegetable oil is okay to use as well if you don’t want to spend the money on a higher-end oil.
Use a good non-stick pan and preheat on high for about a minute. Place your lobster meat-side down and sear for approximately 30-45 seconds before flipping over to the shell-side. I will lower the heat to medium and leave on the shell-side until the tail starts to curl into a ball. As the tail starts to curl into a ball, I will place several nice cubes of butter into the pan and flip the lobster tails back to the meat side and finish them for about 1 more minute. Turn the heat off and let the tails rest in the melted butter for 3-5 minutes before eating.
I like to dip my lobster into melted garlic butter and the fastest easiest way is by chopping up some fresh garlic and melting it with butter in the microwave for about 2 minutes. I know what you are thinking, “More Butter!?” Yes, “More Butter! More Better!” is what my French culinary instructor told me when preparing lobster. I hope you enjoy it and can’t wait to see your pictures. You can follow and DM me on Instagram @destroyer619.
Tight Lines and Happy Hooping
Matt Moyer-Ballast Point Brewing Captain