Hooping for lobsters
Rockfish closures have Southern California anglers trying
for lobsters and crabs in the fall and winter with hoop nets
By Bill Becher
Special to ESPNoutdoors.com Oct. 12, 2004
Lobstering from a kayak can be very thrilling on nights with big winter swells. Stars wheel overhead and sounds and smells seem more intense in the dark. Most nights are calmer. Early in the season the water can be glassy flat and shimmering with bioluminescence.
Jim Cook was also setting nets from a kayak.
"You can get in and out of tighter places than you can with a power boat," said Cook. "You don't have a motor sound in your ear it's very peaceful."
Morton placed chemical light sticks in empty plastic pop bottles and tied them to the 60-foot
line attached to the nets. That way he can find the five nets that each California hoop net
angler is allowed. The nets are made of nylon mesh with a 32-inch metal outer ring and 12-inch
inner bottom ring. They sit flat on the ocean floor until retrieved then the rings form an
open topped enclosure.
Hoop nets are not a legal method of take for most fin fish and with a few exceptions they must be released back into the water according to Carrie Wilson of the Department of Fish and Game.
Ben Hong, product development manager for Promar Nets, said that until recently hoop nets were used mostly by Northern Californians after Dungeness crabs. He credits rock fish closures as motivating Southern California anglers to try hoop netting for lobsters and crabs in the fall and winter.
"More people are going after crabs this year," said Hong. Commercial fishermen market spider crabs as California king crab he said. "They look kind of disgusting at first but there is a lot of nice meat there," said Hong. "And rock crabs have a lot meat in their claws."
Hong suggests using sonar to meter for rock piles and artificial reefs and setting nets close by if jetties and break walls aren't producing. As the water gets colder lobsters tend to move into deeper water.
Hong recommends a steady haul when lifting the nets.
"When you make a constant pull water pressure keeps the lobsters in the bottom of net," said Hong. "If you stop they can jump out."
Morton gets most of his lobsters in shallow water from 10 to 30 feet deep. He uses a powerful Hummingbird 405SX fish finder mounted to his kayak to chart the bottom structure. Morton looks for patches of eelgrass near rocks where lobsters can hide during daylight hours. He sets five nets, leaves them for about 20 minutes, then hauls them up to check for lobster.
This takes some effort, and by the end of the night he's had a good workout and often several legal lobsters from 1.25 to two pounds. His biggest of the season was a five-pound bug. Morton carries a metal gauge to check the lobsters for the minimum 3.25-inch carapace length.
Morton wears gloves like those used when cleaning fish to help protect his hands. Spiny lobsters are just that they have two sharp spines above the eyes and a series of spines on a ridge below the tail. He suggests grabbing lobsters from the tail going forward to avoid these spines that point toward the head. Wearing gloves also helps avoid rope burns when pulling in nets.
Timing the "crawl" when lobsters start moving is key to success according to Morton. He likes to set his nets just before dusk. "Like a fish bite, all of a sudden it's active."
This night Cook scored four legal lobsters. He likes to barbeque the tails.
Don't forget the melted butter.
If you go
Spiny lobsters inhabit coastal waters off Ventura, Los Angeles and San Diego counties. The season is open until March 16, 2005.
Information about kayak fishing is at www.kayaksportfishing.com.
For hoop nets and tips on using them check www.promarnets.com. The Promar nets come with line, floats and 100 feet of line and cost about $25 to $30 depending on size. They are available at many tackle shops including Malibu Fish N' Tackle in Thousand Oaks, Taylor Tackle in Canoga Park and Bob Sands Fishing Tackle in Van Nuys.
You will want to bring a lobster gauge, waterproof floodlight, headlamp and gloves. For safety wear a PFD, carry a marine band VHF transceiver, display navigation lights and tell someone where you are going and when you will be back.
Bill Becher can be reached at email@example.com.