Pacific spiny lobster (Panulirus interruptus) is the finest dinning experience a seafood lover can have. And venturing forth into the underwater realm to hand-catch your own lobster dinner can be one of the most fun experiences a diving enthusiast can have. It’s time to gear up lobster lovers! Lobster season is upon us.
While diving for lobster is relatively simple, it does take some knowledge for success.
First and foremost, be aware of the California Fish and Game regulations so as to not run afoul of the law. Lobster season begins for sport divers the Saturday before the first Wednesday in October. For 2006 that day is Saturday, September 30. Next, the minimum size is 3.25″ in a straight line across the top of the caripace (see diagram). You must carry a measuring device with you in and measure them in the water. The limit is seven lobster per day and you must have a valid California fishing license. For sport divers, lobster can be taken only by hand. No spears, hooks or any other devices can be used. And finally, know and respect preserves.
Lobsters like just about any rocky environment that gives them adequate cover in the day time. During daylight hours they will cower under ledges, in small caves and in deep crevices. Breakwaters are ideal habitats, but almost any rocky reef with boulders will do.
Primarily a temperate water species they are primarily found in Southern California. Consistently good locations for lobster hunting include Talcott Shoal at Santa Rosa Island, Santa Barbara Island, most of Catalina Island, San Nicolas Island, Cortes Bank, Palos Verdes, and Point Loma. Other more carefully guarded “secret” spots include locations off Orange County, select artificial reefs and older wrecks.
The best lobster hunters are the ones that cover as much bottom as possible in a dive. The more reef you see, the more likely you are to see lobster. Cover a lot of ground.
Lobster are nocturnal. They venture forth from their lairs only under the cover of darkness. While it is possible to capture lobster during the day by pulling them from the holes and overhangs, you stand the best chance of gathering several “bugs” while night diving. If you have never been night diving, not to fear—it is not that difficult but does require some training. Get into a night diving course as soon as possible to maximize your success as a lobster hunter.
GO FOR THE PIN
While night diving, it is not unusual to see lobster out in the open. As you swoop down on your quarry, move as quickly as possible aiming for the mid section of the creature. Don’t go for the grab but rather go for the pin. Pin your lobster catch to the bottom, then wrap your fingers around the lobster. The fraction of a second it takes to “grab” a lobster as opposed to pinning is enough for them to flip their tail and swim away.
OUT OF THE HOLE
During the day, and often during the night, lobster will be backed into their favorite hole, usually with several friends. Getting your hands on a lobster in a hole, and then successfully extracting them from that hole is an art form in of itself.
First and foremost, don’t hesitate. Once the lobster is spotted, move in as quickly as possible. Lobsters swim backwards so their first reaction is to back deep into their hole, usually far from reach. If you get ahold of antennae you don’t have them. The antennae will simply break off in your hands. The base of the antennae, however, is a good grip although further back is preferred. At this point odds are the lobster will “lock up,” pushing its legs up so that its back will wedge into the crevice making it nearly impossible to remove. If you have a good grip, give the lobster a good shake and it will slide right out.
One point of caution: lobsters and moray eels will frequently roommate in the same hole. Before thrusting your hand in a hole after a lobster make sure you are not angering a moray.
IN THE BAG
To bag a lobster always shove it in tail first. Remember, lobsters swim backwards!
THE RIGHT GEAR
While California spiny lobster do not have large claws they are, well, spiny. You’ll need good sturdy gloves.
When night diving, go for the largest most powerful light you can find. And don’t forget a reliable backup light and a good diver locator light.
You’ll need a bag for all those bugs. Get one with a large mouth, fabric at the top, mess at the bottom.