It is that time of year when we start to see the days getting shorter and the nights cooler. The red hot fishing becomes a bit more tepid and the days less predictable. But soon, we will be enjoying the nights.
It won’t be because we are out partying, we do our share of that over the holidays and through January. No, it will not be a party that gets our attention, it will be ‘bugs’.
As September rolls to a close we start thinking about bugs. In the afternoon we might think bugs if we see a good run of horse mackerel or bonito biting around the island. As the sun sets we will be forecasting bugs on the near horizon.
Then at 6:00 a.m. on the Saturday preceding the first Wednesday of October (ridiculous, I know) we stop thinking and starting fishing for the most delicious ‘bug’ on the planet, the California Spiny Lobster.
‘Fishing’ is a funny term when used in the pursuit of lobster. There are no hooks involved, no fishing line and no rods or reels, so it is a strange word to use to describe how we go about capturing this creature for the table.
Lobsters tend to ‘crawl’ at night, that is, they come out of their holes in search of a meal that will sustain them for another day. They do not hunt, they are scavengers so they are looking for veggies (kelp) and, on a good night, something that has died and lies rotting on the bottom.
Their eating habits drive our ‘fishing’ techniques. We generally head out in late afternoon looking to catch a few oily fish to add to the potpourris of frozen bait that we will put into our ‘hoop net’.
Note that I did not call it a trap. According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), a trap is a device that has an entry and no exit. Such are the devices that commercial lobster fisherman use. For recreational anglers to ‘fish’ for lobster they must use a device (hoop net) that allows for escape.
Truthfully, this distinction is splitting hairs. Yes, the lobster can escape from a hoop net. But, if an angler is able to pull their nets with sustained force and no interruption, it is pretty likely that a lobster that is in the net will be pinned there until it arrives at the surface.
There is serious doubt among the angling community as to whether this technique will be allowed in future years. It is simply too effective. In an effort to manage the lobster population, the CDFW has put tight limits on the number of ‘bugs’ that you can keep (7) and their size (minimum 3.25” carapace).
Everybody has their own ‘secret bait’ combination. Most believe (as we do) that a combination of ‘scent’ and ‘chew’ bait is the best. A scent bait will dissipate into the water quickly to draw the bugs out from their holes on the current.
A chew bait is much like a chew toy for your pet, it will keep the lobster in the hoop busily gnawing away and hopefully unaware when the net starts lifting from the bottom while being pulled through the hands of an expectant angler.
It is generally known that bugs like structure in the form of rocks, ledges, and kelp as their daytime hideouts. At night they are known to march across the sand, sometimes in formation if they are migrating.
As a result, anglers match any info they can get from their diving buddies with what they can find on their sonar to locate high potential lobster hangouts. Once found these secret spots are guarded jealously.
It is part of the fun to discover such spots and then artfully answer questions from buddies who may be struggling to find lobster:
“Looks like you found em?”
“Yea, pretty good night, limited out in the first set.”
“Wow. You fishing deep?”
“No, pretty much the same as last year.”
“Oh, you mean the east end?”
“That corner got too crowed so I found a new spot.”
“Yea, hardly burned any fuel to get there. Gotta get these bugs chilled. Good luck!”
Having fished for all kinds of critters, I can say with certainty that hoop-netting is among the most fun. There is nothing quit so thrilling as pulling up a net in the dark of night from the deep blue sea and hearing the clacking sound of a net full of lobster.
Hoop-netting is one of the easiest activities to enjoy as a complete novice. Success is never guaranteed, but it is highly likely that you will head home from your charter with lobster for all. Skip the pizza, show up with a lobster bisque or a lobster dip and you will be the talk of the party.
Afishinados Charters will be running hoop net charters aboard GUSTO throughout the season. Get a few friends together for an exciting night on the water and let’s go get some bugs!
By Capt. John King
Capt. John runs Afishinados Charters and Catallac Tours - 888-613-7770 – email@example.com