Stuffing Your Face at Sea: Episode 2 (really): Catching Lobster

**Now that our blog is FINALLY cleared up and back online, here is part two… again.

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It has been mentioned that I should make a post about how to catch lobster after my epically numerous (like 7 or so) captures. Once again, it should always be assumed that I am not a vetted expert on anything requiring extensive amounts of experience. That being said, I have become fairly competent at locating and acquiring lobsters in sparsely populated locations. It should also be noted that this particular post is specifically geared toward active (i.e. not trap based) methods of capture, as well as generally being related to spiny or rock lobsters (although some of the information also applies to slipper or Spanish lobsters).

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The most important and time/energy consuming step of getting lobster is finding the illusive little buggers. The most plentiful habitats are coral heads or small patch reefs with overhanging ledges and/or smallish non-vertical holes surrounded by either flat sand bottom or sea grass. The most productive locations are in or near cuts or any other place in which current may carry more nutrients though. The first place you should look is along the bottom outside edge of the coral head or reef all of the way around. Next look along the bases of any large cracks/channels in the reef. Finally look in all of the visible holes in the surface or higher up on the side of the reef or coral head. It can be difficult to see short overhangs or holes unless you are on their level, so make sure you (or your head/eyes) are all the way on the bottom while cruising around looking in holes (from a safe distance). Yes, this does mean you will probably need to dive. The key to find spiny lobsters is to look for the long, thin antenna tips poking out from holes or under ledges. Slipper lobsters and spotted spiny lobsters have a habit of clinging to the tops of a den or cave so be sure you check the ceiling. I have not observed a large amount of difference in population density with change in depth. If there is any, it appears to be in favor of more numerous, but smaller, lobsters in the shallows and fewer, larger lobsters at depth. In heavily populated areas where scuba isn’t allowed for catching lobster, the deeper you go the less over-fished it is likely to be. Beware, it is quite common for lobster holes, EVEN the lobster-inhabited ones, to contain various dangerous thingies (moray eels, urchins, lion fish, ect.). I have noticed a general preference of particularly annoying lobsters is to set up camp in a hole inhabited by either an urchin or a large puffer fish.

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Now that you have either located your target lobster, or decided it will never happen and given up, I am going to tell you how to actually capture said tasty morsel. One thing that is particularly frustrating about hunting spiny lobsters is that, although they tend to be fairly unwary at first, if you miss your first shot/attempt most lobsters have an annoying habit of using their tails to scoot away alarmingly fast and disappear into some dark recess or cave. Because of this, I have found that the trick to a high catch rate is not to hurry and to take your time setting up your first shot/attempt, because you probably won’t get a second one. On that same note, almost every lobster den has a bolt hole/back entrance. Once you find your target, take the time to look around and find this hole. If you find one, either block it with some form of handy obstruction, or simply have your dive buddy hold a mesh dive/laundry bag or net open over the exit. Once your buddy is in place, simply prod the lobster lightly between the antennae with a spear or some other long poking device. With any luck, this will make the lobster freak out and bolt out the rear entrance straight into the waiting dive bag. In areas where it is legal (check your local laws), lobster can be speared. Make sure that the lobster is visible enough to determine that it is well above legal size (antenna length can be deceiving), and that it is not berried (bearing caviar-like egg masses under its tail). Once you have determined that it is a good spearing target, aim the shot at one of the softer points on the lobster such as near the antennae since shots at the main shell sections can glance off. They will generally allow a fairly close shot set up if you move slowly, but be careful not to touch the antennae as this may induce a frantic retreat out of the bolt hole. Although they take more practice to use than either of the other methods discussed previously, many lobster hunters use a lobster snare, an adjustable noose generally made of stainless steel cable with the free end threaded through a hollow tube. The end of the snare is carefully maneuvered behind the lobster and the loop slipped forwards over its tail, the end of the cable is then pulled from the user’s end of the snare, closing around the lobster’s tail and snaring the creature without unduly harming it. This allows for the capture and safe release of lobsters that are deep enough in their holes so as it cannot be confirmed whether or not the lobster is below legal keeping size or berried. In the event that your quarry manages to get away and comes to rest on the open, approach slowly and move PAST the lobster without facing it, then slowly turn and either shoot it with a spear if it is an acceptable target, aiming near the middle of the base of the main carapace section, swipe with a net if you have one, or grab for it with your hand (wear heavy gloves, they are called spiny lobsters for a reason). If you swipe with a net or try to grab a loosely resting lobster, always go from back to front to avoid the spines and to prevent your prey from scooting away backwards with its tail. In the event that the escaped lobster comes to rest in a new hidey-hole, approach as if it is a new lobster, keeping in mind that I will likely not allow as close of a shot as a more unwary lobster. Never grab a lobster by its antennae as it will simply tear them off in its attempt to escape, leaving you with useless pieces of shell and no lobster. Make sure you check 360 degrees as you are coming up, just as you would if you had a speared fish. Although it may not be as obvious, several dangerous things (or in my case a rather large grouper) may try to steal your dinner.

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Keep your lobster in a live well or wrapped in a seawater soaked towel in a cooler with ice. Fresh water will kill lobster, so make sure to add a spacer or rack to keep the lobster out above the melted ice if you intend to keep them alive until cooking. Many places prohibit the removal of the tails until you get to the dock (check local laws). I will make a later post about how to clean and cook your catch. Go fourth and hunt.

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See Jaedin’s other posts here:
Stuffing Your Face at Sea, Part 1: Catching Bait Fish

2016
10 Things I Love About Living on a Sailboat
Sailboat Life: Jaedin’s Perspective on Hurricane Matthew

2015
10 Things I Will Miss About Land Life

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