MY earliest recollections of lobster fishing come in the form of our annual family holidays to a tiny seaside village. Between the holiday house and the local jetty there was an old fisherman who had a stack of circular cane pots against his side fence. I’d walk past on my way to the wharf and watch what he was up to; sometimes it was making a net, sometimes he’d be on the front step drinking a long neck; and sometimes he’d have wires set out on a timber stump where he’d be weaving cane lobster pots.These are treasured childhood memories.
However, not all my earlier lobster experiences are as pleasant. I spent my teenage years wondering why on earth pro fishermen thought they had the right to put their pots in such inconvenient places. The take-off rock at a favourite surf point was a chaotic spot when it was inundated with pots, and on more than one occasion I came a cropper as a result. I know that one of the lads experienced an unfortunate incident when he cut the floats off – not smart when the kitchen window of said pro fisherman looked right over the point in question. At other times corks would crowd in on our jewie-spinning reef, lining the very crevice that would hold big jews during a flood.
I always thought they were a mad bunch because the pots were so close to the rocks and it was dangerous in a small swell and downright terrifying in a decent swell! So, with all that negative baggage on board, it might come as a surprise that I am now a keen lobbie chaser in my own right, and that the young squirt is my companion; two Raes mean two pots. I used to have three little Raes at one stage, but they growed up on me!
Now at this point you are thinking that I earn 10 squillion brownie points for each lobster I bring home. My “Loved One” might appear perfect, but the truth is that she misses the mark ever so slightly. “Another lobster, Davo … you are a clever boy, but you know I’d rather a blue swimmer crab!” That’s right, while I’d kill for a feed of lobster, it’s the humble, and far easier to procure, blue swimmer that lights her fire! All the more for me, I guess ...
How Hard Is It?
Surprisingly, it’s not all that hard to catch lobsters. Sure, there are things to do and things not to do. If there were a deciding factor, for many it would be accessibility to their pots. It’s best to check pots every other day, or if that’s not possible, at least once a week; both to re-bait and to limit lobster theft – both from thieving anglers and octopi.
Whilst Fisheries cop a flogging on many fronts, and while I share the concerns of many, I, for one, really appreciate their management of my local lobster fishery. They have made lobster-abuse a far more risky business than it used to be. Blokes using more pots than they should and the lifters-of-other-folks’ pots are fronting court and being issued with hefty fines thanks to hi-tech video gear and frequent on-the-ground surveillance.
I’ve come to shore more than once and been quizzed regarding the lobsters I’d caught or not caught. Once they asked about the two lobsters I’d kept and I was complimented for returning an oversized beast to the water. When I asked how they knew so much, the answer was “Because we were watching you”… which given that it was a pre-dawn event about 200m from shore, is pretty impressive. I hate to think what would have happened if I’d kept the oversized one. For those who live away from the coast, lobster-chasing will be limited to holiday periods, while those of us blessed with a coastal location can get stuck into it whenever time and conditions allow.
Lobsters walk inshore to spawn when the water becomes cool. For me that means between the months of July and December, with September–November being the prime time. They are shy reef dwellers that hide in caves, crevices and kelp beds during the day, coming out to browse under cover of darkness. Therefore the best lobster reefs have all three hidey-holes. They need not be large reef complexes either as it’s the edges of a reef that are more productive than the tops because it’s the edges that contain the deepest caves and crevices. The reef should be broken, with channels of sand and fingers of rock as these have the longest edges. Broken reef in close proximity offers maximum edge length and it’s an edge that is most likely to have crevices and caves. It is generally held that lobsters are most active during dark nights, although my own records don’t seem to definitely point in that direction.
A DIY NSW-Style Pot
While you can purchase lobster pots online (for around $100), or maybe put some cash in the hand of a pro lobster fisherman, there’s a good deal of satisfaction to be had from catching a lobster in a pot that you’ve made yourself … just be sure to read the fine print of your state’s fisheries regulations before you start!
I make my pots from what the local hardware calls “crab wire”. It’s a heavy-duty galvanised 7.5x5cm mesh that is folded into a D-shaped pot, either 90cm or 120cm in length depending on the width of the wire you purchase. It is important that you only use mesh that has been galvanised AFTER the wires have been welded together, as opposed to mesh made from galvanised wire which leaves the welds raw. It may be cheaper, but the cheap stuff doesn’t last. To further extend the life of your pot, add a sacrificial zinc anode (available from chandleries).
Before you get into it, you’ll need a pair of pliers (or hand held bolt cutters) to cut the mesh and multi-grips to twist the tags, a nice place to sit and a cold drink.
- Step 1: Unroll the mesh and cut a piece that is 21 squares in length. Cut at the end of the 22nd mesh in order to make wire tags.
- Step 2: Count out a base 8 squares wide and then roll the remainder over the base, forming a circular top. Secure by rolling tags around the starting edge; ensuring that the ends of the tags are left INSIDE the trap; otherwise you’ll scratch your boat and impale yourself on a regular basis.
- Step 3: To make the entrance insert, cut a separate mesh strip, 14 squares by 2 squares, again cutting at the 15th and 3rd meshes. Roll into a circle and secure with tags, keeping tag ends OUTSIDE the circle, otherwise you’ll catch your hands when baiting or removing a lobster ... which can be tricky enough without wires to snag the prize. Pulling out a wobbegong can take even more time! Don’t worry that the size of the hole is excessive, it’s a tried and proven design.
- Step 4: Flatten the middle three rows of mesh at the top of the pot and position the entrance insert just to one side of the midpoint. Cut out sufficient mesh to leave prongs to wire in the entrance.
- Step 5: Before adding the ends, ballast the pot with two “holey” house bricks (one each end or both on one end) with gal wire or aluminium brick ties. This will secure the pot on the seabed and help keep it from snagging up in heavy swell. Lobsters dislike noise, so a banging pot or loose brick are to be avoided.
- Step 6: Make two ends from additional mesh and wire into place, being sure to cut legal escape gap(s) as required. Add a sacrificial anode to one end in order to lengthen the life of your pot.
- Step 7: Add a rope bridle to one end of the pot by using a 1m length of rope that is attached to both corners of one end and then attach the haul rope with a loop knot.
- Step 8: Add a small float 2m above the trap to help keep the rope from snagging on the bottom, and a larger visible float on the end of the rope will enable you to locate and haul your pot. Clearly label the float as required. Sink floating rope with a 50 gm sinker attached 1m from the float.
- Step 9: Make a couple of bait bags from plastic mesh such as gutter mesh. Use a T-piece of mesh to add a hook to the bottom of the bag and another piece of wire to the top in order to make it stronger.
- Step 10: Bait it up and drop it in … you are going.
Setting a Pot
Next up you need to find a lobster friendly reef. If you aren’t sure where to try, look for other pots, then sound the same reef and try to find a possie away from other pots. As a result of spending an increasing amount of time in the water, chasing them with a snorkel as well as a pot, I’ve found that the best lobster holes are located on the edges of reef, either the outside edge or the rocks lining sandy channels.
That’s probably why you’ll see pro fishermen dropping pots over the side and then setting them tight against the actual reef. Maybe you’ll lose the odd pot, but I think you get more lobsters as a result of being right on the rock. Due to the fact that my local ramp involves a beach launch, it’s far easier for me to chase lobsters with a kayak than with the tinnie; and what that means is that I’m also able to put pots far closer to bommies with the ’yak than I would with the boat. Not only does this limit the risk of lobster theft, it means I can drop my pot and then dive down and put it exactly where I want it. What I have learnt as a result is that pots don’t always lie flat, and they often need a helping hand. I’ve also learnt that it’s a good idea to tie everything down because kayaks and bommies mean capsizes now and again!
Any fish material works, although oily fish like blackfish, mullet and slimies are my favourites. I’ll use anything though, with snapper heads working fine. They do like fresh bait, so it pays to rebait the pots every other day. I know that pros use dried cow hoofs and such, but the idea there is to keep bait in offshore pots that might be hauled once or twice a month.
To re-bait your pot, it is best to take baited bags onto the water as opposed to emptying stinky bait and refilling the bag out there. When placing the bait bag inside the trap, locate the bag just below and to the side of the entrance. If the lobster can feel the bait without being able to eat it, there is maximum incentive for it to crawl inside.
Rules & Regulations
First off, you’ll need to appreciate that the regulations that govern lobster fishing are complex and different between states. Ensure you know and understand lobster fishing regulations as they apply in your home waters as the fines for illegal activity can be hefty. Your state fisheries department website will detail all necessary info.
I reckon a boiled lobster is hard to beat, although we occasionally get creative with spices, sauces and dips. Twenty minutes in boiling water, removing the legs after three minutes, is about right, with 30 minutes for a larger one. I reckon the legs are the best part, and you can always nibble on them while waiting for the rest. We anaesthetize the lobster before popping it into boiling water by sitting it in the freezer for 45 minutes prior to cooking.
What are you waiting for?