A ghostly apparition slowly emerged from the wisps of fog shrouding the darkness. As it approached, the indistinct figure gradually assumed the shape of a spectral kayaker. The night's silence was pierced by the roar of storm surf crashing somewhere in the unseen distance.
Was this some malevolent spirit? No, the hearty laugh and friendly wave of the arm dispelled the illusion. It was only Jim Salazar, out for an evening paddle and a game of lobster season Trick or Treat in southern California.
With no prop to snag nets and lines, sea kayaks are excellent platforms for a night of lobster season trick or treat
Salazar picked up a hoop net – a pair of metal rings connected by black mesh, with a cage stuffed full of oily bait fish perched in its center – and carefully lowered it 30 feet to the ocean floor. He did the same with the other four perched on the bow of his kayak, and settled down to wait. Would any lobsters be tempted by his mackerel treats?
A skein of cloud blew across the face of the crescent moon, and the buoy marking the nearby harbor entrance keened its mournful wail. It was time to check the first net.
Salazar paddled up to a lighted float that marked one of his nets, picked up the end of the rope that dangled from it into the depths, and pulled swiftly hand over hand. The net seemed to suddenly materialize at the water's surface.
Nobody home! Salazar shrugged philosophically, and explained, "When hunting for lobsters, it's important to move the nets around until you find them." He sent the empty net back down to soak in a new spot and paddled over to his second net.
Trick or Treat? Salazar seized the line and heaved.
Trick! A thrashing eel filled the net. Salazar eyed the toothy creature calmly, and then warned in an understated tone, "That's why you should never swing a net into the boat without first looking at what's inside." Other sea monsters he's dredged up while hoop netting for lobsters include rays, some armed with whippy stingers, small sharks capable of twisting to bite an unwelcome hand on their tails, California scorpion fish studded with painfully venomous spikes, and octopus with endless grasping arms.
Salazar deftly flipped the net over away from his kayak, freeing the angry eel, and reset the net farther away from the nearby breakwater.
Now Salazar was at his next net. Trick or Treat?
Treat! Inside this net, three California spiny lobsters had come to dine. They snapped their tails, flopping about. As Salazar slipped a gloved hand underneath the body of the first "bug," grasping it firmly but gently, he had little to fear. Spiny lobsters lack claws for pinching. With a lobster gauge in his other hand, Salazar snugged one end of the gauge into the ridge between the lobster's eyes and rotated the other end downwards. It hit the first segment of the lobster's tail. Too small! Back into the water it went.
The other two lobsters weren't so lucky. Each time the back of the gauge hit armored carapace, so into the goody bag they went. Satisfied with his tasty treats, Salazar collected his nets. Then he headed back to shore to give his lobsters a loving, buttery bath.
The Rules of the Game
For those who want to enjoy a meal of sweet-tasting lobsters in California, there are a couple of alternatives to an expensive trip to the market or a swanky seafood house. Some prefer to dive in cold, dark waters and catch them by hand. Want to stay more or less dry? Then go with the other option, baited hoop nets and a sea kayak.
Jim Salazar is a kayak fishing guide and a Pro Staffer for Southern California hoop net manufacturer Promar. According to Salazar, the California Department of Fish and Game limits boats (kayaks too) to five nets per person, with a maximum of 10 nets per boat. Lobsters must be a minimum of three and one-fourth inches long, measured in a straight line on the midline of the back from the rear edge of the eye socket to the rear edge of the body shell. Lobster hunters are required to use a measuring gauge, which reduces the complicated-sounding task to something quick and simple. The possession and daily limit is seven lobsters per California licensed angler.
California spiny lobster season runs from the Saturday preceding the first Wednesday in October, to the first Wednesday after the 15th of March. In 2005, lobster season opened on October first, and will close March 22, 2006.
California Department of Fish and Game: www.dfg.ca.gov
California 2005 Ocean Fishing Regulations (PDF file): www.dfg.ca.gov/mrd/oceanfish2005.pdf
SabaSlayer.com (Jim Salazar’s webpage): www.sabaslayer.com
Kayak Sportfishing (home of Jason Morton, another kayak fishing guide who offers lobster hooping trips: www.kayaksportfishing.com
KayakFishing.com (home of Dennis Spike, one more guide who offers lobster hooping trips): www.kayakfishing.com
Promar (hoop net manufacturer): www.promarnets.com