How to freedive for California spiny lobster

California spiny lobster
A California spiny lobster hides in a crack in 20 feet of water off the San Diego coastline. Photo: Justin Coté
With the season for California spiny lobster open, now is the perfect time to get out there and grab yourself some of the most sought-after crustaceans on the West Coast. Plentiful from Monterey Bay to Baja California, spiny lobster can be hunted from Oct. 3, 2015, until Mar. 16, 2016.

While anglers can catch spiny lobster with hoop nets or on scuba, the most challenging and therefore rewarding way is to freedive for them. Here are a few tips to get you started.

What you’ll need

The various gear you'll need to hunt California Spiny Lobster; photo Justin Coté
The various gear you’ll need to hunt California spiny lobster. Photo: Justin Coté
  • Mask and snorkel
  • Thick, warm wetsuit
  • Weight belt
  • Gardening gloves
  • Swim fins
  • Dive bag
  • Lobster gauge to measure your catch
  • Fishing license and lobster report card

Where to go

Lobsters don’t like sandy bottoms; they prefer rock structure and reef. You could be the best freediver in the world, but if you’re in the wrong spot, you’re going to surface empty-handed every time.

Ask around … just don’t ask me where my spot is!

How to do it

California spiny lobster
With the going rate for California spiny lobster between $25 and $35 per pound, this is about $80 worth of food. Note that it’s illegal to remove the head until you get home and are about to cook it. Photo: Justin Coté
While floating on the surface, look for slight overhangs, caves and cracks in the reef. Once you’ve spotted a spot where you think there may be some bugs, relax and breathe deep. Upon descent, aim straight down to get to the bottom quickly and without wasting oxygen.

Once you’ve spotted your prey, quickly figure out the best angle for attack. Grabbing them by the antennae doesn’t work, as they’ll just break off. You need to grab it by the carapace (head) and hold tight as it flips its tail in an attempt to free itself and not become dinner. Also, a lot of times you’ll see a cluster of lobsters; take a second to find the biggest and go after that one.

Be patient and don’t stress when you lose a few; the act of grabbing a lobster is the toughest part and takes a lot of practice.

Be careful of …

  • Getting your arm stuck in a cave. No lobster is worth losing your life over!
  • Taking small lobster — the carapace must measure at least 3.25 inches to be legal, and the limit is seven lobsters per person. Fines are steep; don’t be a poacher! For a complete list of rules and regulations, go to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website.
  • Rip currents, rogue waves, banging your head on rocks, and other dangers associated with the ocean. Always dive with a buddy!
  • Diving at night. This can be very rewarding, but take even more precaution than you would during the daytime.

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