The Cheapest Way to Get a Lobster

I had never been much of a hunter, and was not more than a mildly enthusiastic fisherman, so when a friend first asked me to go lobster hunting, I was a little confused and not terribly enthusiastic.

“Don’t you mean lobster fishing?” I asked.
“No,” he replied. “I definitely mean hunting. There is no fishing equipment involved, except for maybe a net.”

And he was right. We went down to the coast of extreme southern California, armed with only nets and gloves. I was dubious at first. Weren’t lobsters found in Maine? What were we doing in sunny SoCal, down near the Mexican border? And why was this called hunting? We didn’t have a spear, or a harpoon, or any other implement I’d ever used for hunting. As an adventurist, however, my curiosity was peaked. What could my friend possibly have in mind?

Over a few cold ones the night before the hunt, we went over the basics of lobster hunting. Lobsters, it turns out, have fairly quick reflexes, but are not incredibly keen when it comes to sensing predators from a distance. This is partly because they rely more on their natural body armor than on their senses to protecting themselves. This armor is amazingly effective in keeping away most predators, who find that the tentacles, pincers, and hard shells of lobsters present more of an obstacle than they bargained for in trying to get to the lobster’s sweet, soft flesh. Human predators, however, unlike other animals, do not need to attack with their teeth with intent to eat, or even kill the lobster in order to succeed. In fact, human predators want to keep the lobster alive as long as possible, bringing it into captivity in order to eat it at a later date. Therefore, the lobster is less well-adapted for and much more susceptible to being hunted by humans.

Lobster hunting consists of roaming the ocean floor on foot, looking for the familiar wiggle of tentacles or peering under a rock for the red-brown crust of a shell. For those looking to get a little further out, snorkeling is also a good option, with the snorkeler simply swimming down to catch a crustacean. When you find a lobster, there are several things you should know. First, simply reaching out and grabbing the lobster will not do. Lobsters are much too quick to allow someone to simply reach a hand around them and lift them out. It turns out that the best method is a kind of sideswiping, swatting motion. You swat the lobster from the side, where it can’t see you, then attempt to pin the lobster between the ocean floor and your gloved hand. From this position, it is much easier to get your other hand around the lobster and lift it pout, or get a net around it. In some cases, it has been reported, what results is more like lobster WRESTLING!! Some of the lobsters are so enormous that it takes two people to get them to shore. These are not your average aquarium lobsters. Lobsters in the Florida Keys and in California can grow many times larger than a Maine lobster.

Commercial lobstering is a dreary, depressing affair, consisting of catching large quantities of lobsters with boats and nets, a prospect that reeks more of mass slaughter than a true adventure. Lobster hunting, on the other hand, is quite visceral and dynamic. I discovered for myself the exhilaration that occurs when you get your first lobster. We had been enjoying the sunshine, wading through the water enjoying the colorful fish and other sea life that populate these cool, refreshing waters. But we had not caught any lobster. Suddenly, I spotted a tentacle waving slowly from underneath a ledge of rock. My instincts told me to dive for it, but I had been instructed well. I slowly approached the rock, being careful to avoid any sudden movements that might give away my location. When I got close enough to see the lobster, I was shocked at how big it was, nearly as long as my arm! My fist swat was tentative, and the big red crustacean started to move away. Just as I thought I was going to lose it, I made a desperate, much more aggressive attempt, and was shocked when I succeeded in pinning the lobster’s bottom half against the rock! I quickly grabbed it with my other hand, being careful to keep it pinned against the rock. A friend and I wrestled it into the net, whooping and hollering. What a rush!

All told that day, we caught five large lobsters, and had a massive feast. The trip had been worth it in every way…and we had not payed a penny to eat as much lobster as we could hold. When’s the last time you could say you did that?