Free diver Brad Thompson knows that the first few weeks of lobster season are the best time to catch the delicious crustaceans—before they catch on.
“The lobster gets smarter, starts hiding deeper and doesn’t go out as much,” said Thompson, director of OC Spearos, Orange County’s largest spearfishing and freediving club.
As spiny lobster season officially begins on October 2 at 6 a.m., divers—along with their friends and family who live on dry land and benefit from the catch—are excited to bring home food straight from the ocean. Huh.
“It’s going to be a full zoo on all the beaches. The game just keeps on growing and growing,” Thompson said. “Every year, it’s more and more people in the water.
“I think it’s good and bad. I am glad people are getting in on the game and the bad is because they are carrying my lobster,” he said with a laugh.
According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, last year’s season was “particularly active,” possibly due to people wanting to venture out during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“We saw a record number of lobster report card sales during the 2020-21 lobster season,” CDFW marine environmental scientist Jenny Hofmeister said in an announcement.
Typically about 33,000 report cards – needed to document a catch – are purchased each season. Last year, that number rose to 46,000, with more than half the new lobster hunters.
“The season-opening weekend is one of the busiest times on the water, with thousands of lobster divers and hoop netters flocking to their favorite lobstering spots,” CDFW officials said. “Before getting in the water, make sure you know all the current rules.”
A lobster report card is required for all individuals over 16 fishing for lobster and must have a sport fishing license and ocean hike ticket. The cards, which are to be turned over at the end of the season, must note how, when, where and how many they were caught.
In the last season, more than 54,000 lobster trips were reported, with nearly half halving in the first month of the season opener. Officials said the average take was about two lobsters per trip.
Of all reported visits, 8% occurred on the opening day, with divers and hoop nets taking home some 11,000 lobsters.
With the sun rising at 6:45 a.m., there will be a small window of opportunity for the crustaceans to open in the morning.
“You can do it during the day, but it’s more difficult,” Thompson said.
Night diving can come with its own complications and safety concerns. There have been several accidents during lobster dives in recent years.
“The prawns are out there, but the first thing to think about is safety,” Thompson said. “Don’t push anything, don’t go crazy.”
Always go with a partner or join a group of friends.
“Don’t go alone and always go with a partner and make sure you’re always within sight of each other,” Thompson said.
He added that communities like OC Spearos can help answer questions and if you don’t have friends to dive in, you can find new friends to join the outing.
“We’re here, we know you’re going to do it, we can even help you stay safe,” he said, noting that many times people will reach out to Facebook and look for others to join. “Almost inevitably, someone will say yes, so you’ll make a new friend or two.”
Thompson said it’s also important to be certified to free dive or scuba dive.
In addition, people need to be up-to-date on marine protected areas where you can’t catch animals – areas off-limits like Laguna Beach and Palos Verdes.
“It is extremely important that fishermen know the location and regulations for each marine protected area where they will be fishing,” said CDFW Captain Eric Cord. “Unfortunately, every year several citations are issued for illegally transporting lobster fishermen, both divers and hoop nets alike, into (a protected area).”
Lobster can only be picked up with a hoop net, no more than five, or by hand. No other tools, such as spears or sticks, may be used. According to the CDFW, when on a boat, only 10 hoop nets can be used on the ship, regardless of how many people are on the ship. When using hoop nets on piers, wharves or other shore-based structures, only two hoop nets can be used.
The daily limit for taking lobsters home is seven and they must be at least three and a half inches long.
Once all the requirements are met, it’s about hunting.
“I come from a family of hunters and fishermen, that’s one aspect of it. I really like the satisfaction of using my hands to get food to feed my family,” Thompson said.
Besides, in the darkness, there is a stillness within the water, there is only one thing in the mind.
“At all times of the day, someone needs me for something. Free diving is a place where I can go quietly and just be with myself and my dive partner. You get into this meditative state, where you can decompress and focus on a singular task at hand,” he said.
And the reward is a mouth-watering treat.
“It’s super delicious,” he said.