DIVING FOR WESTERN ROCK LOBSTER
We are blessed here in Western Australia with low population and a vast and mostly pristine coast line. This gives the diver a huge choice of environments to hunt in. From the Southern ocean around Esperance to the far north towards Broome and offshore to the Rowly Shoals.
There are several species of Lobster (family Palinuridae or Spiny Lobster) that commonly occur in each region of our state. At the top of the list would have to be the Western Rock Lobster, or Western Reds. (Panulirus Cygnus). Legislation was passed in 1969 to change all official references from Crayfish to Western Rock Lobster, a purely market driven strategy to get maximum $ out of the US. I will focus on this species as they are the most commonly encountered here in the west. They are generally found from Augusta to Ningaloo but the really big ones are found down south, Busselton to Hamlin Bay. Having said that, Rotto has some monsters and the Shark Bay/Carnarvon area offshore around the Islands is loaded with 1-2kg Lobster at certain times. You can certainly get an overlap of species and I have caught Southern rock lobster (Jasus edwardsii) around Cottesloe and Painted Lobster (Panulirus Ornatus) mixed in with Western Reds at Gnarloo station in the north.
Weather catching them with a loop and a single breath of air, or strapping on a tank is your thing it’s a heap of fun and very challenging. Many Spearfishers develop their skills and breathhold whilst chasing Lobster. There are many things that will make catching a Lobster easier but the number one thing would have to be being comfortable in the water, and that means being warm. A good two piece 3mm or 5mm wetsuit with a hood is the ideal.
Follow this up with a black silicone low volume mask (stops light entering and reflecting off the inside of your mask), a stout pair of gloves, soft neoprene socks, closed heel fins (power transfer) and weight belt and your half way there. Remember, I am talking about the ideal, you don’t have to spend a fortune and a simple mask and snorkel/fins combo will do the trick. Having the correct weight on your weight belt is essential, you need to be positively buoyant on the surface but it needs to be easy to glide to the bottom.
If free diving it’s all about maximizing your breath hold, reducing anxiety and increasing bottom time. Stability whilst on the bottom is crucial if there is any sort of swell about. A self closing catch bag spring loaded or non returning type work well and there is plenty to choose from. A good alternative that I make at home is cheap and works extremely well. (See pic). The total cost is about $20 and it only takes 15 minutes to put together.
BAG – Tackle shop fish bag $10-$15
LID – 20 liter bucket.
RIM – 20 liter bucket rim fitted drilled and cable tied to bag.
BRASS CLIP - $5. Cut cross shape in lid then heat wire and melt end of each cross to stop tearing. Never had one escape yet.
For safety reasons when diving from shore I always dive with a highly visible Ronstan float with dive flag attached. I clip my catch bag and loop to it. The catch bag has a side pocket for a torch and size gauge. To stop it all floating away I attach a small coil of thin rope with a weight at one end inside the side pocket, and when good ground is found it’s a simple matter to drop the weight and anchor the float. It not only helps to mark a specific hole in bad visibility but lets the jet skies and boaties know were you are. If using SCUBA from a boat then an oversize dive flag is recommended placed in a rod holder or secure elevated position.
A simple spring loaded loop of medium size works a treat. I have tried the long version and found them unwieldy and hard to control in a tight spot. The claw type works and is potentially faster but takes very good reflexes and heaps of practice. Last on the list is a dive knife. By far the cheapest and best would be a Rob Allen limpet arm scabbard $20, with a stainless fancy stiletto knife $20. Attach a lanyard to the handle and its quick access on the left or right bicep.
An essential item when diving around rock groins covered in fishing line.
SEASON AND BAG LIMIT
The recreational Lobster season currently runs from the 15th October to the 30 June south of North West Cape while there is no seasonal closure north of this Cape. The minimum carapace length is 76mm for western and tropical lobsters while it is 98.5mm for southern lobster. Females in breeding condition are protected and there are some area and night time fishing closures.
Please check with Fisheries WA for more information as there are heavy fines for under size, oversize, berried or setose (hairy claspers under the tail and or tar spot) Lobster. The individual bag limit is 8 Lobster per day and the boat limit is 24. Don’t forget to tail clip the central flap of the tail fan within 5 min of leaving the water.
LOBSTER TACTICS AND TIPS
Knowing the habits and seasonal movements of Lobster is key to finding them at any given time during the season. By far the best time to catch Lobster is at the start of the season. This is when they are holed up in shallow close to the islands (Rotto, Carnac and Garden), usually in low limestone ledges just off the sand. The metro area is very productive right on shore at this time as well. Having just shed their shells Lobster are a light pink at this time and some can be quite soft. The size is generally very good with the average about 500-850grms.
Mid December sees Lobster start to move out into deeper water. Rottnest is good right up till the end of the year then its not until late February early march that they move back in close. I have some favorite ledges and holes that start at the artificial reef at Cottesloe and end just north of the main rock groin. The groin itself can produce good numbers of big Lobster but they are hard to get as they can disappear right up into the rocks. I have spent the last 8-9 years swimming this area and know it intimately. North to Burns rocks also produces very well but the best areas are right in front of the Marmion Angling club and Slimeys reef to the right of the Ocean reef marina.
I can’t comment on southern areas as I haven’t dived from shore extensively down that way. But anywhere there is low limestone reef close to shore, with kelp cover, deep crevasses, holes with low ledges off the sand and good clean water flow will produce Lobster. Swim slowly and check areas thoroughly, don’t only check high ledges and caves as these always get hit first. Its generally the low, hidden kelp covered stuff just off the main reef that hides the richest veins of tasty Lobster.
When you find them don’t change your movements, stay calm and slow whilst deftly placing your noose behind them. Try not to brush their feelers as this will alarm them. Slip it under the sand, around them or over the top and open the noose in one smooth motion. Stay focused and adapt you strategy to the Lobsters movements. Sometimes the silly buggers will run towards you and over your head, other times they just sit tight and let you loop them, but not often. They will dance left or right, but just follow and be patient. Back them into a shallow side of a crack and place one hand in their path while gently nudging them over with the loop, then grab them as they run right into your waiting fingers.
As with any pursuit worthwhile it takes practice and persistence but with a little determination your pot will be flowing over and your friends increasing, especially around Christmas time.
Every one has there own method but this works for me. Boil up your water in a large pot; add table spoon of salt and dash of vinegar. Place three or four 500gr size Lobster (drown in a sink full of fresh water first, put a bread board over them to minimize splashing) in pot and put the lid on. Wait 15-17 min and place in a sink full of salty cold water, wait two min and drain. Works every time.
With jumbos just tail them and crack the tails between your palm and the cutting board, wear rubber gloves. Dice up the tail meat and flour, salt and pepper then deep or shallow fry. Lobster nuggets; wash down with a cold beer or Margaret River white.
Drowning, always dive with a mate and stay together. Use a dive flag and don’t take unnecessary risks. Diving can be dangerous and the ocean is very unforgiving. Know your own ability and don’t get carried away, a simple cramp or fatigue can become life threatening if a long way from shore or the boat. Other vessels, watch out for boats and jet skis. Sharks and Rays. The risk from Sharks is very small but is there, so why not wear a Shark pod. Rays, even small ones, if laid upon can inflicted very nasty wounds that can get hideously infected. Wobbys or Carpet sharks, same thing and I have been charged by four but only because I was trying to move them out of the way, can be quite persistent if you really piss them off so better leaving them alone. Octopus, but only because I catch them in the loop (their fantastic to marinate but freeze them first as this helps tenderize them) and they DO bite. Overhanging ledges, wear a hood, you’ll find out. Overzealous rangers and clubies at Cottesloe groin, who think your loop is a spear, talk about discrimination……
Once you catch your first you’ll be hooked on a great sport that keeps you fit and feeds your friends and family, see you down there.