The first time I discovered a cave full of lobsters I was gob-smacked. I never knew you could catch lobster by hand. I was only 16, barely learning to spearfish when I noticed the tell-tale antennae poking out from under a ledge. A quick duck dive confirmed it.
There was a massive lobster just chilling under there.
At this point in my diving career I was sporting a pair of cheap fins, a pole spear, and my mask. Not the best spearfishing equipment, but it’s what I was working with. Without a pair of dive gloves, it took almost a half-hour of wrangling to catch that lobster by hand.
With a shit-eating grin I returned to shore, albeit with a pair of hands slashed to ribbons trying to pull that sucker out.
I’ve still got a big curved scar on my pinky where his tail closed around my unprotected finger. It needed 6 stitches. But it was totally worth it.
These days I’m happy to say I’m a lot more prepared, and I’ve got a lot more experience how to catch lobster by hand. It’s almost a guarantee I’ll have a lobster or two after a quick dive in the water. Because there’s no real trick to it.
You can find Eastern Rock Lobsters up and down the Australian coast, in water ranging from just a few feet deep to much, much deeper.
Spearfishing gear you need to catch lobster by hand
But before you go following in my footsteps.
There’s a couple of pieces of spearfishing gear that you need to invest in.
The lobsters we catch here are covered in spines, and your hands will suffer, especially if you’ve been in the water an hour or two and they’re already softened up. You need a good set of spearfishing gloves. This is absolutely critical.
A small underwater flashlight can help you quickly see if there’s any lobsters hiding in the back of a cave (or better illuminate the tail of a Wobbegong that I missed one dive, who was apparently startled by my arm reaching into his cave and promptly took a bite of my hand).
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Luckily, he wasn’t all that big, and with my gloves it didn’t do any serious damage.
Oh, and don’t forget a good net bag on your float line to keep your lobsters in.
- 3/4-inch mesh
- Basic fishing net replacement bag
- Knotted nylon construction
- Replace damaged nets of any brand. Multiple sizes/depths
- Fits up to 16" hoop, 20" Deep
Where to find lobsters underwater?
The best place to start looking is the reef.
Where I grew up on the mid-north coast of NSW, you’d always find lobsters hiding in and around shallow reefs by the headlands. The trick is to dive down searching for cracks and caves they may be hiding in.
Just remember, these caves may not be visible from the surface. Investigate everything. What looks like an ordinary rock could well have a space underneath for two or three lobsters to shelter.
The first few hunts are going to be frustrating until you get an idea of where the lobsters like to hide, and you’ll need to cover ground until you find them. But once you do, you can be pretty certain they’ll always be lobsters in those holes (or areas) in future dives.
Plan to catch the lobster
After finding one of these little spiky devils, take a second to plan out your attack. The lobster won’t be going anywhere, so regain your composure, take a breath, and do an investigation dive. This is the most important part when you want to catch lobster by hand.
What you’re looking for is:
- How deep the cave is, and if you’re able to reach the back of it.
- Possible escape routes, like a big opening, or a second hole out the back.
- A target lobster, as often you’ll find two or three in a hole.
For deep holes with an escape route, you’re going to need to move fast and confidently to secure the lobster before it can retreat. For small holes with nowhere to go, you can afford to take your time.
Once you’re nice and calm, it’s time to make your move.
How to catch lobster by hand
Take a breath, and dive down into position. By this point I’ve already dropped my speargun (mine connects with a towline to my dive float), so I’ve got both hands free.
With my left I grab hold of a rock or the cave to anchor myself, and I creep the right forward.
Once I start getting close, I slowly move my left to circle behind the lobster.
I’ve found that some lobsters are inquisitive and will come forward, and it can be tempting to try and grab the antenna. Don’t do that. They’re fragile and will break. Instead, aim for the base of the horns. Just be quick. 9 times out of 10 they will shoot back faster than I can grab, and that’s why my left hand is in behind them. They swim right into it.
I’ll try to pin it to the rock with my palm, or if I’ve a chance to grab the carapace with my left I will. Then my right hand comes in and grabs the base of the horns, to yank it from the cave. Depending on how big your lobster is this can be a challenge, but you should be able to pull it free. If not, try a quick “push-pull” movement to break its grip.
Now you’ve got it out of the cave, hold tight and get to the surface. It goes straight into my catch bag, and I’m off looking for another to take home.
Don’t forget the rules and regulations
It goes without saying that you should always abide by the rules and regulations of your local fisheries, and there are certain catch limits, sizes and seasons for lobster too. Do your due diligence and know the current regulations before you go spearfishing.
In NSW, the following regulations apply (current as of Nov, 2018), please check the department of fisheries for updated information.
- Minimum carapace of 11cm for male
- Minimum carapace of 10.5cm for female
- Maximum of two (2) Eastern Rock Lobsters
Any lobsters carrying eggs must be immediately returned to the water.
Catching lobsters with your hands takes practice, and with a little time and a little luck you’ll quickly get the hang of it. Once you know where to look, and how to catch lobster by hand, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to bring home fresh lobster for dinner.