I’m not much of a fisherman and it’s probably because I suffer from acute compassion for anything with eyes, as well as a syndrome rooted in anthropomorphism — the projecting of human characteristics onto animals.
I just have to look at any animal and I feel I can gauge what it’s trying to convey.
That being said, a friend asked me if I would sail down to King Harbor in Redondo Beach to do a little lobstering. The season opened on September 27th and will continue until March 18th. Neither one of us had any experience in this sport catching lobsters, but we have both ordered them in restaurants and thought it was a good idea.
Since neither my friend Matt nor I are divers, we were forced into using the other means of catching “bugs,” as they’re commonly known — hoop nets. The hoop net allows the angler to sit around drinking beer doing virtually nothing — and it’s far less spooky a proposition than diving.
“I don’t want to go down there in the dark with a flashlight,” I confessed, when the notion of diving for lobsters was raised.
“Me either,” said Matt as he sat slumped and relaxed, slurping from his Heineken can and staring toward the horizon. “There’s probably some scary-looking fish down there.”
It was about 9:30 p.m. and we were anchored about 200 feet from the King Harbor breakwall in moderately rough wave conditions, which we were told was preferable. Good wave action stirs up the bottom where the lobsters reside and gets them crawling around the ocean floor. The proximity to the rocks is advantageous because lobsters often seek refuge under rocks, and the evening outing was chosen because these animals are nocturnal.
Legally, everything was in order as well. At first we thought all we needed was a boat, nets, beer, ice, snacks, and some ambition, but later we learned that our old-school Huck Finn stylings didn’t apply. We had to each get a one-day fishing license and a one-day lobster report card. The fishing license was $12.60 and the report card was $7.90, available at the local bait shop.
According to the Department of Fish and Game, the purpose of the new reporting requirement is to:
“Monitor recreational catch, effort and the gear used in the recreational lobster fishery. Regulations require that prior to beginning fishing activity the cardholder must record the month, day, location, and gear code on the first available line on the report card. When the cardholder moves to another location, or finishes fishing for the day, he or she must immediately record on the card the number of lobster kept from that location. An additional card may be purchased in the event an individual fills in all lines and returns a spiny lobster report card.”
Anyway, so we complied with “The Man’s” wishes and were out in the elements looking to bag some bugs. The beauty of this kind of fishing is that with the new Volcano nets, which essentially operate like a Roach Motel, there is very little skill involved — as far as we could tell.
So we loaded the special lobster trap with anchovies — they were out of mackerel — and waited for our dinner to mosey into our grasp. As fate would have it, there was a fireworks show off the coast of Palos Verdes. It seemed odd that on an October night there would be a professional fireworks display, but we figured it was either Halloween-related or it was someone over there celebrating how awesome it is to be super-rich.
So, after hanging out for about a half-hour, we decided to check the nets and see what was happening. Two were empty, but in one we heard a flipping sound as we pulled the trap to the boat. There it was — a legal California spiny lobster, worth $24.99 per pound at the fish store.
It was exciting, to be sure, but when I looked at that dude, all shocked at the sight of us, I couldn’t help but feel for the little guy. I’m sure he was just delighted that he’d found a nice little morsel and just too stupid to realize he was climbing over a bunch of wire that is the trap.
It was getting late. We threw the lobster into a bucket of water and headed for home. With pride, we displayed our catch to Matt’s wife, who was sleeping on the couch, but it was when his two- and four-year-old daughters saw the critter the next morning, sitting helpless in a bucket, that we knew we had to return this crustacean back to the sea.
It was decided that we would walk to the beach and set him free. I could almost hear the John Williams soundtrack in my head as we neared the breakers. It was the right thing to do.
We named him Freeman — Lobster Freeman — and put him on the sand where he could crawl back to where he was from. It wasn’t quite like the ending of ET, but close.
Matt removed him from the bucket and placed him on the sand. A wave came in and rolled him about 30 times. Hmmm. That’s not good. He did it again and Freeman got hammered once more. Apparently the lack of oxygen from the overnight stay in the bucket sapped the little guy of all his energy.
Then, in what seemed like slow motion, Matt picked up Freeman and tossed him over the perilous breakers to safety. Today, we believe in every fiber of our beings, that Freeman got his bearing that Sunday afternoon and made his way back to his own kind — better for the experience.