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Lobster Hoop Netting Print E-mail

By Frank Nielsen

One night, every year, fisherman and divers in Southern California scramble to get their boats and gear to a special fishing area on the water, usually not too far from the harbor. Once there, they ready all their gear and then the waiting game begins. At midnight the Lobster season opens and the race will be on to get a limit of the biggest Lobster out there. Why all of the excitement? Lobster populations are healthy in California waters and rank among the finest eating and priciest seafoods in all of the oceans. In this article, I will try to give an overview of this fast growing sport and the methods used in local Southern California waters to catch these fine eating creatures.

Hoop nets are manufactured by several companies and most are 32 inches across. A steel hoop supports the nets round shape and a smaller 12 inch steel hoop is woven into the center of the net. Bait is attached to the inner hoop. A rope bridle is attached in 3 spots around the outer hoop and connects to the main rope. The bridle helps keep the net level when pulling it up from the ocean floor. A float is attached between the mainline and the bridle to support the bridle above the net. Perhaps you have seen fisherman using a hoop net to help land a big "hook and line" caught fish from a pier. These are the same nets used to target Lobster and Crab by California fisherman. Hoop nets will cost you from about $10-$40 each depending on size, quality, features, what's included, and where you buy them. One of the most valued features you can find on a hoop net is a double (two layered) bottom. More on this later.


I have tried alot of different items for hoop net bait. I presume Lobster and Crab would eat almost anything when really hungry. My number one choice is Mackerel for several reasons. Mackerel is usually easy to catch or cheap to buy, smelly, oily and usually plentiful. If you let the bait sit in a sealed container for a day or two, it seems to work even better than when fresh. The commercial guys swear by it. Don't over do it. More rotten is not better in my experience. Bait can be attached to the center steel hoop or directly to the center of the netting material itself. I use zip ties. Go though one eye socket and out the other and then secure it to the net. Take another zip tie and go around the base of the tail and the net. Pull it as tight as possible. If you cut slits into the fish or fillet the skin off, the bait will attract better but will not last as long. Try to make sure you always have enough bait before you start hooping. If you do a poor job securing the bait to the net, your catch may tear the bait off the net and go eat it somewhere else. Try other baits too. Others have had good results using Tuna, Salmon heads, etc.


Lobster's live and hide in holes, crevices, and caves. During daylight, Lobsters will likely be hiding in this structure. At night Lobster may leave the structure to hunt for food in the darkness. A good spot to try for Lobster will be in 15-80 feet of water where structure is known to be near by. Public piers, natural kelp reefs, jetties, eel grass beds, break walls, artificial reefs, harbors, and sunken wrecks are all great Lobster habitat. The sand and mud flats immediately adjacent to this type of structure is an ideal area to target. You don't want to drop your nets on top of a wreck or rock pile. The Lobsters tend to eat your bait from the bottom of the net if it lands on uneven bottom and you don't want that. You can easily snag and loose a net getting one fouled in bottom structure. The bugs will crawl to your bait if you fish the nets on the sandy bottom next to the structure. If you have sonar, use it to study the ocean floor you plan to fish before you drop the nets.


I like to be on the water within an hour or two of dark. This gives me time to get all of my nets spread out real good in an area and get everything ready to start pulling just before dark. If your new to boating at night, or hoop netting, try to get the hang of it in the calmest, flattest, conditions possible. It takes some skill to drive around all of those floats in the dark without running over the ropes and floats. Once your good at it, hooping in rougher conditions will be less dangerous for you and your crew.


The rougher weather related to storms, strong wind and surf tend to get the Lobster crawling out of their holes. During and after stormy conditions, the Lobster fishing can be phenomenal! On these trips pulling 5 or more Lobster in one single pull are common. Many guys catch their big trophy size bugs during or after big storms. More dangerous for sure, but more productive.


Smaller boats work great for hoop netting. They maneuver well around the floats and rope, and being so close to the water surface makes picking up the floats a breeze. Also if your motor dies in close to the beach or rocks, you may be able to row your way to safety. Pulling the ropes from a sitting position also has its benefits over standing up on a rolling and pitching wet deck of a larger boat. Visibility on the water in the dark in important and a small skiff offers unobstructed 360 degree visibility for locating floats in the darkness.

Bigger boats are much more comfortable on the water. You can put more people on the boat for a higher Lobster bag limit total for the night. You can have more "pullers" on board to relieve the poor guy with the gloves on. You will be able to safely hoop areas that smaller craft can't make it to in rougher weather. Larger boats are also less likely to become disabled by rope entangling in the props. The higher horsepower and bigger props will just tend to shred the rope rigging.

Hoop netting for Lobster from a kayak has recently become very popular. Kayakers never get rope tangled in their prop. If you cannot afford a boat and you want to be able to hoop net areas other than public piers, a kayak may be your vehicle. I know a young man who regularly hoops off his kayak with 5 nets and does very well. Plus it is great exercise paddling from net to net. It can be intimidating on a kayak at night with all of the bloody hoop net bait on board.

Public piers are a great place to hoop net. The structure is there, and many Southland piers have artificial reefs built very close by. Some piers produce Lobster year after year. Not many fisherman hoop net from public piers. You are allowed to fish two (2) hoop nets per person on any public pier. A great place to learn the basics.


Hoop netting is dangerous. Many hazards contribute to the generally dangerous environment hoop netting takes place in. Operating a boat close to shore and/or rocks at night is a start. Now add several or perhaps dozens of floats all with varying amounts of floating rope attached to them. Some may be lit well with light sticks, reflective tape, or L.E.D. lights, others may be barely noticeable and unmarked. All of them have the ability to become entangled in your propeller(s), possibly stalling the engine(s) and tying up the props, disabling your boat. Now add the excitement of catching all of those critters, maybe a few beers, and a wet slippery, slimy deck from pulling all of those nets. Throw in some regular boat traffic through the general area. Now add some big swell, nearby breaking surf, and some wind blowing you right on to the beach or rocky break wall you are hooping. All of these hazards are often present and close calls are common, even for those with lots of experience.

I love to hoop net. I still get very excited every time I get out there. I never "wait" to pull a net. I set all 5 of my nets to cover a large area as it gets dark. Once all 5 are set, I go back to the net I put down first and pull it. Then the next, and so on. I have pulled up nets that the bait was half eaten out of the net in that short time between pulls. Likely, the critter(s) have eaten and left. As I pull nets that have good catches in them, I concentrate more nets in that area. If catching is really slow, I may try re-baiting with some unsoaked bait and move the nets around a little. I don't sit and wait for the bugs to find my nets. I move the nets around alot and hope to find a concentration and then fish it hard.
Sea Lions can ruin a great night of hoop netting. The Sea Lions in many areas have learned how to pull the baits from hoop nets no matter how good you secure them. When that happens, you just keep baiting your nets and then watch the Sea Lions dive down and eat it up, tearing and towing your nets around in the process. Some hoop netters will keep re-baiting the nets till their bait supply is exhausted. They sometimes go home empty handed with nothing but torn up nets. Some have had some luck attaching the bait to the bottom side of the hoop net. Promar manufactures a newly designed hoop net that incorporates a second piece of netting material on the center ring forming a pouch to securely hold the bait between the two layers of material. Once you try these nets when Sea Lions are around you will see the value of the double bottom bait pouch in these nets. The design is so good, the company has patented it. If Sea Lions are around and you are using the single bottom nets, you may be better off trying another area altogether unless you have some sort of secure bait containers with you to tie onto your nets.


The boat operator plays a very important role when pulling the nets. The boat must pull up to the float without running it over, yet close enough so that the net puller can reach the float with his gloved hands or with a boat hook. The net puller must then pick up the float causing the least possible amount of disturbance to the hoop net. If the rope is suddenly jerked, anything feeding on the bait may be startled off before the net puller ever gets started with raising the net off the ocean bottom. The key to pulling the nets up is steady consistent pulling from start to finish. Speed is important too, but not at the expense of a nice steady pull all the way to the surface.

Besides your hoop nets, bait, and a suitable fishing platform, here is a list of stuff you may need on a night out hoop netting for Lobster. A gauge for measuring Lobster, available at some fishing tackle stores and dive shops. A powerful hand held spotlight to search for floats. Chemical light sticks for your main floats. Zip Ties and a pair of cutters to cut them off. Gloves for the guy pulling, I use the orange gloves with the silicone glue stripes all over them. A rain suit or slickers, the guy pulling will get wet from the chest down. A boat hook or a gaff pole to help pick up the floats when using a boat with high rails. An anchor that is ready to throw, in case of disabled motor. And finally a good camera to take lots of pictures of all of those big Lobster.

I have spent a great deal of time learning everything I can about this sport. I read books, surf the internet, talk to everyone I can at the docks, and spend alot of time on the phone with other hoop netters. I am constantly trying to find a way to get a limit of lobster quicker and bigger than my last trip out. What I have learned helps, however I can not ignore the fact that I am regularly out-fished by someone with little or no experience hoop netting. The bottom line is, if you are in the right place at the right time, you will get them and get them quick even with "bottom of the line" gear.


Big Lobsters 5-10 pounds are caught by many hoop netters every season. The larger bugs tend to hold on to the net and/or bait and won't let go, even when they have been boated. They are clumsy, heavier and slower than the smaller bugs. Once a large Lobster crawls into your net, there is a good chance you will land him. Sometimes the larger bugs will be partially hanging over the edge of the net when you get the net up. The best you can do to help land the big ones is to use the largest diameter, deepest net you can get your hands on. Some hoop netters claim your chances for catching a trophy Lobster are better very late in the evening and late in the season.

This is what really makes hoop netting fun! The bait in your hoop net will attract almost anything that lives in the ocean. Some of the items you will catch in your hoops will amaze you. A partial list of what you may pull up includes Sea Lions, Round Sting Rays, Spider Crabs, Octopus, Sea cucumbers, Swell Sharks, Swimming Crabs, Snails, Horn Sharks, Rock Crabs, Bass, Rockfish, Sculpin, Bat Rays, Smooth Hound Sharks, Croaker, and Starfish. All of the different bycatch really keeps the pulling interesting. You never know what you are going to pull up. Last week, a friend got a big Bat ray in his net. The net was swimming around with the Bat ray completely inside of the net. While pulling the net, the Bat Ray actually took line from his gloved hands.



A friend of mine introduced me to underwater infra-red video cameras earlier this season. We have been attaching these surveillance cameras to baited hoop nets and dropping them down at the lobster grounds. The camera can see in total darkness due to the infra-red lighting. The camera is aimed at the baited area of the hoop net. The video signal travels through a special cable and the image is displayed on a small monitor on the boat. You can watch everything that is going on in the net. We are learning alot from just watching. I am amazed at how quickly the Lobster will crawl into the net after it has been lowered from the boat, sometimes within a minute. At times, those bugs must be littered all over the ocean floor. We have been video taping alot of this. Those interested will get a chance to see some of this exciting footage at the Fred Hall Show this March at the AMI booth.


A whole article could be written on the subject of preparing Lobster for the dinner table. I will keep this as simple as possible. For a "legal" size bug, with gloved hands, twist the tail off. Rinse, and place in boiling water for 10-12 minutes. Serve with melted butter.


Before going out and doing any sport fishing in California, it is a good idea to check the latest regulations. Here are some of the basics for hoop netting :

  • Everyone hoop netting needs a valid California Fishing License. 
  • The bag limit for Lobster is 7 per person.
  • Lobsters must be 3 1/4 inches. (See photo below).
  • Lobsters may be taken by hoop net or by hand only.
  • You may fish up to two(2) nets per person on public piers.
  • You may fish up to five(5) nets per person on a boat. 10 nets maximum per boat.

    29.90. Spiny Lobsters.
    (a) Open season: From the Saturday preceding the first Wednesday in October through the first Wednesday after the 15th of March.
    (b) Limit: Seven.
    (c) Minimum size: Three and one-fourth inches measured in a straight line on the mid-line of the back from the rear edge of the eye socket to the rear edge of the body shell. Any lobster may be brought to the surface of the water for the purpose of measuring, but no undersize lobster may be brought aboard any boat, placed in any type of receiver, kept on the person or retained in any person’s possession or under his direct control; all lobsters shall be measured immediately upon being brought to the surface of the water, and any undersize lobster shall be released immediately into the water.
    (d) Report Card Required: Any person fishing for or taking spiny lobster shall have in their possession a non-transferable Spiny Lobster Report Card issued by the department and shall adhere to all reporting requirements for lobster defined in Sections 1.74 and 29.91, Title 14, CCR.

    (e) Spiny lobsters shall be kept in a whole, measurable condition, until being prepared for immediate consumption.

    29.91. Spiny Lobster Report Card Requirements for Ocean Waters.
    (a) Spiny Lobster Report Card Required. All individuals must have a Spiny Lobster Report Card in their possession while fishing for or taking lobster. In the case of a person diving from a boat, the report card may be kept in the boat, or in the case of a person diving from the shore, the report card may be kept within 500 yards from the point of entry. Individuals must complete and return the card pursuant to regulations in this Section and in Section 1.74.
    (b) 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.

    Check out our forums for the latest lobster hoop netting reports!
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