After reading all I could both on line and off in preparation for lobster fishing, I can say that I have learned a few valuable unwritten lessons after a summer of the real thing on the coast of Maine. As background, I got my five-trap recreational license in January of 2012. I went into this game thinking it would be a contest between me, the newcomer, and the established network of commercial fishers. Instead, it has been between me and the lobsters. I have not heard a word from any other lobstermen or marine patrol officers since I began.
One of my earliest expectations was that I would be catching an average of one keeper lobster per trap each time I hauled, which I expected to do every two to three days. I got this idea from watching youtube videos. Instead, I have been getting an average of one lobster per five traps. So much for my anticipated problem of having too many lobsters! This provides me with about three lobsters per week, about what I consider a nice amount for our household consumption.
The economics of this activity is dismal. While the cost of electric “fuel” is negligible-2¢ (readers may remember I have an electric lobster boat), the bait is not. Then there’s the time involved. Over an hour to get my one lobster, not to mention the physical effort of hauling traps by hand and cleaning the mud out of my boat.
Still, if given the choice of silently motoring over to my traps on a glassy, sun sparkled ocean or engaged at some other typical human activity, I’ll take the hauling of usually-empty traps any day. This hasn’t stopped me from musing over why my haul is so marginal in a year when there is supposed to be a “glut” of lobsters. The key to better lobster fishing I suspect, is to constantly move traps around. Just watching the trap buoys in front of SeaCat’s Rest tells me that this is exactly what the big boys do. Early summer there were many, now there are very few. Even I have moved mine halfway to Lamoine State Park in an effort to improve the catch. Then there’s the depth issue. People have told me that setting traps in very shallow water is the way to success, that commercial boats can’t get that close to shore, and they miss a bounty of shallow lobsters. I can’t recommend this. I didn’t work for me. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be much correlation between depth and catch. My traps have 35-40 feet of rope which limits them to this depth at high tide. I tend to set them in deep water, but my problem in this is that with only 5 traps there is just no scientific validity to any of my results due to small sample size. If I had 100, 300 or 500 traps I could get a much clearer picture of which traps were successful. As it is, I have to watch the commercial guys for clues about where they set traps.
As for bait, I started out with salted herring, the classic lobster bait. This would disappear in a day or two, mostly from crabs. After going for my third five gallon bucket, my supplier could no longer sell any to me due to short supply. I switched to hide bait. This is cowhide with its hair removed in a sort of brine which is about 4X as expensive, but is easier to store (requiring no refrigeration) and longer lasting, since even though it smells like a dead animal, it is like eating shoe leather. In fact, it is. I have found that even though the hide lasts a long time, it slowly becomes less stinky and therefore less effective as a bait. I tend to change it about once per week.
I do get interesting stuff in my traps. Besides (usually undersized) lobsters, I get a lot of crabs. I keep the biggest ones for picking. I get an occasional starfish. Some disgusting worms, sea cucumbers and hermit crabs round out the menagerie. Rubber gloves and a pair of tongs come in handy. Sometimes a seal will come by for a closer look or a school of mackerel will swoop around the boat.
As the fall turns colder I will give it up for another year. Next spring I will have my solar panels installed which will enable me to range further, so I will be more aggressive about finding better trap locations. I’d also like to settle the bait questions, finding a dependable supply and figuring out what kind is best. For now I’ll keep fishing until it’s no longer fun, a luxury the commercial guys don’t have. Hat’s off to them! Buy Maine lobsters!