When we first put out our lobster pots, back in May, we had a couple of good lobstering trips that netted a couple of good lobsters. Then we had two lousy trips, one with my brother and his wife and one with my mother, from which we came back empty-handed.
The only reasonable conclusion, I thought, was that my family scared the lobsters away. My family has scared away tougher things than lobsters, so it wasn’t a stretch. But then I heard from a couple of sources that lobsters tend to move around, and that these particular lobsters had moved east. I thought this a more probable explanation, so Kevin and I planned to go out and move the traps to where the lobsters were presumed to be. That was over a month ago.
Moving lobster pots that have been sitting in a lobsterless part of Cape Cod Bay is sheer drudgery. It’s all the work of hauling pots with none of the excitement of expecting lobsters. Any wayward specimens that had wandered in would doubtless have found their way out by now, or died in the attempt.
That’s why we didn’t get around to it until yesterday.
We’d frozen the racks from the ten bluefish we caught over the weekend, and Kevin cut them into pieces that would fit in a bait bag, an activity that requires a machete, a hammer, and a high tolerance for the flies that come swarming around as soon as the first few shards of bluefish guts defrost. Kevin has gotten good at this. (And, yes, we make the master baiter joke all the time.)
We filled a cooler with the bait and put it on the boat. We brought fishing rods because we figured we might be able to snag a fish on our way in, consolation for the heavy, unrewarding work we were going out to do.
We put the boat in, glad at least to have a beautiful windless day. We motored out to our line of ten pots, which was right where we left it.
I grabbed the buoy of the first pot, and started hauling. When the pots have been out a long time, the ropes get fouled with all kinds of sea crud, and Kevin stood at the gunwale, de-crudding, as I hauled on the line. The crud not only made the pot heavier than usual, it made the rope diabolically slippery. As Kevin ran the rope through his hands to clean it, the crud fell on the deck, making that slippery, too. Blech.
But when Kevin pulled the first pot over the gunwale, all blechiness was forgotten. There were two – two! – lobsters in it. One was blue, and looked to be almost three pounds.
“Please don’t let that one be a female,” I said as Kevin opened the trap. He pulled it out. No eggs. No notch in the tail. A keeper! As was the other, smaller one.
We banded the lobsters, filled the cooler with sea water, and got the aerator going.
The work got way easier after that.
We ended up with twelve – twelve! – lobsters. You’re not allowed to take females with eggs under their tail, and we had to throw back three big hens. You also have to let go any lobster that’s undersized or has a notch in its tail – we had one of each. That left us with seven keeper lobsters. Seven! It was our biggest haul ever, by a long shot.
But you’ve got to wonder what goes on down there on the sea floor. What would possess a lobster to go into a trap with no bait? I assume these guys hadn’t been there with no food for five weeks, as they seemed feisty and robust. Do they figure out how to get in and out, and take up residence like it’s some kind of cave? If so, why bother baiting at all?
We don’t know a whole lot about lobster behavior (‘we’ being the marine biology community, not Kevin and me), but what we do know has been written about by Trevor Corson in a book called The Secret Life of Lobsters, which has been recommended to me. I just bumped it up to first on my to-read list.
Seven lobsters would have made our day, but we kept seeing fish on the fish finder, so we dropped a couple of lines down on our way in. First up was a spiny dogfish, a kind of small shark. Alas, I found out too late that it has to be bled right away to be edible, or uric acid in its bloodstream contaminates the meat, so it’s destined to be lobster bait. (For more on sharks, read Hank Shaw’s post at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. If we all ask him nicely, I’m hoping he’ll tell us how to gut and bleed a dogfish.)
I know just what to do with a fluke, though, and Kevin caught one, our second of the season, just outside Barnstable Harbor.
The only casualty was Kevin’s twenty-five-year-old fishing rod, which snapped in half when my fluke hook got caught on the seabed. We can live with that.
When we got home, we weighed the catch. It was fourteen pounds in total, and the blue one was three pounds even. My parents came over, and Kevin’s son Eamon is visiting, so we had a lobster feast for five. With leftovers! Who ever heard of leftover lobster?
Several of the lobsters were so big that they were hard to crack, and had a tendency to open explosively when you finally exerted enough pressure on their joints. My mother had to clean her glasses several times, and the table was a disaster. But I’m thinking any night you get lobster in your hair is a good night.