TWO HARBORS — Triton deckhand Nick Kim gaffed the floating coil of line leading to an unseen lobster hoop net nearly 180 feet below the ocean’s surface, and then quickly passed the standing end to Dana Lockhart of Huntington Beach. Lockhart was waiting expectantly, coiled up himself and ready for action.
On cue, Lockhart sprang into motion, pulling the line in hand over hand, never stopping or pausing but keeping to a steady rhythm despite muscles that must have started burning. A minute passed, maybe more, as the rest of the Triton’s 10 fishers looked on. They were waiting their own turns at pulling one of the sportfisher’s 10 hoops, but more than anything, eager to see what rewards might be lurking in Lockhart’s hoop net.
“Stop!” deckhand Kim said emphatically as the hoop finally hit the surface. He pulled it the last few feet and hoisted it over the rail, then dumped its squirming contents on the deck for all to see. Voices rose in excitement as a handful of tasty California spiny lobster scurried for the dark corners of the bow.
“Let’s give ’em a check,” Kim said, picking them up one by one and placing a lobster gauge along their backs. Two were long enough to keep, and went into a bucket for transfer to a crate sitting next to Lockhart’s gunnysack with its number 1 tag.
The night was off to a promising start, a waxing quarter moon sitting high over the far horizon casting a faint light, just enough to reveal the heights of Catalina rising just north of Two Harbors.
In sequence, the other nine hoopers followed. Alice Trujillo of San Pedro, in a lobster colored sweatshirt, made the long pull for one legal. Saverio Simone of Stevenson Ranch, sporting a yellow slicker (it seemed he’d done this before), put in the work but came up blank. He smiled wryly. Then Fred Faustino of Garden Grove hit the jackpot, no fewer than half a dozen bugs in his hoop. Only one kept but it was a good one. And so it went, most hoops producing a keeper or two but some — chiefly those set in shallower water — coming up empty.
Kim and his fellow Triton deckhand Bobby Hill kept the non-productive hoops on deck, and Capt. Shane Kelly up in the wheelhouse steered to redeploy them in even deeper water, up to 200 feet.
The two deckhands paused a moment, and explained that while Catalina offers exceptional lobster hooping — no commercial lobster trapping is permitted on the front side — the deeper water has been the most productive this season. It means more work for their customers who pull the hoops by hand — the Gail Force and Triton offer combo hooping and fishing trips throughout lobster season — but no one minds as long as a steady stream of bugs comes aboard.
That’s right, while lobstering was the main focus, with all lobster gear and bait included making for the easiest of hooping outings, this WON charter aboard the Triton fished too. Lines had been cast off from LA Waterfront Sportfishing and Cruises in San Pedro at noon, live sardines already swimming in the tank. Anglers collected their Promar goodie bags, caps and VMC Techset hooks, and spooled up with free Sufix Superior mono.
The crossing to Catalina took two and a half hours, and many of the anglers aboard took the opportunity to chow down on outstanding burgers grilled up by Kim. Others crashed in the Triton’s bunkroom, banking some sleep as the trip wouldn’t return to the dock until midnight.
Along the way, Capt. Kelly got on the loudspeaker to say the boat would briefly try a surface program, but if a bite failed to quickly develop, we’d fall back on bottom fishing. He took a look at Ship Rock just off Two Harbors, but nothing was happening. “We’ll try the bottom,” he said. Minutes later, Faustino reeled up a nice sculpin for first legal fish of the day and was rewarded with a fishing tool set from Daiwa — the first of the WON charter prizes handed out. Lockhart scored the second and third legal fish, a pair of sheephead, and Riehle decked a nice legal calico.
Capt. Kelly made a short move north up the Catalina shoreline, and just as he was about to set the pick on a new rockfish spot, bonito boiled nearby. Soon, barracuda were popping too, and then a yellowtail wolfpack came slashing through. Deckhand Hill laid on the chum, heavily, as anglers cast out live sardines and others fired iron off the bow, but the only hook-ups were a couple of just sub-legal ’cuda.
“They’re hard to hook when they’re on their own bait,” deckhand Kim said. Indeed, but there’d been a welcome chance that had electrified everyone on board.
Kelly dropped anchor to give Kim and Hill a chance to bait up the boat’s 10 lobster hoops with metal Roach Coach Bait System sea lion resistant cages stuffed with an oily favorite, salmon heads. As the clock hit 4:30 p.m. the Triton was off to drop the hoops for that first, long soak, then it was back to fishing until sunset. The fish jackpot was settled, Lockhart’s larger sheephead edging Riehle’s big calico and earning the lucky angler a warm Promar sweatshirt and cap.
Finally it was time for that first pull, but it wouldn’t be the last. With darkness falling earlier every day, there was time for another 2 sets before the boat had to scoot back to the mainland. Capt. Kelly and his deckhands expertly maneuvered the 60-foot Triton around the hoop net spread, and we were back in business. Right away Trujillo hauled up a nice bug, maybe 2 pounds, Simone got one, and WON circulation director Bill Jaenicke added a pair to his tally.
Chuck Wheeler of Placentia, sitting on a goose egg, scored a big lobster on his second pull, with a little help from Kim. Ultimately, it was barely surpassed by the ever-lucky Lockhart for the lobster jackpot, the fruits of his third and final pull. For biggest bug he earned an Ambush conical hoop net thanks to Promar’s generosity. Only one hooper went home empty-handed, the rest could look forward to delicious lobster dinners.
Both the Gail Force and Triton will offer open party and chartered lobster combo trips throughout the bug season all the way to the closure in mid-March, and there’s really no easier way to try hooping as all lobster gear and bait is provided. To book a trip on either boat, visit gailforcesportfishing.com.