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Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Go big or go home
Wednesday, October 04, 2017
Fine fall fishing indeed!

Hooping renaissance
Just 15 years ago, hoop netting was an all but forgotten art, only practiced by pier anglers trying for a few crabs. Then some industry insiders started hooping the local breakwaters commercial trappers were barred from, and with monster success. About two years in, word got out and spread like wildfire. Soon it grew to be a thing — a real thing.

Instead of hand-crafted rebar hoops made with salvaged bait-hauler wing webbing, and old-school flat-pan pier nets, it's a whole new world. Highly effective, easy-to-use-gear is all available, right over the counter.

SPINY LOBSTER SEASON kicks off at 6 a.m. on Sept. 30.

Saturday, boats from hooping's tin-bait-hauler skiff roots, to kayaks to yachts and even passenger boats will all be out there on night patrol harvesting a delicious resource. It's one that's become so valuable, sportfishing is about the only way we Californian's access our own local lobster anymore. Almost the entire California commercial catch is quickly whisked pan Pacific to the tables of overseas tycoons.

With the opener this weekend, I reviewed the regs and contacted party boat owner Capt. Ryan Gingler and Promar pro-staffer Jim Salazar for the latest changes and basic how-to info. Promar is the preeminent producer of top-of-the-line hoop gear and accessories, while Gingler's two boats, Triton and Gail Force, out of L.A. Waterfront in Ports O' Call Village, San Pedro, specialize in nightly open-party lobster forays, Wednesday through Sunday in-season.

First, there are some changes in the regs this season, and two of the most notable are a switch from a midnight kickoff to the season, to a 6 a.m. start this Saturday –– much more safe and sane, especially for divers trying to get first crack. The second most no table change is buoys must be marked with the fisher's GO ID number. There are others, too, and some long-standing regs are well worth reviewing before heading out.

Gingler and Salazar independently stressed several of the same key points. Both said setting out your hoops up current of habitat before sunset was a key to success. You want those bugs sniffing up the vapor trail wafting from your trap, waiting for the moment it's dark enough to venture forth from their crevice and attack it.

Both Gingler and Salazar mentioned the areas out of bounds for the commercial guys are key. The LT fleet is highly effective at sorting the bulk of the legal bugs from an area in a hurry, landing the majority of their annual catch within just the first few weeks of the season. Amazingly, most of this comes from a single zone, Point Loma.

The two largest of the recreational fishing only areas are reserved for the general public specifically so we don't have to compete with highly-effective commercial gear. They are the Santa Monica Bay, and the front side of Catalina Island. At Catalina you'll need to be aware of several MPAs, including the extensive Arrow Point to Lion Head MPA. It's one which allows fin fish, so we're used to fishing there, however, it prohibits invertebrate harvest within 1,000 yards of shore.

Other places without commercial traps include areas within 750 feet of publicly owned wharves, jetties, breakwaters and piers. Included are the greater L.A./L.B. Harbor, most breakwaters and jetties, San Diego Bay, including the Zuniga submerged jetty, and the east side of Point Loma. It's the effect of this regulation that really set the stage for our recreational hooping renaissance.

When it came to finding the right place to set your hoops, it was all about structure for Salazar. Yet Gingler's strategy incorporated some commercial fishing nuance to it. Bugs do more than hit the slopes after dark, foraging among the rocks. They also fan out across the flats and even migrate from spot to spot.

Gingler said some of their best hits came fishing the small flats between several spots in close proximity to one another. One night while fishing this way, they were pulling as fast as they could to get to the next float. With just 15 minutes soak time, the 10 hoops each came up full. Before they recovered all their gear they measured 135 keepers, retaining their 70 bugs, limits for the 10 aboard.

Commercial trapper Chris Miller told me, in addition to fishing the reefs, the old pros target secret transit corridors which are often way out in the open.

Meanwhile, the newbies to the commercial fleet all simply lace the edges of the MPAs and hope for the best.

Gingler's boats leave the dock at noon, fish rockfish until an hour before sunset, switch gears and get hoops down before dark. Soak time is generally a 1/2-hour or so, a steady progression of pulling and clearing and setting ensues. Fishers fish by their number, so number 1 gets hoop 1 and so forth, and they pull by hand. Sometimes a pair will team up on their two traps when it comes time to pull.

His boats fish 10 Promar Ambush traps at a time, the legal maximum hoop-net number per boat. These are provided onboard and are rigged identically.

Sea lions can be a bait-thieving nuisance and Gingler tends to fish deeper when they attack. Sea lions want the bait, and don't mess with the thorny bugs. Video has shown the bugs to crawl back under the protective lip of the conical nets when danger nears, but they were back out after the bait a few minutes after danger had passed.

Bait tubes help against sea lions but, as Gingler and Salazar each noted, don't fish quite as well. Nevertheless, if lions are a problem, it's a sacrifice you'll have to make if you want bugs to have a chance at getting into your hoop in the first place.

Promar has introduced a new California max version conical hoop, the Ambush XL, at a 36-inch diameter. It comes with the new heavy-duty bridle. Salazar said, "I had that thing stuck on a wreck and I got it back. The net was a pretzel but the bridle was fine!"

Regarding hoop weight he said, "You can easily make a lighter net heavier, but you can't make a heavy net lighter." In fact, Leadmasters makes custom hoop weights that clip on an off of the outer ring. Sometimes you need a little extra weight, but hauling it when you don't is a pain.

"Line control" is very important stressed Salazar. Basically it's all about not leaving a length of line floating across the surface for you or others to get fouled in their props, a big bummer for all involved. This can be accomplished by adding commercial net weights to your hauling line, or you can simply get good at bundling any excess line.

Promar's newly introduced insulated HD gloves protect your hands and wrists from unruly bugs. High wrist guards keep those raspy antennae off your arms.

As a final note, Salazar added, a dry hooper is a happy hooper, and having suitable foul weather gear like Grundens for handling stinky bait, wet lines and traps in a dark and damp environment is a must. Heavy duty helps. If you look like a dude on Deadliest Catch, you've got it covered.

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Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat captain, he also works as a marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: merit@wonews.com.

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