How to Trap Lobster

The bottom-dwelling Cold Water American Lobster flourishes in cold, rocky waters off the Atlantic coast of North America and is considered the best-tasting Lobster that is harvested and enjoyed by millions of people worldwide. You can snorkel, scuba dive and spear to catch Lobster or do it the way they have doing it for 100’s of years Trap it.  How do you trap a Lobster?

  • Lobsterman use a specially designed Trap (“Pot”) that contains 2 compartments
  • Pots are taken out on the ocean by boat & laid on the bottom
  • A rope connects the Pots to a floating colored marker buoy
  • Lobsters enter the Pot through the Kitchen where it’s baited
  • Exits to the Parlor where it becomes trapped

Lobsters are crustaceans and come in four types: a clawed, spiny, slipper, and the deep sea, they live in most of the Oceans of the world. Commercial Lobster Fishing Industry is responsible for most of the harvesting American and European Lobsters creating a multi-billion dollar business satisfying the need for this delicious creature. Lobsterman has been making a living at it in places like Maine and has reaped the benefits of one of America’s favorite kinds of seafood.

Lobster Fishing

Just as it’s important to hunt for fish, it’s important to decide where you want to hunt for lobsters as you won’t always find the same species in two different locations. Some places are home to spiny lobsters sometimes referred to as crayfish, which you’ll find in warmer waters and will require a different hunting strategy than Cold Water lobsters with large front claws that are trapped off the Ocean floor.

In general, there are two types of Lobsters Cold Water Lobster(that are normally trapped) and Warm Water Lobster.

  • The Warm Water Lobster is commonly caught off the coast of Asia, the Caribbean, Florida, California, and the Mediterranean.
  • Warm Water Lobsters have a fishier taste, often with a softer mushier texture, which means they are often difficult to handle.
  • Cold Water Lobster is commonly caught off the coast of New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and of course Maine.
  • Cold Water Lobsters are firmer sweeter and more succulent, with whiter meat. They are transported frozen to many warm water areas because you just can’t compete with the taste.  always pick cold-water Maine lobster.

Homarus americanus, also known as the American Lobster, Boston Lobster, New England Lobster, Atlantic Lobster, Northern Lobster, Nova Scotia lobster, and of course the Maine Lobster. This is a crustacean has a long type body and 5 sets of legs, and one pair that features big, strong claws. In fact, almost half of the lobster’s weight comes from its claws. In cold temperatures water like the North Atlantic Ocean has Lobsters grow slowly. The cool temperatures keep the saltwater from permeating the meat. This the reason the meat in a Maine Lobster is firmer and succulent than any other kind and is well known for their taste as the best in the world.

The Maine lobster should never be confused with the spiny lobster, Panulirus arus or rock lobster. Maine lobster is easily distinguished from the “spiny” lobster by its large heavy claws. The spiny lobster is caught in warm waters off Florida and in the Caribbean and southern California coast. Because of the sweet flavor and the firm texture the Maine Lobster is the most preferred.

Lobster License

Maine Lobsters are trapped all year long. The best time to buy them is in late spring, from May to June and again in the fall, from October to November. New shell lobsters are usually harvested from late summer to early fall. In the Winter months, Lobster Fisherman pulls their traps to is to avoid damage from Nor’easters and other winter storms. Lobsters grow by molting or shedding their shells. Just after they molt, they are soft and fragile until their new shell has hardened.

It takes about 25 molts over 5-7 years for a lobster to grow to a minimum legal size, 1 pound. Newly molted lobsters are called soft-shell or “new shell” lobsters. The quality of the Hard Shell is preferred over Soft Shelled Lobster. There is 4500 licensed Lobster Fisherman who are allowed to harvest 800 Lobsters which is also the maximum number of traps a Lobsterman is allowed to set. The traps are marked by buoys that are colored to identify the owners who set them in that location. It’s frowned upon for someone other than the owner to pull these traps. Frowned upon is an understatement!

If you are in the northeast area of North America, it’s usually between June and October. If you are along the Californian coast and in the southeast area the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Keys, you’ll find legendary Florida lobsters between August and March.

Information on any local spots is the same as for native fish. Local Tackle Shops hold the gear, in most cases, and licenses and information you need to get going. Check beforehand if you are going on vacation for the State you are vacationing in. Just like a specific fishing license, you’ll be asked to fill out a form and pay a fee and you’re in.

You should familiarize yourself with lobster fishing regulations in your area. These will include the following:

  • The maximum number of lobsters you are allowed to catch daily
  • Time limits, which typically start at sunrise and end at sunset
  • The number of lobster traps you can use at one time and/or have on a single fishing boat
  • Areas that are considered off-limits for lobster fishing
  • Legal size limits for caught lobsters

 What is a Lobster Pot

Most Lobsters are still caught by whats called Lobster Pots that were developed in the 19th Century. The Pots used to be made of wood but in the last 20-30 years are made of metal that is lighter (wooden pots could weigh more than 80 lbs. wet) saltwater resistant and the wire mesh cages are easier to stack on board the Lobsterman’s boat.

A traditional lobster trap has two components. The outer compartment has 1-2 funnels of nylon netting leading inside the trap. Lobsters attracted by the bait move into one of the funnels.  The inner component, called the ‘Parlor,’  By the time they take the bait and reach the parlor, the lobsters are trapped.

Kitchen: The ‘kitchen’ is the entry to the front of the trap. It is funnel-shaped and made of netting. Flat cement blocks or bricks are placed in the kitchen area to weigh down the trap so it hits the ocean floor flat and stays in place. Traps are set between 20-30 feet of water. The Lobster Traps have an escape hatch that will allow less mature smaller in size lobsters to be able to get out of the cage whereas the more mature ones won’t be able to. 

Make sure your trap is up to par with current regulations. Some of these regulations may seem petty and especially if they are nailed for any one of them, but having lived in New Jersey where thousands of residents make their living from businesses on the coast I understand.

Non-residents commonly break the laws. It’s important that Lobster traps should have an escape hole that undersized lobsters can exit from and, ideally, have a biodegradable escape/”ghost” panel that will disintegrate by itself underwater so caught lobsters don’t get trapped and die in it in case the trap gets lost.

If you’re using regular lobster traps with two compartments, set them up with a bait (dead fish) in the first compartment. Attach tags (with your license number) to the trap, as well as a buoy (with your license number and name or initials) with a long, sturdy rope.

If you’re using a hoop net for spiny lobsters, place a piece of bait inside its bait pouch at the bottom and attach a labeled buoy to the line on top of the net. Don’t forget to measure each lobster outside the cage and use your metal or plastic lobster gauge to measure its body shell (or carapace). The gauge has to be placed directly at the top of the carapace.

Depending on your region’s recommendations and regulations, you may have to start the measurement behind the eyestalks or from the middle area found in between the horns. End your measurement where the carapace joins the tail. Check the Laws every State is different!!

Lobster Trap Design

  • It takes a lot of hard work to get that ugly looking crustacean from the bottom of the ocean floor to someone’s dinner plate. The way the Lobsterman did 100 years ago is basically the same way they are doing it today and with a similar Trap or Pot.
  • Most of the Pots today have two compartments known as the Kitchen and the Parlor.
  • The Compartments are connected by Doors. The Lobster enters the Trap by the Door that connected to the Kitchen.
  • That’s where the bait is
  • Once a lobster grabs a chunk of bait with its claw, it exits the kitchen through a second door
  • That second leads to the Parlor
  • This where the Lobster becomes trapped.
  • Both doors are built funnel-shaped, making them easy to get in but difficult to exit.

Check this

This design of the Trap is what keeps lobsters from leaving and escaping. These principles of operation are the same as they were in the 19th Century. The Fisherman or Lobsterman baits the Trap by filling a Bait bag with dead fish and hangs it inside they are taken to spots normally out into the Ocean and laid out strategically on the bottom. Using a rope and pulley system like this one used for crab pots connecting the trap and your boat with a floating marker buoy at the other end. I ran into this tool if you are interested in building your own wire mesh Lobster Trap it’s called a HARCO Clipper – Clinching Tool HR2000-6181 – M66 (Hartco Clips, Vertex Clips, J-Clips, Lobster Traps, Crab Pots, Fencing, Clinch Clips)made in the USA

Lobster Bait

In Maine, salted Herring is the preferred dinner for the Cold Water Lobster. Lobster hide in the rocks and sand at the bottom floor of the ocean during the day. That normally means they could be found at 20 ft. or as deep as 1000 feet. They are nocturnal moving at night and hunt for food by using their antennas to smell and find their prey. Lobsters eat everything living or dead including mollusks, worms, fish, sea urchins, crabs, and even other lobsters.

Salted Herring is the favorite bait fish used by the lobstermen to lure and trap lobsters. When there is a Herring shortage, bait prices increase, impacting the lobstermen’s bottom line cutting into profits. Bluefish, Cod, Mackerel, and Menhaden (known as Pogeys native to the area) are also used as bait.

On the West Coast, the more chum and smelly baitfish is the best way to catch Lobsters, especially because lobsters are opportunists and scavengers who will when present with an oily smelly meal will take advantage of it if offered.

In Southern California, its Mackerel is the most common lobster bait used. Some say fresh and other fishermen say rotted much like Crabs from New Jersey like their lunch the stinkier the better. So you’re on the East Coast or West remember the fisheries and State authorities are very protectants of their rules and regulation so make sure you check the Laws!



JimGalloway Author/Editor


References: Aqua News How to Catch Lobster

Lobster 101-Learn All About Maine Lobsters from the Lobster Experts




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