The Day I Nearly Lost my Thumb....Catching a Lobster by Hand!
The Day I Nearly Lost my Thumb...Catching a Lobster by Hand!
Every year my best mate and I pick a couple of weekends in the summer, clear the diary, limit our budget and just go into the Wild.
Last year we decided to get on our bikes, cycle some of the South West coast path and just find a spot where we thought no one would bother us for the night.
As always, we did the very blokey 'last minute' pack and therefore always forget some stuff - but if I'm honest, we kinda like it like that. We're after an adventure, and if you plan it all perfectly you never get to make it up along the way, which is always the best bit.
We'd packed light but as we were near the coast it was mostly snorkelling/spearfishing kit, a tent and fire lighting stuff. We figured dinner was waiting for us, and if it wasn't that obliging then maybe we'd learn what hungry really was.
Conditions were great (well for having a nice time, maybe not the best for fishing). The visibility was about 6-8m and we found ourselves on a rocky reef a couple hundred metres offshore as the tide was ebbing. The bright sunshine meant a few small Pollock were kicking around and plenty of large Ballen Wrasse, in fact some huge ones, up to 5 or 6lb were hiding in the kelp. Now, although they’re great to eat (but an absolute bugger to skin and fillet) there's zero challenge in spearing one, because they're so friendly they’re not strictly fair game. A last resort we thought, if nothing better turned up... hey! A man’s gotta eat!
As the tide hit the lowest point, the reef that had previously been a few metres underwater was now mostly exposed and around the edges there was barely 2ft of water.
Now, I've caught plenty of lobsters before and over time you begin to get a feel for the 'right' areas when you see them, and this looked bang on. So in the shallow water I skirted round the outside lip of the reef, diving down and checking in the various holes and overhangs. Within 5 minutes I'd located the familiar face and antenna of the common lobster, bingo!
Knowing that these holes can sometimes be very deep and long and therefore an easy retreat, I've always found it a better idea to lure them out than try to shoot them, or hook the main shell.
Another 5 minutes later and I'd snared a small Pollock with my spear gun, quickly killing it and placing it inside my mesh collection bag with a couple of stones before diving down to place it about a foot in front of the lobster’s lair. Within 30 seconds the greedy thing was coming straight out to sniff the bait. And this is where it gets interesting.
It’s really just a game of timing and bottle. The only problem is, if you lose the game then best case, you lose the dinner, worst case you lose a finger.
Adding to the anticipation was the fact the tide had started to flood, so I was now having to dive down a little to get close enough. If I left it too late I’d lose my bait and mesh bag too.
After a couple of tentative moves towards the bait, but then back into the hole, the lobster came right out and grabbed the bag. This was my cue to dive down... let the battle commence!
As I approached, he saw me coming and reared up waving his big claws around ready for a tussle. I had come at him from the side, but he'd moved to face me, so I had a slight problem in pinning him down. The best technique is to pin a lobster to the sea bed to immobilise them, then manoeuvre yourself so you can pick them up, by hand, from behind.
Slight problem - He was sat on a sandy area with a bit of silt and weed that had gathered and to put it bluntly, he was pissed off!!
As I pinned him to the deck he went completely nuts, flapping his tail and stirring up the sandy bottom until the visibility was virtually zero. Never the less I knew 3 things were going to happen. 1. I wasn't going to lose him 2. He was going to taste even better for the satisfaction of winning the battle. 3. This might get painful.
As he flapped and twisted to get out of the hold my spear gun had over him, I thought what the hell and launched my hand into the cloud of sand and weed....
I could feel a few glancing blows as we both tried different wrestling manoeuvres, a bit like a high stakes game of Thumb Wars, but eventually I managed to get my hand round his main body, he's mine!
As I did so I felt something wrap quite tightly round my thumb and that's when the fear kicked in.
Lobsters have 2 different large claws. One that's slimmer and pointed for picking and one that's massive and rounded for crushing. If something gets stuck in the latter and they decide to clamp down, chances are whatever's in there is getting broken or detached. These guys have no problem crushing shellfish that would take us a hammer to get into, it’s just what they do.
I kinda scrunched my face and thought 'what the hell, I'm holding on!' and swam up to the surface. Amongst the flapping and wriggling I looked down to suddenly realise that somehow I had hold of him the wrong way round and his head was facing out the back of my hand. The appendage round my thumb was actually one of his rear legs, gripped on quite hard but not in a dangerous way. Taking a risk pays off!
I tell you what though, you certainly know you're alive in a situation like that, when the adrenaline of potentially losing a thumb kicks in.
Evening came, the sun went down, a fire was started and the lobster eaten for dinner on the beach with a few steamed Sea Beet leaves and some Wild radish for a spicy kick.
MORAL OF THE STORY really gets captured in this Richard Louv quote:
“Spending time in truly wild environments possess risks, but shunning these challenges is a greater risk”.