How to Catch Pacific Lobster (California Spiny)

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My favorite time of the year is pacific lobster season here in Southern California, especially in San Diego.

Growing up in a household that loves lobster, I was shocked that we actually have one of the best-tasting kinds in our own backyard. Catching the spiny lobster isn’t super easy, though, especially if you freedive and grab them with your hands, as I prefer.

In this guide, we’ll dive into everything you need to know to go out and catch spiny lobsters, so you care to share them with your loved ones.

Recommended Gear:

  • Catch Bag: Mutiny Dive Co Lobster Bag
  • Dive light
  • Lobster Gauge


The California spiny lobster doesn’t have claws like a Maine lobster. Instead, they rely on hiding from their predators and using their antennae to produce a sound that scares them away.

jon stenstrom with spiny lobsters
Jon with some spiny lobsters from the 2019 season.

Although you can find them from time to time during the day, they are primarily nocturnal creatures. These bugs are omnivores and will eat pretty much anything living or dead. They love to feast on sea urchins, which is beneficial for managing their populations.

They are targeted by commercial and recreational fishermen. China is also one of the biggest consumers of commercially caught California rock bugs.

Panulirus interruptus Facts

Scientific NamePanulirus interruptus
Common Name(s)California spiny lobster
Identifying CharacteristicsRedish color with no claws and a long antenna
Depth Range1-200+ feet
HabitatLike being in rocky crevices and hidden in seaweed.
LimitsCheck your local regulations
Largest Recorded26 pounds
StatusLeast concerned

Spiny Lobsters Season

In order to grab the spiny lobster, you’ll need to wait for the season to open up. California spiny lobster season starts the first Wednesday in October and lasts until the first Wednesday after the 15th of March. You’ll find these spiny lobsters in the Gulf of California and along the Baja California peninsula.

Opening day is a big deal for the Fish and Wildlife rangers, so be careful going out before you’re allowed to. It’s better to wait a bit to know you’re in the season than risk getting slapped with a ticket and fine.

Shore diving for Pacific lobster
Some bugs after a night of shore diving.

Report Card

In order to capture the spiny lobster, you’ll need to pick up a report card. You can get this at a sporting good store such as Big 5, Walmart, and a few others. Make sure you call ahead of time before traveling there since they need a special machine to print out the long orange card.

I’ve had buddies who’ve shown up, and the machine either wasn’t working or the system was down. That can be annoying.

These report cards are important for the Fish and Wildlife Service to keep track of how many were caught during the season. Prior to going out hunting for spiny lobsters, you’ll need to mark the month, day, location code, and gear code on the card.

Bring the card with you to your dive location and leave it with your spearfishing gear while diving. When you get back to shore or boat and are done hunting for the day, then mark how many you caught. Even if you didn’t catch any California spiny lobster, you’d still need to mark zero.

How to Catch Spiny Lobster

California spiny lobster ready to be cooked
The goal is to bring one or two California spiny lobsters home for dinner.

Now that you have your California lobster report card and it’s the spiny lobster bug season, it’s time for you to get your hands on these bugs.

The two most common ways to bring a California spiny lobster home are to hoop net them or grab them by hand while freediving or scuba diving.

When you’re getting started going after California spiny lobsters, you’ll likely come home empty-handed. Don’t get discouraged. It takes time to understand where they like to hang out and how to gather them up. Hopefully, some of these tips will help shorten your learning curve.

Spiny Lobster Diving California

YouTube video

The difference between going for California spiny lobsters and, say Caribbean lobster is that we’re not allowed to use any tools while diving. That means no tickles, sticks, nets, or other contraptions other than our hands.

That’s where the fun begins!

If you want to bring a California spiny lobster to your table, you’ll need to either strap on a scuba tank (make sure you’re PADI certified first) or go at it freediving. If you scuba for spiny lobsters, you’ll be able to go into deeper water for longer and typically land bigger bugs.

I spend most of my time freediving for them and generally stay above 45 feet. I have friends who like to dive 60+ feet, and they have brought home some huge spiny lobsters. However, the largest California spiny lobster I brought home was around 15 feet so it just depends on where the bugs are at the time of your dive.

Make sure you have a lobster gauge prior to diving. You’ll need to measure along the midline from the rear of the eye socket between the horns to the end of the carapace, which is the last bit of the body shell.

California Spiny Lobster Diving Tips

If you’re having trouble catching a California spiny lobster, try some of these suggestions:

  • Most of the time, the bugs will shoot backward. Therefore when you try to grab them, aim slightly towards the tail and shoot quickly and pin them to the ground. Then you’ll have time to get a solid grip.
  • Shining a bright flashlight on them will scare them away. If you see one, keep your light pointed off to the side and use the edge of the light to illuminate them.
  • California has loads of rocky structures with red seaweed growing on them. They usually hang on top or in the crevices of these structures.
  • Dive bags can be dangerous if they get caught on anything. I recommend that you never take your speargun out on a bug dive, as they can tangle together and put you in a bad situation. I’ve had buddies get in trouble with this in the past.
  • If you’re using a floatline, you can keep your lobster bag attached to your float for added safety.

Using a Lobster Net

Hoop nets are popular for those fishermen not looking to get wet much along the California coast. You can buy these nets at your local dive shop or online.

Most of the time, you throw in either fish heads, some cans of cat food, and whatever smelly stuff you can find and drop them to the ocean floor. After 15-20 minutes, you hoist them up on your boat and see what you’ve caught.

You can also use these nets from a jetty if you have a long enough pole to get it out there and lift it up. You can also make a hoop net out of a bike rim and a strong mesh bag.

How to Cook Spiny Lobster

How to cook spiny lobster in a cast iron

Spiny lobster in the sea…it doesn’t get much better than that for fishermen. Now that you’ve scoured the water along the coast and have yourself a fat rock lobster tail, you’re ready to cook it up.

These California spiny lobsters make a great sustainable feast!

Pacific Lobster Recipe

  • California caught pacific lobster tails
  • Butter
  • Garlic
  • Lemons


  1. It’s always best to keep it simple. I enjoy removing the tail from the body after braining it first.
  2. Boil it, depending on the weight, for a few minutes.
  3. Remove from the water and let it cool a bit. Then cut it down the middle to butterfly it.
  4. Get a cast iron pan hot and coat it with butter.
  5. Spread some garlic on the tails and throw them on the pan.
  6. After a few minutes, the edges should be nice and golden. Remove from the pan.
  7. Serve with your sides.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there lobsters in the Pacific?

Yes, they are up and down the coast of California and into Baja.

What is the difference between Atlantic and Pacific lobster?

The biggest difference is that Pacific lobsters don’t have claws, and they live in the Pacific Ocean.

Can Atlantic lobsters live in the Pacific?

In theory, back in the day in San Diego, Scripps was able to get them to live, but Atlantic lobsters would wipe out Pacific ones.

Where can I catch spiny lobsters in California?

You can find spiny lobsters anywhere along the coast of California as long as it’s not an MPA that’s restricted.

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler
Jon Stenstrom is a fishing enthusiast. He has over 25 years of fishing experience, and 6 years of spearfishing experience, and is currently learning how to boat. Jon has his Open Water PADI Certification and FII Freediver Level 1 Certification. Jon has traveled the world to fish and dive, most notably in the Great Barrier Reef, Baja Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia. More Articles
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