A Search for Lobster Traps

Lobsters love a rock-strewn environment
The striped bass 11-year-old Joseph Nesbit caught off Montauk Point on Saturday looked nearly as big as him. It was 35 inches long and weighed about 15 pounds. Dyanna Nesbitt

It’s been about eight years since I last soaked and fished my lobster traps. Why did I stop? Well, it was a number of factors, first and foremost that it took a good amount of time to check and rebait the traps. Plus, my boat is not exactly a speed demon. A bit over 30 feet long with a fat 12-foot beam, the commercial Nova Scotia-built boat is very stout and heavy, moving barely more than 14 knots at cruising speed. As stable and safe as she is, she will never be confused with an offshore racer with quadruple 300-horsepower outboards. Speed is not my game.

As such, my trips to the lobster grounds near Plum and Gardiner’s Islands that held a decent amount of the tasty crustaceans, would take about an hour each way. Trying spots closer to home proved pretty futile. Lobsters love a rock-strewn environment and such real estate is just not in close proximity to my homeport of Sag Harbor. While my lobster catch rate dipped in my final few years of trapping, enough could be had each week to secure a nice shore dinner with friends (recreational folks can retain six, legal-size lobsters per day with up to five traps and must pay a $10 yearly fee for a noncommercial license). Trust me, you can make many new friends when you catch and offer them a lobster. 

After retiring from my corporate gig this past July, thoughts of setting my traps out entered my mind again. But the season was set to close on Sept. 8, and upon closer inspection, my gear was just not up to snuff as it had sat idle in the back of my marina for nearly a decade. Some serious decay had set in. Purchasing a new trap is expensive; a standard 36-inch trap can run anywhere from $75 to $100. Not cheap. I needed another solution.

Keeping in contact with some of the few commercial fishermen out of Montauk who still fish for lobster is a good option for used traps. Then a post on Bonac Yard Sale caught my eye the other day. On the popular closed Facebook group that allows local residents to buy, sell, and barter goods and services, I saw a post for used lobster traps for just $5 apiece. As the saying goes, the price was right. 

The traps were located toward the northern part of Springs, and Friday was as good as any day to take a ride to check them out and hopefully purchase a few. Ted Lester of the well-known fishing family possessed the traps, and about 200 of them were stacked like cordwood, eight feet high in the back of his yard. Preparing to move to a new home, Lester had stopped lobstering and was looking to clear out his gear before the new owners took over the property. 

Culling through the pile was no easy chore. Many were well worn and encrusted with white, dried-out barnacles. But others were in good shape. If those traps could talk, each would have some great stories to tell. They certainly caught their fair share of lobsters for the many years they were used. A handshake and an exchange of $50 bought me 10 traps for next season. A good deal.

Knowing that the traps came from a Lester felt like getting a product affixed with a blue-ribbon seal of approval. The traps are proven and battle-tested. I also have a good feeling that when I resume setting my traps next spring, I will likely have some new friends to share what I catch. And that’s not bad either. 

Elsewhere on the water, the fishing scene perked up on several fronts in recent days. “The action on the beaches has picked up nicely,” said Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett, who is also a distant cousin of Mr. Lester. “They opened the cut for Georgica Pond the other day and a lot of keeper stripers have been taken at night.” Bennett added that big bluefish are off Gardiner’s Island and that the Navy dock in Fort Pond Bay is holding a nice supply of blowfish, kingfish, and sea bass. 

“And don’t forget to check out the whales off of Amagansett,” added Bennett. “They have been putting on quite a show for a number of days close to the beach. Very cool to see them.”

Sebastian Gorgone, proprietor of Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton, also echoed Bennett’s word on the improved beach action. “Good bass fishing of late from the ocean,” he said. “Lots of striped bass are being landed, but they have been picky too.” Gorgone suggests using a small one-to-two-ounce slender diamond jig with a rubber tail for the best results. “The fish are feeding on small sand eels, so as they say, you need to match the hatch.”

Blackfish activity is slowly picking up steam in shallow water. “I had one customer this weekend catch 15 keepers,” said Ken Morse of Tight Lines Bait and Tackle in Sag Harbor. “But they were in just 10 feet of water off Plum Island.” In the highly unusual category, Morse added that on Sunday a number of boaters and beach walkers saw a very large ocean sunfish gently flopping side-to-side in Noyac Bay. “I’ve never heard of a sunfish that far in the bay before. Very weird to say the least.” 

Out at Montauk, anglers were enthused with the reopening of Rhode Island and federal waters to black sea bass fishing on Sunday. Large sea bass were ready and waiting, and the catches were excellent, with a smattering of codfish mixed in too. “There were a lot of big sea bass on the cleaning tables on Sunday,” said David Reutershan at Westlake Marina. “Everybody reported excellent fishing.” The largest sea bass weighed in was a jumbo 6.8-pound fish taken by Pat Pavelik on the Egret. 

Reutershan said that striped bass fishing slowed up on Sunday, but that prior to that, the fishing was very good. “There are lots of reports of striped bass being very thick up in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, so we hope this great run of fish will continue through Thanksgiving this year.”  

Hunters should take note that the season to pursue pheasant and quail opens on Wednesday. And if a turkey for Thanksgiving is on your agenda, the season runs from Nov. 18 to Dec. 1.

We welcome your fishing tips, observations, and photographs at fish@ehstar.com. You can find the “On the Water” column on Twitter at @ehstarfishing.