How to catch a lobster with a tickle stick

When I was in San Diego for the Clarion Writer's Workshop in 2013, I remember seeing a man catch an enormous lobster with a fishing pole … and then promptly throw it back into the ocean. Having spent most of my life in New England, this confused me for a number of reasons. I don't think I realized there were Pacific lobsters at all, let alone that it was possible to hook one in such a way. All I knew about were those big ol' boxy lobster traps, the kind with the elaborate maze of rope netting supposedly designed to capture the clawed crustaceans.

But now I know that there's another way: a tickle stick.

Yeah that was my reaction, too.

As the Boston Globe explains:

The state of Massachusetts does not allow divers to shoot lobsters. Nor does it allow the use of snares or nets. No, the Commonwealth's rule for lobster diving is far more intimate and horrifying. You have to grab them with your hands.


The only tool you are allowed to use lobster diving in Massachusetts, [is] something called a "tickle stick." I chose one with a pink handle for some reason.

A tickle stick, I learned, is a thin rod, about three feet long, with a slightly angled tip. It cost $18, and the idea is that you stick it in the hole behind the lobster, use the angled tip to tickle it on the tail, and hope it marches out to turn around and fight whatever was behind it. That's when you grab it. Allegedly.

It's an oddly delightful article by Globe staffer Billy Baker detailing how he got into recreational lobster diving, which apparently only costs $55 for the annual permit fee (my sister has a clamming license, but I never considered the lobstering option because, again, I figured you needed a bunch of those boxy lobster traps). While Baker's trials and tribulations make for a generally enjoyable journey, it was really the tickle stick part that stuck out to me. You literally tickle them out of their hiding holes, in hopes that it distracts them enough that you can grab them by the midsection so they can't catch you with their claws.

So just to clarify: the best way to catch a heavily-armored immortal alien water bug is to tickle it.

Free lobster here!* [Billy Baker / The Boston Globe]