How To Catch Crayfish

by The Scuba Doctor — November 2017

How to Catch a Crayfish

Here at The Scuba Doctor we're often asked what we think is the best way to catch a Crayfish, or where to find them. Well first you need to know what you're hunting for. The official name for this great big delicious local red sea monster caught in the waters of Victoria is Southern Rock Lobster, Jasus Edwardsii. But most everyone around here just calls them Crays or Crayfish.

Diving for and catching a Crayfish is fantastic fun and very rewarding. However, it's a skill that usually requires practice and patience before you are continually successful.

Crayfish Hunting Rules in Victoria

There are heavy fines for under size, oversize, berried or setose (hairy claspers under the tail and or tar spot) Crayfish. So here is what you need to know to stay legal while Rock Lobster hunting in Victoria.

Current Victorian Recreational Fishing Licence:

You need a current fishing licence. This can be obtained from Fisheries Victoria either online now (cheapest way), or from many DEDJTR offices and selected recreational fishing licence outlets throughout Victoria, including most retail fishing tackle stores. We suggest you save a copy of your licence on your smart phone once purchased. Some people laminate a hard copy and carry it with them. For full details, see Fishing Licence.

Minimum Legal Size:

Male - 11 cm carapace length.
Female - 10.5 cm carapace length.

Bag limit:

The maximum number of Crayfish that you may take on any one day is two (2).

Possession Limit:

The maximum number of Crayfish you may possess at any time while in, on, or next to Victorian waters is four (4).

Closed Season:

Male — 15 September to 15 November inclusive.
Female — 1 June to 15 November inclusive.

Thus the Open Season for catching male and female crayfish is 16 November until 31 May inclusive.

Restrictions:

  • Crayfish cannot be taken fromwaters less than 2 metre deep (the Intertidal Zone) in Port Phillip.
  • They must be retained whole or with the tail and carapace still attached to each other.
  • You must not take or possess female rock lobster with eggs, or remove eggs.
  • You must not take soft-shelled rock lobster.
  • Catching Crayfish is forbidden in marine parks.


Female rock lobster in berry​.

Legal Collection Methods for Crayfish:

In Victoria, we're allowed to take crayfish while freediving or scuba diving, by hand. The only aid that can be used for taking rock lobster is a gloved hand.

When fishing for rock lobster you must not use or possess any snare (noose), gaff, hook or other device designed for, or capable of taking any fish.

Measuring Your Catch:

Crayfish are measured from the front edge of the groove between the large antennae to the nearest part of the rear edge of the carapace (main body shell). To measure a rock lobster:

  • Spread the antennal horns.
  • Place the gauge tip hard into the middle notch.
  • Measure from the notch to the end of the carapace.
    • If you are taking rock lobster close to minimum size, be sure your measuring device is accurate.

      Measuring rock lobster

      Divers are required to measure rock lobster underwater prior to placing them in their catch bag. Measuring devices are available free of charge from the DEPI Customer Service Centre on 136 186, plus from most dive shops (including The Scuba Doctor), plus fishing and boating stores.

      Marking of Crayfish:

      In Victoria, rock lobster that you keep must be marked as "recreationally-caught" fish as follows:

      • Cut off at least a quarter of the central tail flap OR punch a 10 mm hole in it.
      • If fishing from a boat, mark the tail fan within 5 minutes of the lobster being brought to the boat and before landing; or
      • If fishing from the shore, mark the tail fan within 5 minutes of landing and within 50 metres of the place where you are fishing.

      Marking rock lobster

      Rock Lobster Tagging Program:

      In Victoria, all recreational fishers are now required to tag the rock lobster they catch and keep as part of a three-year trial program. Tags are free and can be ordered online or collected from selected Victorian Government Offices. For more information, plus how to order tags online, please see Rock Lobster Tagging Program.

      Distinguishing Features of Male and Female Crayfish

      Distinguishing features of male and female rock lobster

      Female rock lobster

      • Have large, overlapping pleopods (swimmerets/flaps) under the tail; and
      • Have a small nipper claw is present on the end of each rear leg.

      It is illegal to take female rock lobster in berry (with eggs) or strip the eggs. If you catch a lobster in berry, return it to the water as soon as possible.​

      Female rock lobster in berry​

      Male rock lobster

      • Have small swimmerets under the tail;
      • Have no nipper claws on the rear legs.

      Identifying male and female rock lobster

      Know Your Local Rock Lobster Hunting Rules

      States and Territories have different rules for what equipment you may or may not be allowed to use while catching Lobster. In some states it is legal to use nets, hoops/snares. The method the diver uses to catch their Crayfish also varies state to state. For example in Victoria use of scuba gear to catch Crayfish is legal, yet in NSW scuba diving to catch Crayfish is illegal, so always check first.

      It is your responsibility to ensure that you are acting within the law.

      Warning: Please check the relevant section of the latest edition of the Victorian Recreational Fishing Guide for up-to-date legal requirements.

      Crayfish Catching Equipment

      Whether catching Crayfish with a single breath of air, or strapping on a tank and going scuba diving, it's a heap of fun and very challenging.

      Many Spearfishers develop their skills and breath hold whilst chasing Crayfish. There are many things that will make catching a Crayfish easier but the number one thing would have to be being comfortable in the water, and that means being warm. A good two piece 3 mm or 5 mm wetsuit with a hood is the ideal. Scuba divers tend to be in the water for longer and prefer a one or two-piece 5 mm or 7 mm wetsuit plus a hood.

      Crayfish Hunting Mask:
      We recommend a low volume mask with a black silicone skirt. The black skirt stops light entering and reflecting off the inside of your mask, thus enabling you to see better.

      Cressi Calibro Mask Cressi Calibro Mask
      RRP: $139, Our Price: $119, You Save $20 (14%).
      This mask is popular among spearfishers, freedivers and scuba divers for its ultra-low profile and extremely low volume. It has inclined and inverted tear-drop lenses for improving downward visibility. It features the new Cressi patented FOG STOP system.

      Cressi Nano Black Mask Cressi Nano Black Mask
      RRP: $139, Our Price: $125, You Save $14 (10%).
      This 85 ccc ultra low volume mask is brilliant for Crayfish hunting. It's extremely hydrodynamic and compact shape helps you cut through the water and aids movements in small spaces.

      Crayfish Hunting Gloves:
      You'll need a sturdy pair of gloves to protect your hands from scratches and nicks from the Crayfish. Some Kevlar coated gloves work well, as do ones with Dyneema palms. The main thing is for the gloves to provide protection and to provide grip. Ideally you need a glove that is not too thick, or else you may have trouble "feeling" for your Crayfish.

      Apollo K2 Kevlar Commercial Dive Gloves - 3.0mm Apollo K2 Kevlar Commercial Dive Gloves - 3.0mm
      RRP: $89, Our Price: $79, You Save $10 (11%).
      Ideal for Crayfish hunters, the Kevlar lining on the palms, fingers and back of finger tips ensures protection from the Crayfish, plus rugged durability under the most demanding use.

      Cressi Defender Anti-Cut Dive Gloves - 2mm Cressi Defender Anti-Cut Dive Gloves - 2mm
      RRP: $40, Our Price: $36, You Save $4 (10%).
      This glove is ideal for those hunting for crays, abalone and scallops. The Cressi Defender Gloves are European Certified in accordance with EN 388 and EN 420 regulations as a LEVEL 5 cut resistant glove.

      Crayfish Catch Bag:
      You will need a catch bag in order to carry your Crayfish once you have caught them. A self closing catch bag, spring loaded or non returning type, work well and there are plenty to choose from. Don't try to cut corners with cheap and nasty ones. They'll make the job so much harder, plus you'll run the risk of loosing your catch.

      Seaka Catch Bag - Spring Loaded - Premium Quality Seaka Catch Bag - Spring Loaded - Premium Quality
      RRP: $99, Our Price: $79, You Save $20 (20%).
      If you want to be able to grab yourself a feed of scallops, abalone or a crayfish, then they'll need a good catch bag. This is our favourite because it's simply the best catch bag available. But we have a good range of other catch bag solutions as well.

      Cray Measure:
      You will also need a Crayfish gauge to measure your catch for size. They are obtainable by phoning Fisheries on 136 186 and they will send you one out. The Scuba Doctor also has free Cray Measures at the dive shop.

      Dive Torch:
      It needs to be sturdy to cope with the punishment metered out while cray bashing. We prefer LED dive lights as the light appears more natural to the Cray and makes them less likely to run back.

      Dive Perfect Stubby LED-1000 Dive Light - 1000LM Dive Perfect Stubby LED-1000 Dive Light - 1000LM
      RRP: $195, Our Price: $139, You Save $56 (29%).
      You will be surprised how many more Crayfish you will see with this powerful dive torch. We prefer to use LED lights which produce a white, more natural light environment for the Crayfish. An un-natural light can have a very adverse effect on your Crayfish as they will generally rear back into their hole making it significantly harder, if not impossible, to catch them.

      Tektite Expedition Star Dive Light - 500LM Tektite Expedition Star Dive Light - 500LM
      RRP: $136, Our Price: $119, You Save $17 (13%).
      This underwater diving torch is becoming a favourite of local cray hunters. Military issue tough, as used by US/NATO forces. Tough and rugged, with a 500 lumen, 15 degree medium beam, and super long 15 plus hours of battery life. Bright enough to light up cray nooks during the day, but not too bright so as not to scare the Crayfish.

      Dive Knife:
      A good dive knife is an essential item when diving around rock groins covered in fishing line. You'll also need it to clip the Crayfish tail.

      Ocean Design Apollo SQR 420 SS GB Dive Knife - Point Tip Ocean Design Apollo SQR 420 SS GB Dive Knife - Point Tip
      RRP: $79, Our Price: $70, You Save $9 (11%).
      A popular choice with spearos, plus commercial, military, and rescue divers. The neoprene leg harness provides comfort and automatic compensation for wetsuit compression.

      Ocean Design Apollo SQR 420 SS GB Dive Knife - Chisel Tip Ocean Design Apollo SQR 420 SS GB Dive Knife - Chisel Tip
      RRP: $79, Our Price: $70, You Save $9 (11%).
      Scuba divers prefer a blunt or chisel tip knife so that they're less likely to stick themselves. The neoprene leg harness provides comfort and automatic compensation for wetsuit compression.

      Dive Float:
      A good dive float with Alpha dive flag tells everyone on the surface where you are. And it's always nice to let the jet skies and boaties know were you are. When scuba diving with a dive buddy, a proper line setup back to the dive float also helps the two of you stay in good contact.

      Ocean Hunter Inflatable Torpedo Float with Line and Alpha Flag Ocean Hunter Inflatable Torpedo Float with Line and Alpha Flag
      RRP: $50, Our Price: $45, You Save $5 (10%).
      This is great for a scuba diving surface marker, or as a surface platform for spearfishing and free diving. It will glide effortlessly through the water and allow you to easily tow it behind you without feeling like you're pulling a truck.

      Freediving For Crayfish

      If free diving, it's all about maximising your breath hold, reducing anxiety and increasing bottom time. Stability whilst on the bottom is crucial if there is any sort of swell about. Having the correct weight on your weight belt is essential, you need to be positively buoyant on the surface but it needs to be easy to glide to the bottom.

      You'll need a good pair of long blade, full foot, closed heel fins.

      Cressi Reaction Pro Full Foot Fins Cressi Reaction Pro Full Foot Fins
      RRP: $109, Our Price: $99, You Save $10 (9%).
      These fins have been designed not just for and spearfishing and freediving, but also for snorkelling, swimming and scuba diving. They will surprise you with their fantastic performance.

      Cressi Gara Modular Full Foot Fins Cressi Gara Modular Full Foot Fins
      RRP: $199, Our Price: $179, You Save $20 (10%).
      These fins are a perfect choice for deep freediving and spearfishing. The modular design means you can interchange foot pockets and different stiffness fin blades.

      To keep your feet warm in our temperate waters, you'll need a pair of neoprene socks as well.

      Ocean Hunter Fin Socks - 3mm Ocean Hunter Fin Socks - 3mm
      RRP: $30, Our Price: $27, You Save $3 (10%).
      The printed rubber strong soles of these socks have an anti-slip layer to avoid skidding or slipping on wet rocks as you get to he water's edge, or the boat's deck.

      A good weight belt is essential.

      Cressi Elastic Marseilles Rubber Weight Belt - 140cm Cressi Elastic Marseilles Rubber Weight Belt - 140cm
      RRP: $49, Our Price: $46.50, You Save $2.50 (5%).
      This freediving/spearfishing weightbelt is comfortable and streamlined. The high elastic properties of the belt will contract and compress with your body and wetsuit during your descent and expand and stretch as your body and wetsuit expand during ascent. This keeps your weight belt properly positioned around your hips. The heavy-duty 300 series stainless buckle is easy to use and lasts a lifetime.

      Also consider using a weight vest to transfer some weight up higher on your body to make transitions easier.

      Cressi Weight Vest Cressi Weight Vest
      RRP: $90, Our Price: $81, You Save $9 (10%).
      Just the thing to sort out your weighting and ensure a comfortable dive. Incorporating a weight vest into your spearfishing/freediving setup is a great way to add weight directly on top of the most buoyant part of your body when you freedive — your lungs.

      To stay warm, a good two-piece 3 mm or 5 mm spearfishing or freediving wetsuit, plus a hood, is the ideal.

      Cressi Tecnica Two Piece Spearfishing Wetsuit - 5mm Mens Cressi Tecnica Two Piece Spearfishing Wetsuit - 5mm Mens
      RRP: $699, Our Price: $629, You Save $70 (10%).
      This 2-piece 5 mm spear and freediving wetsuit is just what you want. It's comprised of a Hooded Jacket and a High Top Pants. All Suit Seams are Glued and Sewn for Strength and Durability.

      Scuba Diving For Crayfish

      If you don't already own your own gear, speak to your reputable dive shop like The Scuba Doctor. We can assist you with purchasing or hiring equipment.

      To stay warm, a good semi-dry, 7 mm scuba diving wetsuit, plus a hood, is the ideal.

      Probe iDry 7mm Quick-Dry Semi-Dry Suit (Back Zip) Probe iDry 7mm Quick-Dry Semi-Dry Suit (Back Zip)
      RRP: $700, Our Price: $630, You Save $70 (10%).
      The fleece inner lining is super warm, and makes the suit super easy to slide on over your skin. There are no zips on the ankles and wrists, nothing to go wrong. The ultra stretch dive neoprene delivers unrestricted freedom of movement in all directions.

      Probe iDry Quick-Dry Hood - 3mm (Unisex) Probe iDry Quick-Dry Hood - 3mm (Unisex)
      RRP: $60, Our Price: $54, You Save $6 (10%).
      The world's fastest drying dive hood — dries in minutes! The gripper print on the back of the head helps to keep your mask strap in place. The Quick-Dry fleece inner lining makes it easier to don and doff.

      Probe iDry Quick-Dry Hood - 5mm (Unisex) Probe iDry Quick-Dry Hood - 5mm (Unisex)
      RRP: $65, Our Price: $58, You Save $7 (11%).
      This is the 5mm version of the 3mm one above. We love them both for the same features and reasons. It's just how much you feel the cold, and what the water temperature currently is, that dictates your choice between the 3 mm and 5 mm versions.

      Crayfish Hunting Territory

      Crayfish are a bottom feeding scavenger that live on shellfish, crabs, small fish, or anything else they can find. Crayfish live on rocky reefs with plenty of cracks and crevasses where they can hide. A nocturnal creature, they often gather in large groups during the day and then venture out into the open to feed at night.

      Generally you can find Crayfish in less than 5 metres of water. You will often have to move the kelp to see into their holes.

      Knowing the habits and seasonal movements of Crayfish is key to finding them at any given time during the season. By far the best time to catch Lobster is at the start of the season. This is when they are holed up in shallow reefs, usually in low ledges just off the sand. Having just shed their shells Crayfish are a light pink at this time and some can be quite soft. The size is generally very good.

      Mid December sees Crayfish start to move out into deeper water. They generally will be found anywhere there is low reef close to shore, with kelp cover, deep crevasses, holes with low ledges off the sand, and good clean water flow. Swim slowly and check areas thoroughly. Don't only check high ledges and caves as these always get hit first. It's generally the low, hidden kelp covered stuff just off the main reef that hides the richest veins of tasty Crayfish.

      Where you hunt for Crayfish needs to be a very careful choice. It is important to take note of weather conditions and only dive if appropriate.

      See Melbourne Cray Dives for information about local rock lobster hunting dive sites.

      Crayfish Diving Tactics And Tips

      You should be comfortable with basic snorkeling, free diving and/or scuba diving before attempting to dive for Crayfish.

      Once you are in the water, you need to cover as much territory as possible whilst trying to keep your heart rate and breathing to a relaxed level. Crayfish like to hide in a spot that offers them protection from predators, so they're not going to be easy to find.

      When you find them don't change your movements. Stay calm and slow whilst trying to catch them. Stay focused and adapt you strategy to the movements of the Crayfish.

      If you see a Cray in a ledge, don't rush. If it is under-size, leave it and move on. If it's of good size, get your breathing and heart rate back down to a calm level. Whilst you are doing this, prepare. You should also look for another Crayfish, as where there is one Cray, there is quite often another. It's usually the smallest Crayfish that you see first. The alternate Crayfish may be bigger, easier to get, or have nowhere to retreat to if you scare it off.

      Once you have decided which Cray you are going to go after, it is time to plan. Get your catch bag ready. Sometimes it is best to give your catch bag to your dive buddy. Ensure you have enough bottom time and air left to attempt the catch. Do not go after the Crayfish if it means you will exceed your dive plan.

      If you are the supporting buddy holding the catch bag, do not think that you are helping by shining your torch on the Cray for the catcher. It may scare the Cray off. You will not be popular if this happens.

      It is very important that you do not attempt to pull on the Cray's antennae, as they break off very easily and not only will it mean the loss of your catch, it causes undue damage to the Crayfish. Aim to get a firm grip on the Cray's horns.

      There are all sorts of ideas about the best way to sneak up on Crayfish, but the 'hard and fast method' is usually most successful, particularly when free diving. Try to grab it by the base of its horns, or around its back.

      If you are scuba diving and you have plenty of air, we recommend taking your time and being patient.

      Sometimes they will run towards you and over your head, other times they just sit tight and let you catch them, but not often. They will dance left or right, but just follow and be patient. Back them into a shallow side of a crack and place one hand in their path while gently nudging them over with the other, then grab them as they run right into your waiting fingers.

      After you have a firm grip on the horns, it is time to pull the Crayfish out. Everything about the design of a Cray says, "I don’t want to move forward". Sometimes you need to give a quick push back, and then pull forward. It's just like off-balancing the opposition during a tug-of-war game.

      Once you have the Crayfish out of the ledge, do not celebrate! It is time to get in into your catch bag. If you're unsure about the size or the sex of the Crayfish, now is the time to measure and identify. If okay, open your catch bag and place the Cray inside as best as you can. It can sometimes be a battle. Close the catch bag over your wrist and then release the Crayfish and slide your hand out. Congratulations!

      Once you get back to shore or the dive boat, make sure you clip the tail of your Crayfish as per Fisheries requirements.

      Please Be Selective

      Please remember that Crayfish are very easily damaged and have little chance of survival if you break legs or antennae off, so you should only try for a Cray if you are sure it is legal. If you do take an illegal Cray it must be placed back exactly where you found it.

      Crayfish sitting with their tails curled underneath them are most probably in berry and should be left alone.

      Crayfish who are nearly sitting out in the open and appear dopey are most probably soft-shelled and should be left alone as well.

      Every Crayfish catching attempt is different. You will learn as you go. Every time you attempt and fail, make sure you learn from the experience and take that knowledge into the next battle.

      As with any pursuit worthwhile it takes practice and persistence but with a little determination your pot will be flowing over and your friends increasing, especially around Christmas time.

      Stay Safe While Cray Catching

      Always Dive With a Mate, and Stay Together. In the thrill of the hunt it is common for scuba divers to become separated as their focus is elsewhere. For the safety of both of you, it is essential to maintain good buddy contact.

      Use a Dive Flag. It tells everyone on the surface where you are and helps to keep you safe.

      Don't Take Unnecessary Risks. Diving can be dangerous and the ocean is very unforgiving. Know your own ability and don't get carried away. A simple cramp or fatigue can become life threatening if a long way from shore or the boat.

      Watch Out For Danger. This might be other vessels, like boats and jet skis, or even sharks and rays. The risk from sharks is very small but is there. Consider using a Shark Shield, or similar shark deterrent device. Rays, even small ones, if laid upon can inflict very nasty wounds that can get hideously infected.

      Be Careful of the Terrain. Bumping your head on overhanging ledges can be very problematic, so wear a hood. Be careful not to get stuck while trying to get just a bit closer to a Cray.

      Once you catch your first Cray you'll be hooked on a great sport that keeps you fit and feeds your friends and family.

      See Melbourne Cray Dives for dive sites where you can catch crays near Melbourne, Victoria. For tips on cooking your Crays, please see How To Cook Crayfish.

      Tips for Preparing for Rock Lobster Season

      Preparing for Rock Lobster Season

      October each year is the time to start preparing for Victoria's Cray Season. Remember: Safety first, lobsters second.

      1. Check and update your equipment. Your dive gear, and your boat setup (if applicable).
      2. Refresh your diving skills, if required.
      3. Upgrade your training, if required.
      4. Use caution and safety. Don't put yourself or your buddies at risk for the sake of catching a rock lobster.

      Make sure you have a valid fishing licence and your cray tags for this season.

      Be Prepared. Be Safe. Happy Hunting!

      Last updated: 25-Oct-2020

      Suunto D5 at The Scuba Doctor Dive Shop