Maine lobsterman Skip Werner devises “underwater lasso” for finding lost traps

Skip on his boat in 2012.

Skip on his boat in 2012.

My boss Skip Werner has been lobstering for over sixty years. In that time he’s picked up quite a few helpful tricks of the trade, but he’s still always trying to come up with clever ideas of his own to make life easier on the lobster boat.

Last week he came up with an idea that he coined, “the underwater lasso.”

As any lobsterman knows, dragging for lost gear is a real pain in the neck. The ropes connecting the traps to the buoys can part off for any number of reasons- rough weather, propellers from oil tankers, old rope, etc.

When traps part off, the typical way of finding them is to “drag” for them. The tool used for that task, known as a “dragger”, looks like a section of massive chain link with hooks sticking out of all the links. The idea is to tie a rope onto your dragger, then drop it down to the ocean floor in the vicinity of the lost trap(s) and literally go in circles hoping that the dragger latches onto something. Then you haul it all up in your hydraulic hauler.

The problem is that this method doesn’t work very often, the underwater lasso offers an alternative to dragging. When Skip tried it last week neither of us knew what to expect, but lo and behold it worked.

We were in about twenty fathoms of water, and we were both surprised when the lost gear came up in the rig. It saved us a bunch of time, and- based on the value that a working trap has over a lost trap- it saved Skip a bunch of money too.

I told Skip he should patent the idea and retire, but he said, “nah, why don’t you just put it in one ah yer ahticles.”

So here’s how it works:

You need a long piece of rope, an empty jug, and weights. The yellow bucket is acting as the lost gear.

You need a long piece of rope, an empty jug, and weights. The yellow bucket is acting as the lost gear.

Attach one end of the rope to the jug, then drop it in the water and do a wide loop around the target area. The wider the loop, the better your chance of grabbing something.

Attach one end of the rope to the jug, then drop it in the water and do a wide loop around the target area. The wider the loop, the better your chance of grabbing something.

As you make your loop around, drop weights onto the rope so the loop sinks down.

As you make your loop around, drop weights onto the rope so the loop sinks down.

We only used two weights. Skip said, "for a wider loop you'll need more than two weights."

We only used two small weights, for a wider loop you’ll need more than two.

After you drop your weights in, tie the end of the rope that you have to a bigger weight.

After you drop your weights in, tie the end of the rope that you have to the bigger weight.

Then finish your loop and grab the jug out of the water. Untie the jug from the rope and bring that end through the big weight on the other end to form the lasso.

Then finish your loop and grab the jug out of the water. Untie the jug from the rope and bring that end through the big weight on the other end to form the lasso.

Holding onto the end that had the buoy on it, drop the big weight into the water.

Holding onto the end that had the buoy on it, drop the big weight into the water.

Now put the end of the rope that you have into your hauler (Skip playing the part of the hauler).

Now put the end of the rope that you have into your hauler (Skip playing the part of the hauler).

If your aim is on target, the lasso will tighten around your gear and haul it up.

If your aim is on target, the lasso will tighten around your gear and haul it up.

I hope this is helpful for other lobstermen out there, please feel free to send me ideas or tricks that you use on your boat.

Happy hauling!

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a lifelong Portlander who works on a lobster boat, advocates for the marginalized and downtrodden, and occasionally ruffles feathers in City Hall and Augusta.