The most picturesque is also the most peculiar: In a twist on typical fishing excursions, the cormorant fishing offered along the Li River in Yangshuo, China, sees local fishermen using the large diving birds to catch fish for their tourist customers. Ride alongside and watch the cormorants catch your dinner — which they don’t swallow because of preventative cords their "keepers" place around their necks — and then relax as the chef washes, cooks, and serves you the catch. Yes, it’s barbaric, but it’s China! And the cormorants, just like trained hawks or hunting dogs, are well fed and cared for back at home. Experience offered by Kensington Tours.
Oysters are the best when they’re fresher than fresh — and at Hotel Commonwealth in Boston, guests can literally pluck them from their rocky underwater beds. A special culinary experience offered in conjunction with the hotel’s onsite restaurant, Island Creek Oyster Bar, offers the opportunity to visit the Island Creek Oyster Farm in nearby Duxbury, spend the day on the farm, shuck and eat oysters fresh from the sea, then go back the hotel for even more oyster delicacies. Offered through spring 2012.
Still craving crustaceans? Roll up your pant legs and hit the beach. Clamming is a classic summertime activity in certain parts of New England and the Pacific Northwest. Though it’s not so common anymore, many beaches in Washington, Alaska, and on the opposite coast in Rhode Island and Massachusetts still allow clamming if you buy a recreational permit from a town clerk. Bring a rake and a bucket, and head out an hour before low tide for best results.
In Hilton Head, Ocean Beach, and many other places, people catch crabs with a bucket and a net, or a trap and some bait. But from the Bahamas to Tobago, Jamaica to Grenada, land crabs are a pest that turned into a sought-after delicacy. Local kids go after them in teams at night — one person chasing after the crabs with a flashlight, the other waiting to catch them with a bucket. If you want to try it, the best place to lurk is on the beach. If you don’t want to bother perfecting the perfect "crab grab," just fall back on the typical method: put bait in a trap and put it in a swampy or muddy area that water-dwelling crabs are known to frequent.
For something a bit more graceful and less pinch-prone, travel to Hawaii, where Travaasa Hana offers "the art of fish net throwing, passed on from generation to generation." Not surprisingly, this method starts with a lesson under a banyan tree, and then a visit to a fishing house to chat with local community elders. After that, things get exciting when guests head out to the bay to cast nets into holes in the reef — something that takes specialized skill, practice, patience, and doesn’t always net a fish. In other words, this one’s right for the real fishermen among us, who are used to all the above.
If you want to be more-or-less guaranteed of a generous catch, the warm waters off the shore of Alabama and South Carolina are a good place to ply your net. During shrimping season, charter boats take visitors out to trawl their nets by moonlight. "All you need is a bucket and a light," say the experts. Shrimping season in the South typically runs from June to December. Contact the local tourism department or a tour provider to find out about local licenses.
More of an endurance sport than a pastime, abalone diving is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it something to blindly pursue. Along the Northern California coastline, springtime free diving 10 to 30 feet underwater for "abs" is a favorite activity among the macho men — but lack of regulations and unsafe conditions make it one of the most dangerous ways one could ever go after a meal. If you’re always up for the next big challenge, go after the massive mollusks with a licensed fishing guide.
For hardy adventures who aren’t bothered by extreme cold, ice fishing has long been a popular wintertime experience. In the U.S., Lake Michigan, Colorado, and the Alleghenies are regions cold enough to offer ice fishing. It’s also all over Canada, from British Columbia to Ontario to Whistler.
On a similar theme, but in much warmer water and gentler conditions, conch diving in the Caribbean appeals to the hunter/harvester seafood lover with a taste for underwater mollusks. This is also a free dive — i.e. no SCUBA certification required — but in locations like Turks & Caicos, tourists only dive into the shallows. The Regent Palms Turks & Caicos offers conch-diving day trips by boat--with a snorkel mask and fins, a decent swimmer can find the delectable sea creatures and extract them for a chef to grill, fritter, or make into ceviche in the evening.
Leave it to the Japanese to come up with all the gratification of fishing at a fraction of the effort. It’s luxury tourism genius, and it’s offered at Zauo, a chain restaurant where guests sit in "boats" and are given fishing rods upon entry. A Maine entrepreneur is trying to do something similar with lobster tanks in America, but it hasn’t caught on…yet. Just wait.