Break out the lobster gear, it's time to catch some bugs!
As a diver and underwater hunter, waiting for the opening of spiny lobster mini-season is like the night before Christmas when you were a kid…you know it’s going to be good, you just don’t know how good.
The establishment of mini season was for the recreational sport diver to get a jump on harvesting those tasty crustaceans ahead of the regular lobster season. And even though I’ve participated in over 30 mini-seasons, the anticipation is still exciting.
Mini-season is the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July and this year it falls on July 29th and 30th. The other advantage of mini-season is, unlike the Florida Keys, our areas spiny lobster limit is double the normal limit of six. That’s 12 lobster per-person-per-day…pass me the melted butter!!!
The regular season always starts on August 6th and ends on March 31st. Keep in mind, approximately 75 percent of the five million pounds of spiny lobsters harvested are caught by commercial lobster traps!!
When I wrote Catching the Bug-The Comprehensive Guild to Catching the Spiny Lobster in 2011, the title had a double meaning; Spiny lobster are referred to as bugs and the addiction is relentless for catching spiny lobster.
The second edition, published in 2016, expands the information on spiny lobster as “Chiefy Goes Global.” The book is broken into three main sections, allowing the reader to digest (pun intended) the tricks of the trade in Finding, Catching and Eating the Lobster.
Finding the Lobster
Because lobsters are nocturnal, they forge for their food at night and can be found walking around the reef. During the day, they take shelter in the reef, typically hiding under ledges, holes or rocks.
The Chiefy crew is always looking for good areas for potential “secret spots.” Typically, these areas are a vibrant part of the reef with lots of hiding places and activity. Lionfish in the area are a great sign but use caution in catching lobster in the same area, as the lionfish spines are painful.
We like to drift dive along an edge of the reef where it meets the sand. Sometimes you find an area where the sand is a little whiter or cleaner, so check that part of the reef. We’re also looking for fish, as that’s an indication of a good part of the reef.
Our area has a three tier reef structure and being aware of the differences can be helpful as you navigate our local area. I started diving without the benefit of GPS (Global Positioning System) and primarily used land-based triangulation of landmarks in a book by Florida Atlantic University Oceanographic professor Ray McAllister.
The improvement of GPS has gotten us to the latest product called “C-Mor Mapping,” an actual overview of the reef structure under the water. There aren’t many secret spots left with this navigation tool, but the Chiefy crew still has managed to find a few not on this GPS product.
Catching the Lobster
You will need a State of Florida Saltwater fishing license with a spiny lobster endorsement, and it’s required to have a measuring gauge to check underwater for the lobsters at least three inches of carapace or hard shell.
The use of a tickle stick and net or snare is a personal preference. Even when using a snare, you need to withdraw the loop to still use it like a tickle stick to get the lobster out of their protected holes. Patience is a virtue and tickling is just that…no fast or rough use of stick or snare. You can look to see if there are eggs before you disturb them further. After the lobster is in the net or snare, grab them quickly and hold on as you check thoroughly for eggs and measure them. Egg bearing females hold their eggs under their tail and must be released.
Grabbing them will require the use of good gloves as they got their name because of the many spines on their body. Their tails, which is the part we’re going to eat, are strong and they use them to try to escape. Additionally, their antennae will break if you just grab them without holding onto their bodies. If needing to hang on to them from the head, grab the “knuckles” which is at the very base of the antennae.
Additional equipment is an underwater light because they’re hiding in holes and you’ll need a bag to hold your catch. My light is on my left side as I’m right-handed and my lobster hotel (the guests check in but don’t check out) is mounted on my right side. In addition, I have my snare clipped to a D-ring on the right side of my BCD (Buoyancy Compensator Device). Be sure your lobster bag is secured at the bottom with the zipper, Velcro or string.
Of course, it’s required you carry a dive flag indicating where you are and alerting boaters there are divers in the area. Florida law mandates vessels to stay 300 feet away from a dive flag and divers must stay with 100 feet but should always surface directly under the flag.
Eating the Lobster
Unlike those northern “Lobstas,” our spiny lobsters can be cooked in many ways. Those New England lobster have claws and they usually just boil them in a pot of hot water. That’s not very exciting so we’ve got a few spiny lobster recipes that were created by the chefs at Oceans 234; https://www.force-e.com/landing-pages/cooking-the-local-catch/
Yes, with spiny lobster we only eat the tail, but part of the fun is the variety of recipes to try…it’s almost like Bubba Gump Shrimp from the movie Forrest Gump.
And from a global standpoint, the northern lobster can only be found in the Northeastern part of North America and Northern Europe while there’s over 30 different species of spiny lobsters in the world. California, Hawaii, Australia, Philippines and even the Mediterranean, spiny lobsters are everywhere.
Our area has an abundance of spiny lobster and it’s incredible to be able to snorkel or dive from our white, sandy beaches and catch lobster in the reef a few hundred feet from shore.
It all starts with getting a few tools to find, catch and eat the lobster. Enjoy the rewards of being a diver and underwater hunter as you Catch the Bug!!!