The last Wednesday and Thursday in July is the two-day Mini-Season for lobster in Florida waters, followed by the opening of the general lobster season the first Wednesday in August. There’s usually big crowds of divers on the water during the mini-season and early in the general season because they want to take advantage of the lobster that have ganged up since the season closed in April.
You can find spiny lobster anywhere throughout my region wherever there’s good reefs and rockpiles or any structure where they can hide from predators. There’s an outside reef that’s about 25 miles long and covered with lobster, but I prefer to find the more isolated smaller rockpiles out in the middle of nowhere because the lobster don’t have as many options on where to hide, so they concentrate in one place.
The outside reef is anywhere from 15 to 25 feet deep, which makes it easy to free dive, but if you’re serious about catching your limit, you’re better off using tanks where you can stay on a group of lobster and catch as many legal ones as you can. Keep in mind that we have Biscayne Bay where the lobster congregate in the channels of the flats and around the islands in anywhere from six to eight feet of water.
All you really need to catch lobster is a pair of good gloves so the spines on their head and body can’t cut you. I prefer to use the tickle stick and net method, where you use a small fiberglass pole to tap the lobster, leading it right into the net. That’s a very consistent way of catching them without hurting them or pulling off legs or antennae. There’s also some nooses you can use that you loop around the tail of the lobster to grab it.
Spiny lobster must have a carapace at least 3 ½ inches in length, and you must measure the lobster while in the water—you can’t put it in the boat and measure it. You must have a measuring device on you while in the water. You also can’t take any with eggs, so you must check the underside of the lobster for egg sacs. The majority of lobster you’ll encounter are spiny lobster, but there’s also slipper and Spanish lobster, which have no season and no size limits.
In Florida, you must purchase a lobster stamp along with your fishing license to harvest lobster. You want to make sure you have your fishing license and lobster stamp while on the water. You also must display a diver’s down flag any time anyone is in the water. One of the most common mistakes I see recreational divers do is leave their diver’s down flat up when they move from one place to another. If there are no divers in the water, you want to put that flag down, so other boaters in the area know everyone is on board.
Once you find the spot holding lobster, catching them us pretty easy. The key is to find the spots that haven’t been hit or be the first one to the spot, so the lobsters are plentiful and not spooky. If you accidentally pull the antenna’s or legs off a lobster, be sure to take them out of the area. If you leave them, all the other lobsters in the area will leave, thinking there’s predators in the area that are feeding on lobster.
Any time you’re lobster diving, be sure to watch for other divers in the water that may have strayed away from their boat or away from where there’s an obvious diver down flag. You also want to respect other divers in the water. The first one to find the hole holding lobster is the one who gets to try to catch them.