Recreational Lobstering in Florida
Where Are Lobsters
How to Catch Lobsters
Ready to go Bug Hunting?
|Photo Courtesy of Beast Charters of Miami.|
A funny thing happens every year in mid-July in Florida called "Bug Fever." Every man, woman and child turns into a "Lobstermaniac" discussing the possibilities of catching their very own Spiny Lobster. What starts this frenzy is the 2 day Mini Sport Season the last Wednesday and Thursday each July. Most people head to The Keys during these 2 days of madness but Bug Hunting in the rest of the state is just as good.
Wherever you are in Florida, opening day of Mini Season is completely nuts, everyone thinks they have to get out there chosen spot fast or all the Bugs will be gone. Well, hold on to your hat, there are plenty of Bugs to go around.
The best place to try out Mini Season is the Southeast with less regulations and where you can go from shore or get on a boat and reach a reef in minutes.
Locals call Spiny Lobsters "Bugs" and Lobster divers are called "Bug Hunters." Every July we experience "Bug Fever." Then in August when Lobster Season officially starts it is a "Bug Bonanza" until the end of March when season closes. Ya, we have a lot of "Bug" in Florida!
|2013 Mini Sport Season July 24 & 25 - recreational Bug Hunting only - 2012 Report
2013 Regular Season August 6 to March 31 - recreational & commercial
|Deep water Lobster's
shells have a reddish
tint and shallow water
a greenish tint.
|Image Courtesy of FWC|
There are many types of Lobsters that reside in Florida's tropical and subtropical waters. The most abundant is the Spiny Lobster, named this because they lack the front claws of a Maine lobster. The Spiny Lobster may lack claws for defense but it makes up for it in speed - in a blink of the eye a Spiny Lobster can travel at great speeds backwards to avoid predators making them difficult to catch once they are in motion. Lobsters walk on their many legs forward and swim backwards using their tail to propel them.
Like most species of Lobster, the Spiny Lobster is nocturnal, hiding under cover during the day and coming out to feed at night on on crabs, shellfish, mussels, worms, sea urchins and sand dollars. As far as taste, many argue the Maine Lobster is sweeter but eating a fresh grilled Spiny Lobster is arguably just as good. Lobsters in Florida mate from March to July (closed season) where they move inshore from deep reefs to mate. The female carries fertilized eggs on their abdomen for 3 weeks until they hatch.
Regulated Lobsters Species
Unregulated Lobster Species
The following Lobster species can be found in Florida waters and are unregulated so you can keep what you find any time of the year as long as it is not an egg-bearing female. Gear such as spears, hooks, wire snares, and any device which could puncture, penetrate, or crush the shell of the Lobster is prohibited on any Lobster species. For species that do not have an established bag limit, more than 100 pounds or 2 fish per person per day (which ever is greater), is considered commercial quantities and a SPL license is required.
Saltwater Products License (SPL) Requirements – Required to harvest over the recreational bag limit of species with an established bag limit or more than 100 pounds or 2 fish per person per day (whichever is greater) of a species that does not have an established bag limit, to sell harvested saltwater products, or to use certain gear (ss. 379.361, F.S. & Chapter 68B, F.A.C.).
There are several areas in Florida where Spanish & Slipper Lobster harvesting is Prohibited, see section below.
|A Lobster Hunter in West Palm Beach told us the Slipper Lobsters have very hard shells (hard to split with a cleaver), their tails are wider with twice the meat of a Spiny Lobster and they are better tasting than the Spiny Lobster, so don't let their prehistoric look stop you from having a great meal.||
Where are the Unregulated Lobsters?
You can find the other species of Florida Lobsters all over the state, most of which are on offshore reefs as you can see in the diagram below. Few and far between but available, you just have to look for them. Most of these lobsters, especially the Slippers, live in the sand or hide on the ceilings of structures. If you are luck to find one, they are excellent to eat and are prepared the same as other Lobsters. Spanish & Slipper Lobster harvesting is restricted in several areas in Monroe County, see regulations section below.
Catching a Shovelnose Lobster
|Courtesy of MBARA - Shovelnose locally called Bulldozer Lobsters|
Shovelnose Lobsters are not regulated except you cannot harvest egg bearing females. The Shovelnose, also called Slipper or Bulldozer, is a masters of disguise, their spotty reddish brown shells blend right in with their surroundings. Shovelnose are usually found inside pipes or on the roofs of ledges upside down. They can also be found buried in the sand on swiss cheese covered bottom. You can spot them by their purple antennae, using a flashlight helps to see inside dark holes. They are easy to catch, just grab them by the body. They don't have any spines so bare handed it OK. They are not fast swimmers but gentle movement is the key to getting your hands on them before they back into a hole where you can't reach them.
There are many Shovelnose in the Panhandle and on the east coast of Florida in usually 20 to over 100 feet. Watch this video taken off Panama City Beach, jump forward to 3:50 minutes to see the Shovelnose capture.
Are Lobsters Bugs?
So why are lobsters called Bugs? Nobody knows because Lobsters are crustaceans, sometimes called Crawfish, not bugs. One speculation is because they have a brain the size of a pencil tip, similar to a bug. Others think Lobsters are called Bugs because they have antennae and all those legs! And to add to the similarities, lobsters will march from one area to another across the sea floor in a train of hundreds, if not thousands, of members similar to an Ant parade. The Lobster has a nervous system similar to the Grasshopper so maybe that is where it's nickname came from. "Cockroaches of the Sea" is another nickname for the Lobster because they are scavengers that eat off the bottom of the sea.
Lobsters also have a very unique feature - they can rejuvenate lost limbs or their antennae! The Lobster is pre-programmed with a defense mechanism called "reflex amputation" where they can self-amputate a limb grabbed by a predator or caught in an entrapment. The limb or antennae will grow back in no time and does not hurt the Lobster.
|Photo Courtesy of MyFWC on Flickr - 7 month old baby Spiny Lobster|
The Lobsters antennae's are also a common feature of most insects so maybe this is where the nickname came from. The Lobster uses it's long, hairy antennae for smell, they supposedly have the greatest sensitivity for smell in the oceans, more than Sharks. They wave their antennae's around, sniffing for food, detecting predators, and looking for good hiding places. They also use the antennae's to feel, similar to cat's whiskers, and use them to sense changes or to measure an opening in a reef to see if they fit. It is common to see a Lobster emerge from his hole and challenge you, using it's antennae's as a warning and weapon. The Lobster antennae's are very versatile and important for their survival. Or Lobsters could just be called "Bugs" because they have big beady black eyes!
|Photo Courtesy of FWC|
Lobsters are nocturnal creatures and can be found out in the open walking around looking for their next meal during the night. During the day when most Bug Hunters are hunting, they hide under rocks, ledges, bridge pilings, coral outcrops and in holes, out of the sunlight, resting up for their next nighttime feeding.
The Bugs can be found both individually or in groups backed into holes with the antennae facing out waving in the water, always on guard for approaching predators. When an approaching predator is detected by their sensitive antennae, they will back up deeper into their hole for safety.
Lobster holes or dens can be found in very shallow ledges that can be hard to notice because they look like part of the sea floor. They are also found in deep relief reefs. Any overhang is a potential Bug Cave. To find a honey hole of Lobsters, look for antennae's sticking out, they almost look like sticks. Once you train your eyes to pick up the antennae you will have not trouble spotting them.
|Photo Courtesy of keysmarinelab.org|
One thing is for sure, a Lobster hot spot this year may have none next year. Lobsters move around a lot. Their movement is effected by weather, currents, and the concentration of predators. Cold water upwellings can occur on the Southeast coast causing Lobsters to scatter. Cold water upwellings occur usually in July when storms drive nutrient & oxygen rich cold water up from the depths of the Florida Straits onto continental shelf. You can actually see the cold water because it is a different color than the surrounding waters. Another factor that can contribute to Lobster movement are tides. Incoming tides bring in clear water with good visibility, outgoing tides can cloud the water, reduce visibility, and cause Lobsters to move around or go deeper into their dens, making them harder to find.
Many will go out weeks before season opens and find Lobster holes, marking the GPS numbers so they can come back on opening day. Now if you get to your pre-selected spot first, it's all yours and hopefully you bag a lot. If someone beat you to the spot, be curteous and move on.
Lobsters tend to be larger the further north you go, mostly because they receive less fishing pressure. Central and North Florida Spiny Lobsters are mostly targeted by divers because their habitat is way offshore in deep water. The Southeast and Keys have inshore shallow coral reefs that can be reached from shore or a short boat ride thus increasing fishing pressure. The coral reefs in the South are also a nursery for the Bugs, so there will be more juvenile's in these areas.
Mass migrations of thousands of Spiny Lobsters can occur in the fall months when the weather starts to change. This migration is usually spurred by incoming tropical storms which cause the shallow inshore waters to become turbulent, the water cools, disrupting their inshore habitat. The first storm to arrive that cools the waters is the signal for them to start queueing up for their march. Starting during evening hours the Lobsters will gathering together and when one finally takes the lead, the others will start following eventually creating a in single file. The Lobsters will march with their bodies closely touching the one in front of it across barren sea floors out to deep water reefs. Now if you are lucky to come across a Parade of Bugs you will not have much trouble harvesting your bag limit for the day!
|Image Courtesy of Panama City Spearfishing|
The Panhandle has more artificial reefs than any other part of Florida offering perfect habitat for Bugs. Bug Hunters in the Panhandle find more Shovelnose lobsters than Spiny lobsters on offshore reefs, usually 20 to over 100 feet of water. The Spiny lobsters found offshore are not abundant but when you find one they are huge as you can see in the picture to the right.
Panama City Dive Charters, avid spear fishermen and bug catchers, tell us all about the Bugs in their area. "There are 2 types of lobsters found in waters off our coast, the large but rare Spiny lobster and the camouflaged Shovelnose Lobster, see picture. Lobsters of both kinds are rarely found in water shallower than 100 feet, though Shovelnose are occasionally dragged up in shrimp nets in the bays. So it is theoretically possible to find Shovelnose lobsters on the jetties, it is in no way common. They live out most their lives on reefs 10+ miles offshore in normal circumstances. Shovelnose and Spiny lobster both share their reef homes with many creatures, all of which have lots of teeth, our most valuable tip to someone digging around in the reef for the illusive Shovelnose is to watch out for Eels and Toad Fish! Spiny lobster are regulated by the FWC, but Shovelnose lobster have no season or bag limit, as long as they are not taken while bearing eggs."
In the Tampa area spiny lobsters are rarely found inshore but you can find some off Tampa Bay scattered around deep wrecks offshore and they are usually very large, in the 15 pound range. As a sport, lobstering on the central west coast is not a pastime, most lobsters are caught by divers hunting other species.
Lobstering is unheard of in this part of the state. The sea floor in Southwest Florida does not offer good habitat for lobsters to reside with it's vast, sandy bottom and reefs (natural and man-made) very far apart.
Well, Naples Spearfishing League knows where the lobsters are off Naples as you can see in this picture of John Wendell holding the big ones in March 2013. We were told you have to get into 100 feet deep water, about 50 miles out, to find lobsters. They are scarce from 45 to 80 feet off Naples..
|Carol Cox of MBARA, picture taken in The Keys, they used our
Monroe County Reef Chart to find dive sites during this trip!
This is where most Lobsters are harvested in Florida due the year round warm waters, abundant reefs and wrecks offering perfect habitat for the Caribbean Spiny Lobster to reproduce and thrive. Lobsters tend to be smaller in the Keys than in other parts of Florida, averaging about 1 pound with a real big one being 1 1/2 pounds. Check out our Reefs & Shipwreck pages for sites that allow Lobstering.
The Lower Keys offer endless reefs and permitted shipwrecks for some great Lobsters. There are many great reefs like Western Dry Rocks or Pelican Shoal with mooring buoys. Lower Keys Reefs & Shipwrecks
The most popular Bug Hunting grounds are in the Middle Keys which has fewer no-take areas and hunting can be done on both the Bay side and the Atlantic side. Look for coral patches or rock outcroppings and you will surely find a lot of Bugs. Lobstering on Thunderbolt or other permitted shipwrecks can be fun.
Middle Keys Reefs & Shipwrecks
The Upper Keys receive less pressure during Mini Season because John Pennekamp Park and the whole Bay side is closed to Lobstering. During regular season you can hunt Lobsters inside Pennekamp Park but not in no-take areas nor on natural coral reefs so your hunting grounds are limited unless you go out past the park which is about 3 miles into Federal waters. The Bay side should be avoided, almost all of it is no-take. For details on where you can/cannot Lobster in the Upper Keys see our section below.Upper Keys Reefs & Shipwrecks
This area is just as good as the Keys with less regulations and you can even hunt at night during Mini Season here so boats will be out around the clock catching Lobsters feeding out in the open during the we hours of the night. Bug Hunters in the southeast can find Lobsters 50 yards off beaches, on the endless reefs that skirt the shoreline, on shipwrecks, jetties, inlets, or any submerged place with holes. Bug Hunters will get in the water from the beaches and free dive or scuba dive. The Gulf Stream skirts this area very close, bathing the area in clean, clear water which produces great visibility. Spiny Lobsters average about 1 1/2 pounds in the Southeast. Shovelnose Lobsters can be found on inshore reefs too. The better tasting Spotted Spiny Lobster are sometimes found around jetties and on inshore reefs but are not that common. To get an idea of what Lobstering is like on the Southeast coast of Florida watch this video filmed inshore off Pompano Beach near the pier. Florida Go Fishing attending the 2012 Mini Lobster Season in Broward County, check out our report.
|Photo Courtesy of MyFWC Media on Flickr|
The Central East coast offers shore diving, inshore and offshore reefs. The Bugs start getting much bigger in this region but not as abundant as their Southern neighbors.
In St. Lucie's Pepper Park there are several shallow nearshore reefs located less than 100 yards off the beach in 20 feet or less water. The reefs of Wabasso Beach also offer Bug Hunters some action. The Monster hole in the Sebastian Inlet State Park has been known to hold big Lobsters. Ponce de Leon Inlet has lots of big Bugs in the offshore deep reefs. In Vero Beach you have Jaycee Beach Park that offers shore accessible reefs. The Melbourne Ledge, about 18 miles from Sebastian inlet, has ledges with high relief holding some big Lobsters.
Beach Dive Sites Treasure Coast
All we can say is HUGE! Every report of Lobsters being harvested on deeper reefs in the Northeast shows most Lobsters over 5 pounds, many over 10 to 15 pounds. Are the Lobsters bigger because of the cold water or because there is less fishing pressure?
Watch this video taken on a reef 47 miles offshore of Jacksonville in 130 feet of water that was 60 degrees can see the reefs are much different in the cooler northern waters and the Lobsters are very big. Make the video full screen to really enjoy it. This movie was made with the GoPro video camera!
Shore Dive Sites
We will be updating this section with sites. In the mean time we are listing links to websites or documents that have information on dive sites that can be reached from the beach or from shore.
- Beach Dive Sites Treasure Coast - Sebestian to St Lucie Inlet sites with map
- http://www.southfloridadiving.com/snorkeling.html - beach dive sites near Pompano Beach
- http://www.scubaboard.com/forums/florida-conch-divers/60333-florida-dive-spots.html - sites all over Florida
- http://www.shorediving.com/Earth/USA_East/Florida/index.htm - scroll down the page & pic an area
Take a Lobster Charter!
There are many group or private charter boats that can take you out to reefs for Bug Hunting. Joining a group charter is the cheapest way to get out. Try a charter in a new area, meet some new dive buddies, and have a stress free trip. Watch this video taken on a group charter out of Pompano Beach during Mini Season. This movie is long but well worth your time, the video is amazing.
Get Ready and Gear Up
|Courtesy of FL Sea Grant, Nancy Richie|
Before you get in the water you need to have all your gear ready and a cooler with ice to keep the Lobsters fresh. Efficiently attaching all your necessary gear to your body or each other and know where they are is the key to success. See our Gear section below for what you need and other goodies that can help you catch more Bugs.
- Lobster gauge attached to your wrist, tickle stick or net
- Whistle around your neck on a lanyard or on your life vest
- Attach your catch bag to your waist or weight belt if you are using one
- Attach your floating dive flag to your waist or make sure one is displayed on the boat
- Put on your fins, snorkel life vest and goggles on your head - if your diving you know what to do.
- Grab your net, stick and flag, jump in the water, then put your goggle on and your ready to hunt
And don't forget you need a Lobster stamp on your fishing license and have it on board your boat or with you if venturing from land.
Find, Tickle & Net Lobsters by Snorkeling or Diving
|Image Courtesy of http://www.bugfestbythesea.com/|
The most popular way to catch Lobsters in Florida is to use a tickle stick to get the Lobster to exit his hole, then capture the Lobster with a wide, short handled net. Once you have located a Lobster in a crevice, have you net in one hand ready to catch a darting Lobster then carefully slide your tickle stick behind the Lobster with your other hand and gently tap his behind. The Lobster will shoot from his hole at the speed of light and if you put your net in the right position, it should dart straight into your net. Sounds easy? Well, for the inexperienced it is not. You must have your net almost covering the hole as you stick your tickler in behind him or he will shoot right by you. Poof - gone!
|Lobsters in your
catch bag are
before bagging bugs!
"If you are free-diving with no air supply, pick an area where water depths will allow you at least 30 seconds of bottom time." Another good piece of advice from Alan Peircefor of FWC: "those who are new to the sport should "learn to clear your ears." Making repetitive dives even to only 6 to 10 feet without clearing your ears each time can be very painful."
NEVER grab a Lobster by it's antennae, the Lobster will self-amputate the antennae and you will not get him, only a hand full of worthless body parts. Plus you will leave the poor Bug without his primary means of self-defence and he may not survive to make more Bugs.
See Lobstering in Action
This video shows many areas where you can find Spiny Lobsters and how they catch them. Please note that they are not measuring before they put the bug in their catch bags. Shame on them! Always measure before bagging.
Tail Snare "The Loop"
A Tail Snare lets you "tickle" and snag the Lobster using only one tool, no net is necessary. Just encircle the loop around the tail while he is still in the hole or as he is exiting. It is not as easy as it looks, a net is by far easier for the novice Bug Hunter. Watch this video taken off Jacksonville Lobstering, the diver catches Bugs using a Tail Snare. Notice the diver brings his speargun along on the hunt - using a Tail Snare frees one hand and lets you carry your gun along.
New! We are one of the first online retailors to offer the Assassin Pro All-in-One Harvesting Tool. Check it out and watch the video!
Towing bug hunters is a popular way to find Lobsters. Equipped with all your gear, a snorkelers will be towed from a ski rope behind the boat. The boat should troll very slowly over grassy ledges just off coral reef areas or over ledges and limestone holes. When a hunter spots bugs he will simply release the tow rope or board and go bug hunting. It is always a good idea to have a spotter on the boat to let the captain know the bug hunter let go and dove after bugs so he/she can circle back to where the divers are.
Sam Boards or wake boards tied to waterski lines are used by experienced hunters. For ideas on how to setup your boat and making your own Sam board read this Spearboard discussion.
Bully Netting is using a net to catch bugs. The law states a bully net cannot be larger than 3 feet in diameter and a Hoop Net cannot be larger than 10 feet in diameter. A popular practice is to mount lights on your boat and go at night, patrolling the grass flats just off reefs. When you spot a Lobster drop the net on it, the Lobster will shoot into the net then you retrieve it. This video show you how.
Once You Catch a Lobster
|1. Look for Eggs||2. Measure in the Water|
Once you have captured a Bug you now have to do 2 important things: look for eggs and measure it. First look for eggs and if it is an egg-bearing female you must release it and try again. Now it's time to get out your Gauge and measure it. Measuring the Lobster must be underwater per the law, learn how to measure below. If your catch is undersized, it's called a Short, put it back in the water. If it is a Keeper then you need to transfer it to your catch bag by firmly grabbing the Lobster by the body and put it in the bag, tail first. The experienced bug hunter will usually have a mesh bag that is tied to their waist for easy storage while in the water.
Storage & Transporting Your Bugs
When you get out of the water with your Bag of Bugs you need to store them properly to keep them alive and kicking. Always keep them cool and out of the sun on their journey from your dive spot to your kitchen.
Large coolers with ice work great on a boat. Do not submerge the Bugs in the ice water, a towel laid over the ice with the Lobsters on top is best. Remember, this is a saltwater species so it will die if exposed to fresh water, especially fresh water from the tap which has chlorine and other chemicals.
Another great option is to use your Bait Well as a holding tank for your freshly caught Lobsters. Bait wells are great because the water is replenished often, just don't crowd the Bugs or they will not survive.
Dock carts filled with saltwater right out of the bay work great as long as you keep the cart out of the sun and change the water often. If it is a very hot day the water temperature will rise quickly, so water changes are important to keep the temperature down and the Bugs alive. A pump that pulls sea water from the bay and constantly replenishes the tank water is ideal.
When you get home store the live Lobsters in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Do not cover them with anything except a wet towel. Placing them in a draw works great.
For the inexperienced Bug Hunter, the first few times hunting can be a trying experience. Not only are you green as to how to catch a bug, you have to figure out where they hide and how to grab a squirming sharp-shelled creature. There also are unexpected hazards that most will encounter and with experience will try to prevent them on your next Hunting trip. Here are some common mishaps:
Lionfish - This evasive, nasty fish inhabits Crawfish holes and stings from the Lionfish are the #1 cause for injuries during Bug Hunting expeditions. The Lionfish has a poisonous venom which will not kill you but abruptly end your hunting expedition. If you can, capture and kill this evasive species.
Fire Coral Stings - Never touch corals, it is illegal anyway. Fire Coral stings are painful and the resulting rash can last for weeks.
Jellyfish Stings - Avoid any and all jelly fish to be safe. Most stings are from the long, dangling tentacles that divers unknowingly brush up against and receive a nasty burn.
Sea Lice - Don't get in the water if Sea Lice are present or you may get what looks like a nasty rash from hundreds of small stings. Be on the lookout for public warnings to stay out of the water in the summer months. Sea Lice are the larvae of the Thimble Jellyfish (Linuche unqui culata) and are invisible in the water and clearly visible out of the water. See Dixie Divers page for details.
Moray Eel Bites - Big Eels inhabit the same holes and crevices as Lobsters, they have big teeth and will bit right through tough gloves, so don't stick your hand in a hole, use your tickle stick.
Sunburn - It doesn't take long for Florida's powerful sun to give you a nasty burn. Always use sunscreen and wear a light colored shirt when snorkeling to protect your back and shoulders.
Cuts & Scrapes - Wear gloves to avoid getting cut on sharp limestone rocks or coral. Lobsters have spines, hence their name, and can easily cut you when you capture them.
Slammed into a Reef While Being Dragged - This can be fatal, keep your eyes open and stay alert while you are being dragged. Boats show tow divers at a very slow speed so the diver can spot Lobster holes.
Running Out of Air: Bug Hunting requires a lot more air than regular diving. Divers can lose track of air time, pre-occupied with the chase. Stay alert and remember to check you air supply often! And always go down with a full tank of air.
Getting Arrested or Ticketed - Never, ever go Lobstering without your license with Lobster stamp, never take more than your limit or go where it is prohibited. The cops are everywhere and inspect boats & anglers both on the water and at the dock, pier or beach. Know the rules for the area you will be Lobstering before you venture out.
It also goes without saying that you should have a fully stocked First Aid Kit with you when you go Lobstering - cuts and scrapes are common hazards of this sport - lacerations, bites, and stings are less common but always a threat. Visit Hazards to Avoid for more details on staying safe in Florida.
You do not need a lot of expensive Lobster gear to start hunting - a tickle stick, hand net, gloves, lobster bag, and dive flag is all you need to get started. There are many other types of gear you may want to try once you've decided to pursue becoming an Expert Bug Hunter. Help support our website and purchase your Lobstering gear at our One-Stop-Shop.
Lobster Kits include gloves, tickle stick and net.
Lobster Gauges are required by law. You must measure the Lobster under water with a gauge. Get one that has a wrist band so you always have it handy.
Gloves are necessary to protect your hands from the spines of the Lobsters and from sharp rocks and crevices.
Lobster Bags are used to store your catch. Special Lobster bags have circular openings that allow you to drop the lobster into a mesh to mesh bag. Many have loop ends so you can string the bag to your waist.
Snorkel / Dive Gear Goggles are important to protect your eyes from the saltwater and to help you see your prey. Fins help you move along in the water easily but are not required equipment.
Dive Flags are required by law, see Regulations. If you will be moving around get a floating flag setup that attached to you; if you will anchor your boat have a flag on the boat displayed on the highest part of the boat and the flag must have a stiffener.
Dive Floats with Flags are great for shore dives, snorkeling, or spearing. This float has straps on the bottom to hold spear guns and lots of nooks and crannies for storing your gear.
Hookah Systems on your boat give divers a constant supply of breathable air. You can also mount this system on a float. The diver's weight system is built into the belt that secures the air hose. Click text to see all models.
Tickle Sticks can be Aluminum, Fiberglass or PVC rods about 2 feet long, sometimes with a bend at the end used to coax the lobster out of it's hole. It is said the Lobster responds better to Aluminum sticks.
Tail Snare or "the loop" is used instead of the tickle stick and net. The Tail Snare is a metal or plastic hollow tube 2 to 3 feet long with a line running running thru it forming a loop at the end. The loop is usually covered in a protective plastic cover to protect the tail once snared.
Lobster Nets with short handles are used to catch the Lobster as it exits its hiding place.
Bully Nets are also used to catch Lobsters as they shoot from their holes. There are also ready made nets available in local bait shops that are circular and are used at night by dropping the circle net on the seafloor and when a Bug walks onto the net you pull the attached cord to capture the Lobster.
Inflatable Dive Vest are always a good safety item to use, especially for those who aren't the best swimmers
Whistles are a great safety device to have handy so you can call for your boat or find your dive/snorkel partner.
Marker Buoys are used to mark a Lobster den where you missed catching a Lobster. The scared off Lobster will return to it's den in a short while and with the marker set on the den you can come back and try again.
Submersible Lights are waterproof and used to spot Lobsters in their dark hiding places
Spare Air tanks allow you to stay down longer. These small tanks are refillable and light weight.
Tow Ropes can be used a slow speeds by a diver spotting for Lobster dens. Attach a board with handles on it for more comfort.
Underwater Viewing Buckets help you see reefs before you anchor up and jump in hunting. Get this bucket from our online store!
Sea Doo® Seascooters™ are very cool machines that are great for getting hunting bugs. You go from one spot to another, covering a larger area than is possible swimming. They are not cheap but those who have them wouldn't hunt without them.
We have more Lobstering and Scalloping Gear on our shopping page.
Seasons & Bag Limits
|August 6, 2012- March 31, 2013||Regular Season||Mini Sport Season|
|August through March||2 Days in July|
|Opens 10 days after Mini Season||Last Wednesday & Thursday|
|12:01 AM on August open date to
12:00 Midnight March 31
|12:00 AM Wednesday to
12:00 Midnight Thursday
All of Florida except areas with special rules
|6 per Harvester per Day||12 per Harvester per Day|
|Monroe County||6 per Harvester per Day||6 per Harvester per Day|
|Biscayne National Park||6 per Harvester per Day||6 per Harvester per Day|
|Possession Limits (on & off the water)||Daily bag limit||Daily bag limit day 1, double daily bag limit day 2|
Bag limits are only for properly licensed individuals and those people exempt from license requirements who are actively harvesting. People harvesting may not exceed their individual bag limit and take someone else's bag limit. That is, people (including children) who are not actively harvesting or are not properly licensed (if a license is required) may NOT be counted for purposes of bag limits.
Possession limits are enforced both on and off the water. You cannot harvest your limit, bring your catch home then go back out and harvest again.
Spiny lobster harvested in Florida & Federal waters shall remain in a whole condition at all times while on or below the waters and the practice of wringing or separating the tail (segmented portion) from the body (carapace and head) section is prohibited unless you have a permit to do so.
Required Gear & Paperwork
Florida Fishing License with Lobster Stamp
Dive Down Flag
- Gear such as spears, hooks, wire snares, and any device which could puncture, penetrate, or crush the shell of the Lobster is prohibited on ANY Lobster species.
- Recreational trapping is prohibited.
Diagram courtesy of National Park Service
All Bug Hunters must have a Gauge made for measuring Lobster with them in the water during harvesting activities. You must measure each Lobster to be sure it is of legal size.
- Minimum carapace length of greater than 3 inches.
- Measurement must take place in the water.
- Tails can only be separated on land.
- When the tail is se per ate from the body it must be greater than 5 1/2 inches.
The carapace is measured beginning at the forward edge between the rostral horns, excluding any soft tissue, and proceeding along the middle to the rear edge of the carapace.
All Female Lobsters of any species must be returned to the water immediately if it is carrying eggs. The first thing you should do when you catch a Lobster is to check for eggs under the tail. If eggs are present, release her immediately.
The harvest of ANY species of Lobster carrying eggs is Prohibited. There are no seasonal closures on Lobster species other than the Spiny caught in Florida with the exception of Spanish & Slippers as indicated below. For species that do not have an established bag limit, more than 100 pounds or 2 fish per person per day (which ever is greater), is considered commercial quantities and a SPL license is required.
Saltwater Products License (SPL) Requirements – Required to harvest over the recreational bag limit of species with an established bag limit or more than 100 pounds or 2 fish per person per day (whichever is greater) of a species that does not have an established bag limit, to sell harvested saltwater products, or to use certain gear (ss. 379.361, F.S. & Chapter 68B, F.A.C.).
In Monroe County, the harvest of Spanish or Slipper Lobsters (any species of the Genera Panulirus or Scyllarides) is Prohibited Year Round in the following areas:
- Key Largo EMA
- Looe Key EMA
- Everglades National Park
- Dry Tortugas National Park
- National Marine Sanctuary Preserves (SPA, SPAT, RO, ER)
- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Lobster Exclusion Zones & from or within coral formations (patch reefs) within the Park.
|Notice this flag is upside down and the stiffner is
not holding the flag out, it should be on diagnal
corners! Photo courtesy of GAFFLife.com
Diver Down Flags
|The fine for not
having a stiffner
on you dive flag is
$90 in 2012.
State law requires the prominent display of a diver down flag when diving or snorkeling.
The dive flag must be 20" x 24" when displayed from a vessel, the flag, must be display right-side up (white line starts on upper left) and a stiffener is required to keep the flag unfurled. If you choose to drag a flag, the flag is required to be 12"x12".
The dive flag must be prominently displayed from the highest point on vessel and visible from 360˚ degrees so that the flag's visibility is not obstructed in any direction.
Divers must stay within 300 feet of dive flag in open water, and within 100 feet in rivers, inlets and narrow channels. Vessels within 300 feet of a dive flag in open waters or within 100 feet in rivers, inlets and narrow channels must operate at idle speed. When divers are out of the water, a dive flag may not be displayed.
Q: If a group of divers/snorkelers get in the water from land, is each person required to tow a buoy with a flag?
CAUTION: FWC now has new laser radar devices to enforce the dive down flag law which determines the distance a diver strays from a flag and the distance a boat get to a flag.
Always use mooring buoys if available. Never anchor on coral reefs or artificial structure, always anchor in the sand. For the safety of your divers, stay clear of channels and high traffic areas.
Biscayne National Park
It is prohibited for anyone to dive or snorkel in, or within 100 feet of any marked channel within Biscayne National Park or in any harbor within the park.
There are many areas around Florida that prohibit Lobstering. These areas are very important to the survival of the Spiny Lobster in Florida. These areas are nurseries, a safe haven for the Lobsters to reproduce and keep the stock healthy. The Lobster industry in Florida (commercial and recreational Lobstering) is a multi-million dollar industry and these closed areas help to maintain it. We indicate on our GPS Reef Charts the sites where you cannot hunt for Lobsters with this symbol .
Year Round Closures
We outline in Red No Lobstering Zones for regular season on our Interactive Chart.
- Biscayne Bay / Card Sound Spiny Lobster Sanctuary & Legare Anchorage, see Biscayne Bay Lobstering Brochure
- Everglades National Park - Cannot possess Lobsters inside the park at any time
- Dry Tortugas National Park - Must declare Lobster catches before entering the park.
- John Pennekamp State Park Lobster Exclusion Zones & from or within any Coral Formation (patch reefs) with the Park. The term "patch reef" means any coral formation, consisting of a roughly circular area of hard corals, soft corals, and a mixture of other benthic invertebrates.
Lobster Exclusion Zones are marked with white and yellow spar buoys and include:
- Turtle Rocks
- Basin Hills North
- Basin Hills East
- Basin Hills South
- Higdon’s Reef
- Cannon Patch
- Mosquito Bank North
- Mosquito Bank South East
- Three Sisters North
- Three Sisters South
- The Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary Preserves (SPA, SPAT, RO, ER) No take areas marked with 30" round yellow boundary buoys.
- All the waters of and around the City of Layton, including canals
- Artificial Habitat in State Waters - No diving for Lobster (harvesting and possession) within 10 yards of an illegal Artificial Habitat. Artificial Habitats are shipwrecks or Illegal Lobster Condo's that are man-made like bathtubs, barrels, concrete, etc. You CAN hunt for Lobsters on Artificial Reefs that were intentionally placed and permitted by Florida DEP or Army Corps (e.g. Duane, Eagle, Thunderbolt).
Mini Sport Season Restrictions
- NIGHT diving for Lobster is prohibited in Monroe County during Mini Season
- Hoop Netting and Bully Netting IS permitted at night (night is 1 hour after official sunset to 1 hour before official sunrise)
- John Pennekamp State Park closed during Mini Season
- Biscayne National Park -You can Lobster outside the Lobster Sanctuary boundaries. Lobsters can only be possessed inside the Lobster Sanctuary when transporting your catch by car on, or after, the second day. See Biscayne Bay Lobstering Brochure
- No Snorkeling or Diving during Mini Season within 300 feet of improved residential or commercial shoreline, any man-made or private canal, or any public or private marina for the following areas:
- City of Marathon during 2 days of Mini Season
- City of Key Colony Beach 4 days preceding Mini Season, the 2 days of Mini Season, and 10 days after the opening of Regular Season, a total of 26 days
- Islamorada, Village of Islands 3 days preceding Mini Season, the 2 days of Mini Season, and 5 days after the opening of Regular Season, a total of 20 days
- Unincorporated Monroe County 3 days preceding Mini Season, the 2 days of Mini Season, and 5 days after the opening of Regular Season, a total of 20 days
|Unincorporated Monroe County|
|Anglers Park||Duck Key||Jewfish Key||Perky||Sugarloaf Key|
|Bay Point||East Rockland Key||Haven||Pinecrest||Sugarloaf Shores|
|Big Coppitt Key||El Chico||Little Torch Key||Pirates Cove||Summerland Key|
|Big Pine Key||Flamingo||Lois Key||Ramrod Key||Sunset Point|
|Big Torch Key||Fort Jefferson||Lower Sugarloaf Key||Rock Harbor||Tavernier|
|Boca Chica Key||Garden Cove||Middle Torch Key||Rockland Key||Thompson|
|Chatham||Geiger Key||Newport||Saddlebunch Keys||Trail Center|
|Conch Key||Grayvik||No Name Key||Shark Key||Upper Sugarloaf Key|
|Cudjoe Key||Indian Key||Ohio Key||Stock Island|
The Biscayne Bay - Card Sound Spiny Lobster Sanctuary
Lobstering in Biscayne Bay's Lobster Sanctuary is prohibited. You are not allowed to have lobsters on your boat if you are in the sanctuary. If you are passing through, you can have lobsters on board as long as you do not stop or get into the water. You cannot stop in the sanctuary and go swimming, diving, snorkeling if you have lobsters on your boat caught from another area.
Biscayne Bay Lobstering Brochure Biscayne Bay-Card Sound Spiny Lobster Sanctuary Full Text of Law
Chart of Biscayne Bay - Card Sound Sanctuary
Brochures & The Florida Law
Why Are Spiny Lobsters Regulated?
Regulations are in place to help sustain the Spiny Lobster populations. As you can see in the following chart, commercial and recreational landings of Lobsters had decreased substantially the past 20 years due to over fishing this species. If regulations were not in place the Spiny Lobster would eventually become extinct in Florida waters.
Law Enforcement Are Everywhere
We can't stress enough the importance of learning the regulations for the area you will be Bug Hunting. Florida Marine Patrol is out in full force during Mini Sport Season checking most hunters when they off load their catch at public docks and ramps. They will also board your boat and check your catch while on the water. The law states they can inspect you both on and off the water.
Traffic stops during Mini Season are a possibility, so be sure to have no more than the legal bag limit per person in your vehicle on your way out of the Keys.
During regular season Marine Patrol actively checks anglers catches, it is just not worth the huge fines they happily give out. If your caught Poaching, you face jail time, loss of your boat and equipment, and huge fines.
Be sure to stay clear of No-Take areas and illegal artificial habitat, they are regularly patrolled. Anyone who frequents the waters in Florida knows Marine Patrol is very active and most of us have had our boat inspected at one time or another. So be safe and follow the rules.
Seminars & Workshops
Attending a lobster hunting seminar is a great way to learn how to catch Florida lobsters. Inquire at you local dive shop about upcoming seminars or classes. If you are in Orlando this summer, Orlando Scuba Quest offers a 2 hour seminar which includes an 84 page book.
The Spiny Lobster is celebrated around Florida with statues, food festivals, concerts, contests and fund raisers. You can witness Lobster Mermaids, Lobstermen in money booths, you name it, they have it. Try Lobster fritters, grilled Lobster, and dozens of other ways Floridians cook the Spiny Lobster.
There are also Lobster Tournaments held around the state, one we came across from 2009 in Vero Beach offered $15,000 for a 16 pound Lobster!
Annual Lobster Festivals
- Miami Spiny Lobster Tournament - 2 days during Mini Season in July
- BugFest-By-The-Sea - 2 days during Mini Season July Report
- Lobsterfest in Key West - 3 days in August
- Lobster Festival & Tournament on Panama City Beach - 4 days in September
- Marathon Seafood Festival - 2 days in March
Spiny Lobsters can be enjoyed in so many ways - grilled, broiled, sauted, stuffed. lobster fingers, lobster chowder, bisque, lobster pizza, lobster salad sandwiches - your choices are endless.
Alive or Dead?
|Image Courtesy of MyFWC Media on Flickr|
The Spiny Lobster's storage and eating precautions are the same as the Maine Lobster. You must keep the Lobster alive until you are ready to cook or freeze it.
Live Lobsters can survive out of the water in the refrigerator for 2 days - store uncovered in a draw or wrapped in a wet towel, never in a sealed bag or container.
Cleaned Lobster tails can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 days.
Lobsters spoil rapidly the minute they die, so test your Lobster by touching it's tail, it should contract inwards, then play with their claw legs, they should move and try to nip you. When in doubt, throw it out.
- 1 pound whole lobster yields 1/3 pound cooked meat
- 1 pound whole Lobster per person
- 1 Lobster tail per person
- 1 pound Lobster meat serves 4
How to Clean a Spiny Lobster
The most common way to clean and store the Spiny Lobster is to remove the tail then cook or freeze the tails.
- Put on some gloves and remove the tail by grabbing the Lobster, one hand on the tail, the other hand on the chest, then twist and pull.
- Break off an antennae and discard the upper body or reserve for fish stock or grind up for fish chum.
- Take the antennae, break it in half reserving about 6 inches of the sharp end then break off the very tip of the reserved piece where it's flexible.
- De-vein the Tail: Firmly hold the tail on it's back with the fan end facing you, take the prepared antennae and push the narrowest point into the digestive track of the anus at the tip of the tail. Push the antennae in a few inches, twist, then pull it back out - the spikes on the antennae will grab hold of the big vein and remove it. Now the import part, flick the long vein you just removed using good wrist action, if you don't do it right you may have a big, slimy vein smack you in the forehead.
CAUTION: If the tail was just removed from a live or recently deceased Lobster, the tail may flinch while you're twisting the antennae into it's butt and cause you to jump, dropping the tail. If you're doing this on a dock, hold tight or your tail may take a swim. Here's a short video that shows you how easy it is to clean a Lobster.
Lobsters can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 72 hours. Freezing Lobster tails works great, just wrap them tightly in plastic wrap to keep them from getting freezer burn and then put them in a freezer ziplock bag.
Did you know there are three different colors of Spiny Lobster meat - pink, orange, and white?
|Tyson Brown of New Port Richey, Florida Grilling|
By far the most popular way to enjoy the Spiny Lobster in Florida is to grill them one of 4 ways:
- Split Half Tails: Start by removing the tails from the body, remove the digestive track (see Cleaning above), then with a very heavy knife chop the tail in half. You can also take garden clippers to cut the whole tail down the middle.
- Butterfly Tails: Remove the tail from the body, remove the digestive track (see Cleaning above), then cut through the underside of the tail shell. Don't cut all the way through the ribs and membrane at the bottom of the shell, your goal is to create an envelope of shell with meat in the middle. Holding the shell firmly on it's back, "fold" the halves out away from each other breaking each rib in the middle – it's easy – press from below with your fingers. They sort of lock into place like that – it's real nice for grilling. (Thanks Tyson for this tip!)
- Half Bodies: Cut the whole body in half length wise, leaving the small legs and head in place. Clean out the tomalley (liver and pancreas) if you desire, some like eating this tasty treat.
- Whole Bodies: Nothing to do here but it does take longer to cook the and hard to tell if they are done.
Grill whole tails about 7 minutes, time depends on how big the tail pieces are and whether they are cut in half, whole tails or half bodies.
To keep the meat moist you must baste the Lobster with melted butter or olive oil. There are many variations of a melted butter baste including adding fresh herbs, crushed Garlic, finely chopped jalapeno pepper or spice mixes.
Lime Cilantro Butter
A popular baste for Lobster is to melt butter in a pan and mix in chopped fresh Cilantro Leaves and Lime Juice, we call this authentic Florida cuisine. You can also add chopped Garlic to this baste.
Removing the tail meat from the shell and saute in garlic butter is an amazing way to enjoy Spiny Lobster.
- Saute tails cut into chunks in butter, herbs and garlic and throw into Alfredo Sauce to make Fettuccine Alfredo.
- Saute chunks with garlic, butter, olive oil, white wine, and lemon juice then use as a pasta toping or taco filling
- Take the sauted chunks that are partially cooked use it as a pizza topping with sun dried tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil and a combo of mozzarella and ricotta cheese.
- Saute chucks of Lobster, Shrimp, and Bay Scallops and use on Eggs Benedict instead of the usual ham slice.
- Add partially cooked chunks to homemade Mac & Cheese right before baking
Boiled Whole Lobsters
Boil whole Spiny Lobsters by placing the Lobster head first into a big pot of boiling salted water. Return water to boiling and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, 20+ for large ones. You can also boil Lobsters for several minutes until the shell turns red, cool then remove the meat and add the slightly cooked meat to your favorite recipe or baste and broil.
The benefits of boiling your Bugs is you can use the whole body for many dishes. Remove the leg meat and bits of meat around the base of the legs and use for Lobster Salad. Take the discarded shells / guts and boil for fish stock or grind them up for fish chum. Use the tail meat in your favorite recipe like Lobster Pizza, Lobster Thermidor, or in a pasta dish.
Seafood Stuffed Lobster
- 2 large Lobsters, split length wise & body cavity cleaned
- 1 large Onion, chopped
- 2 large cloves Garlic, crushed
- 1/2 fresh Lemon
- 1/4 - 1/2 cup fresh Parsley, chopped
- 10 tablespoons Butter
- 1/4 pound Shrimp, cut into 1" pieces
- 1/4 Bay Scallops or Sea Scallops quartered
- 1/4 Crab Meat
- 1 sleeve Ritz Crackers
- Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper
- Melted Butter
Heat a large frying pan then add butter to melt. Add onions and garlic to the pan, saute a few minutes until onions are translucent, do not brown. Add the seafood and mix it all up and cook a few minutes to get the seafood cooking process started. Cut the lemon in half and fresh squeeze about 2 tablespoons over the mixture in the pan then season with salt and pepper, stir. Remove the crackers and hand-crush them into large pieces straight into the frying pan. Stir in chopped Parsley, mix iit all up and remove from heat. You do not want to cook everything, just heat it all up. Place the split Lobsters on a baking pan. Loosely stuff the body cavities and mound stuffing on tails, pat mixture lightly. Spoon or brush melted butter over the stuffing and bake.
Bake 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until tail meat done. Stuffing should get crunchy and golden brown. You can also bake the Stuffed Lobsters on the grill. Place charcoal on sides and heat to 350 degrees. Place the pan with stuffed Lobsters in the middle and grill, cover and cook 20 to 30 minutes.
More Stuffed Spiny Lobster
Check out this Stuffed Lobster Recipe on Spearboard which shows you step-by-step pictures on making the Stuffed Lobsters pictured to the left, your mouth will water!
Lobster Thermidor is also an excellent way to enjoy your Bugs stuffed. There are many versions of Lobster Thermidor, most have a creamy sauce with lobster meat and other goodies like bay scallops, shrimp and crab mixed in.
Jerked Lobster, Breaking all the Rules
Thanks to Tyson Brown of New Port Richey, Florida for sharing this recipe
Servings: 4 pairs of split Lobsters
1/3 bunch Fresh Thyme Leaves (2 sprigs or 4 teaspoons dried)
4 teaspoons Kosher Salt (I use Sea Salt)
2 teaspoons Allspice, ground
½ teaspoon Nutmeg, freshly grated
½ teaspoon Cinnamon, freshly grated
4 teaspoons Granulated Sugar
2 teaspoons Black Pepper, freshly ground
1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (more or less to taste)
2 cloves Fresh Garlic, minced
¼ cup Medium Red Onion, roughly chopped
¼ bunch Fresh Cilantro, finely chopped
4 1¼ lbs whole Lobsters, split in half or Spiny Lobster tails, butterflied (leave in the shell which protects them from drying).
1 each Lime, cut into wedges
Begin by combining the thyme, salt, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, black and cayenne peppers, garlic, and onion together in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Pulse or crush until all is incorporated into a paste. Next, mix the paste and cilantro together until well incorporated. This is your jerk paste.
Preheat your grill to medium-high. Next, heat up some basting butter and mix in some of the jerk paste, adjusting quantities to taste.
Then, split each Lobster with a chef’s (French) knife or heavy sheers right down the middle. Leave or remove the tomalley (liver and pancreas - it looks like a green paste inside the abdominal cavity of a cooked lobster) based on your preference. Take a dime sized portion of your jerk paste and rub it into the exposed meat inside the tail, body and head. Be stingy, a lot of paste will go a long way.
Begin cooking by placing your jerked Lobster on the grill, cut side down. Lower the temperature to medium and close the lid. Cook the Lobster for 3-4 minutes, or until some coloring occurs. Next, flip them and baste with some of the jerk-infused butter. Close the lid again and continue cooking (and basting) until the tail meat is no longer translucent and the shell is a bright red (5-6 minutes). Serve immediately.
Lobster Shrimp Bisque
Creamy and refreshing best describes this wonderful rich bisque. Inspired by the Maine Lobster Bisque, Floridians have created their own version by using Spiny Lobster and fresh Gulf Shrimp. Lobster Bisque in Florida tends to be chunkier making it a meal in itself. Our guess is Floridians added Shrimp to the recipe because Lobsters are expensive and not always available fresh.
The traditional way to make bisque is to remove all meat from the Lobster and Shrimp shells then boil the carcasses and shells creating a stock. Pour the finished stock through a colander and discard the shells then make the bisque.
A Short History of Lobsters as a Delicacy
Prior to the 1900's Lobsters covered the ocean floors in great numbers. Early settlers thought they were ugly, insects, too disgusting to eat. They ground up Lobsters for fertilizer, they cooked them for prisoners and servants. Nobody was interested in this strange looking scavenger.
Rumor has it that John D. Rockefeller was accidently served a bowl of Lobster Stew that was made for his servants. He loved the stew and order it to be a regular menu item in his household. Word spread of this new delicacy and the Lobster industry was born. In the late 1800's the canned Lobster industry was born and canned Lobster was shipped worldwide.
Lobster is rich in protein and during WWII Lobster was consumed in greater numbers as other sources of protein were hard to come by. As the Lobsters popularity grew the abundant supply of Lobsters started to diminish with more and more commercial fisherman getting in on this profitable catch. Today, the Lobster industry is highly regulated with annual quotas established to protect this highly sough after delicacy.
In Florida, the Spiny Lobster was a staple of the Calusa Indians who used spears to catch them. Early settlers ate fish and this tasty Crawfish. When the oversea-highway was being built workers were fed this large Crawfish because they were very abundant back then. Once the Spiny Lobster reached commercial importance, the numbers declined significantly. Rumor has it the ocean floor in the Keys was crawling with so many lobsters you cold walk across the bottom on top of them never touching the sand
Never Forget the Spiny Lobster
Inspired by the unique characteristics of the featured species, these hand-crafted gallery pieces capture wildlife in a variety of appealing poses. Cast from solid brass using a once-lost wax technique that creates stunning detail, making them stand out in any room. Hand-finished using SPI's proprietary Imperial Finish, these sculptures are lacquered so they will last for generations.
Florida Lobster measures 8'' x 9-1/2'' x 7''. $ 130.00 at Bass Pro Shops