Finally I have some time to sit and write about my trip to Key Largo, Florida for the lobster mini season. It was a great trip and I already wish that I could go back as usual. The weather was hot, but not unbearable when you're in the water working for lobster. We had three boats and only the one I was on took their limit the first day and we were short eight lobster the second day of the mini season. During the season you can have six lobster per day, per person, per boat. We had five people on our boat so our daily limit was 30 for each day. To lobster dive you will need a license and a lobster permit. I was out of state, so I bought a three day temporary out of state license and paid for a lobster permit. I think this runs about $24.00. Be sure that you don't have your license activated until the first day you intend to use it. Its crucial that you have this license and lobster permit. I have heard the stories about people going to jail and having boats and cars impounded for having over there limit of lobster. Which can be just one lobster if you don't get your license and permit.
This was not my first trip down to the keys for mini season. This was my fourth time to go and lobster dive. It was my wife and little brothers first so I knew what to expect. First off I would start by saying that you should get a good fitting mask. I suggest trying them on at a dive shop and then buying. We put them on without the strap and sucked through our nose. If they suctioned that was great, but also make sure they are comfortable. You don't have to spend a fortune on a mask just get one that fits. Some come with purges and two lens or one lens. Its just personal preference. Speaking of preference your snorkel is preference too. My little brother bought a mask and snorkel combo that had a way to shut out the water when submerged underwater, but I just use the old fashion snorkel and blow the water out when I resurface. You will also need booties or water socks. Any that fit are great. If you will be walking around outside of the boat I suggest water boots. My wife and I just wore water socks since we only wore them in the boat or in our fins. The boots and socks keep you from developing nasty blisters from your fins. Fins is preference as well we all bought some deep see aqua glide fins for 35 dollars and they performed great. This is preference again, but I prefer the fins that you can adjust a strap on the back of your ankle to make your fins tighter. My uncle bought a new pair of ankle straps that you just pull on and they spring tight against your ankle for easy on and off.
When you lobster dive I recommend you wear what we call rash guards. They are essentially what the under shirts are made of that athletes wear under jerseys or pads. This will help you to not burn as bad when you are snorkeling or on the boat. Also helps with fire coral. Fire coral is in my opinion like the poison ivy of the ocean. Except fire coral does not itch it burns. Some wear full body suits or wear something to cover their legs. Either way you should wear a rash guard. It does not have to be long sleeve, but at least short sleeve. I wore a sleeveless one the first day and got burned on the back of my shoulders and stung by a jellyfish in my armpit and it would not have been bad if it wasn't in my armpit. The night after the first day we went to Divers Direct in Key Largo and bought long sleeve rash guards. My wife and I both should have gotten long sleeve ones before we left, but I assumed I would get hot like I did in the past, but when you're in the water most of the day it keeps you cool and protected. For ladies I suggest shorts. My wife did this the second day as she got a nice sunburn on her backside after day one.
My wife, little brother, and I are not scuba certified. It is something that my wife wants to do this winter, so we are planning to get certified before going back next year. If you are certified then you already know that you can rent scuba gear for your dive from a shop. Divers Direct sold everything you need, but I don't believe they rented the gear or filled tanks. Its the keys so there are plenty of dive shops. Gary whose boat we were on had his own BC and scuba tanks. He just had to get them filled. My uncle who only dives once a year has no need to purchase this gear so he goes to one of the many dive shops in the area and rents the BC and tanks for the two day mini each year. They all have their own mask, snorkel, and fins which I suggest owning for yourself.
For catching the lobster you need to obviously have a boat or charter a boat to take you out. Everyone that I have gone with in the past four years have had boats that we can go out on as a group. If you or a friend do not have a boat you can charter a boat to take you out on the water. This might not be a bad idea if you have never been out before, or you are not with someone who has been out for lobster diving. You need to know what to look for and where to dive. Often the locals of the area will know where to go out on the water at. My uncle's and his group of friends that we go with have been doing this for 25 years now. So they all are pretty seasoned lobster divers. Gary has a gps on his boat and in the past few years when you find a good dive spot filled with lobster you are able to drop a waypoint for the next year on the gps. This saves so much time that its ridiculous. If you have this advantage use it or you will be boating around all day looking for coral heads and flat rock to find the lobsters hiding out.
So you are probably wondering how to catch the lobster. The lobster like to hide out under coral heads, in reefs, and under what we call flat rock. They hide out and often you can see their giant antennas sticking out from the edge of the coral head. This is where your snorkelers come in handy. When you come up to a spot that you want to check out you throw someone in that takes a look to try and find the antennas of a lobster. When you see them you keep looking at them and put a finger up or a few depending on how many are there. If you take your eye off of the spot for a few seconds and look back down you may lose the spot you found them at. The current sweeps you off the spot without you even knowing it. The scuba diver gets in with a snare and a lobster bag. The snare is similar to what animal control might use with the loop at the end. You get behind the lobster with it and they swim backwards, so as they inch backwards they back into your loop and you pull the knob on the handle once the tail is in the loop. You will see more of this in my youtube video if you watch it. Sometimes people use whats called a tickle stick to "tickle," or poke at the lobster to make them go into your look, but usually they will just back into it. This is not the only way to catch the lobster, but my preferred way. If you use a tickle stick and back them into a fishing net that works, but its hard when the lobster are tucked under a coral head and you cant get the net directly behind them. The snare fits under the rock and allows you to maneuver a little better. Once you have the lobster you want to take a measuring device (they sell at dive shops) and stick one edge right between their eyes and let the other end go down the shell. If the other cut out end of the measuring device lands on top of the shell then it is a keeper and you can bag it, but if it falls behind the shell and onto the tail then the lobster is not legal and you have to let it go. We ran into the issue of finding tons of lobster this year, but a lot that were short. Also if you get a lobster and you find a pinkish orange sack of gunk on the bottom of the tail you must throw them back. This means the lobster is pregnant and those are eggs that you are looking at. When you go to put the lobster in a bag they go in past a flap that they can't come back out of. Just make sure that the zipper on the side of the bag is zipped or all your hard work will swim right back out before it gets to the boat.
You may think that you can't catch lobster unless you have scuba gear on. This is not true. They are found in different depths of water. We mostly found them to be in water between 12-16 feet deep this year. This is not bad to free dive in at all. I took a snare with me when I got out of the boat and I free dove for many lobster. I think I was able to catch around nine the second day when I decided to take a snare out. So you don't need scuba gear, but it makes like way easier. Scuba gear makes it especially easier the second day of diving, because all the lobster have been poked and messed with so much the first day that they all just tuck up deep in the coral and hide. So the second day you have to look harder by diving down more to look for them tucked under coral. Their antenna are harder to spot on the second day. You can still go back to spots that you went to the first day and found lobster, because they eat at night and move around to different locations at night time.
When you get back in to the dock from diving for the day you want to clean your lobster. You do this by grabbing the body with one hand and the tail with the other and twisting in opposite directions with each hand. Once you do this you want to snap off one of the antennas and stick it up the rear hold in the tail and twist as you do. Then once you pull it out it comes out with any feces and anything else in the tail that you don't want to eat. After this rinse with freshwater and put in a ziploc and freeze if you are not planning on eating them that day.
Overall it was a great trip and I can't wait to go back next year. I hope this gives someone an idea who has never lobster dived what it is and how much fun it can be. Feel free to comment or ask questions.