On Sunday, about 25 feet below the surface, I swam alongside G. Buck Manning, the esteemed Stuart-based author of Pirates of the Whirling Dervish, who looked somehow even more dignified in his “underwater tuxedo,” a jet-black wetsuit, matching fins and black-rimmed mask.
But the three-pound spiny lobster we spotted was about to make total fools out of us both. Good thing nobody else was diving near us, because they would have spit out their regulators laughing. We must have looked like a couple of apes jumping on the same football.
The bug was ensconced in a hole about two tickle sticks deep, with openings on each end. After missing with a snare twice myself, I managed to nudge the delicacy over toward Mr. Manning’s side of the hole, and he managed to lose it twice from the clutches of his own snare. With a flick of its tail, it darted under another ledge, this one about the length of my snare.
We both whiffed again, and it backed up as far as it could. I swept the snare in a fanning motion under the ledge, and the lobster bolted out between my legs, managing to scrape my calf with its spines as it swam to safety. And when I pulled my arm out from under the ledge, I realized that with all the commotion and excitement I hadn’t even felt the Diadema urchin spines penetrate my wetsuit and gloves. My right hand and arm looked like I’d been arm-wrestling a porcupine.
What a day! Besides that misadventure, four good buddies with eight tanks of air managed to bring home lobster dinners for all our peeps, and had a great time doing it.
The early months of regular lobster season have been spectacularly productive, from Key West north through Sebastian. Here are some tips for gear and safety, and resource protection. Be safe and have fun.
Whether you’re free-diving or SCUBA diving, it helps to add a bit more weight to your belt than usual, especially if you’re diving shallow where the surge will want to lift you off the bottom. For example, I typically dive with eight pounds of weight if I’m spearfishing or taking photos or videos deeper than 30 feet. But the bugs are on the bottom, so that’s where you need to be. Especially in shallow water, I add four pounds to offset the surge and buoyancy of the tank as the gauge needles turns counter-clockwise.
Wetsuits and gloves aren’t a lot of fun in the warm months, but you need to wear something to protect yourself from the sharp and/or stinging organisms on the reefs, and in the water column.
If you’re lobstering on reefs, bring a tickle stick and a snare. Over grass and sand, a landing net is most efficient. Keep a mesh bag or a “lobster inn” bags clipped to a D-ring.
Divers with lobster fever often take dangerous risks to score a few tails. Don’t be that diver. Leave the bottom with plenty of air -- you shouldn’t be on the surface with less than 500 pounds left in your tank.
If you’re diving on enriched air, or “Nitrox,” make sure you understand what the maximum depth for the mix is. Oxygen toxicity will kill you before you realize the symptoms.
Buddy up. Lots of things can go wrong even on the best-planned and executed dive. And a wily bug may take two divers to coerce from its hole.
Keep a skilled boat handler up top, watching your flag buoy closely, and warning off any oblivious boats.
Make sure that you have appropriate dive flags. Click here for regulations.
At some point, you have to be quick. But first, take your time to get in a good position to catch the bug. Try to get between an angle between dinner and dinner’s best escape route. Then place the snare behind the bug, and tickle it toward the loop. Usually, they’ll back up right into the snare.
Most recreational spiny lobster hunting takes place on reefs, which support delicate coral colonies. Touch the reef as little as possible and do not touch corals, which you can learn to ID from a great book by Floridians Ned DeLoach and Paul Humann called “Reef Coral.” Watch your flippers, which can easily come into contact with the reef, and make sure that your hoses and gauges are clipped tight to your Buoyancy Control Device.
Spiny lobsters are carefully regulated by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. Click here for regulations.