lobster boat florida keys
Keys lobster boat carrying traps out to sea.
spiny lobster
Spiny lobster

Recreational lobstering doesn’t end with the two-day mini-season in July.

For many, it just begins in earnest with the start of the regular season — from August 6 until March 31.

The big difference is the competition is a little tougher as commercial trappers head out on the flats.

Through Labor Day, the typical recreational harvest is 1.5 to 2 million pounds, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Even then, there should be plenty left until the end of the regular season in March.

Have fun, but respect the traps. Keys trappers depend on those bugs for a living.


Celebrate the opening of Lobster Season at the Key West Lobsterfest, August 8-11, 2019. You’ll find it on our comprehensive Florida Seafood Festival Calendar.


Where do you find the Florida lobster?

florida lobster
Diving for lobster

Florida lobster, known as the Caribbean spiny lobster or the West Indies spiny lobster, inhabits tropical and subtropical waters.

They are prevalent in the Keys but can also be found on offshore reefs in Dade and Broward counties and in some areas of the Gulf of Mexico.

Two large, cream-colored spots on the top of the second segment of the tail make spiny lobsters easy to identify. They have long antennae over their eyes that they wave to scare off predators and smaller antennae-like structures called antennules that sense movement and detect chemicals in the water.

It’s those smaller antennules, which extend forward below the eyes, that alert the lobster to approaching danger, causing it to scoot under rocks and coral outcroppings to hide, if they are not there already. The spiny lobsters tends to spend daylight hours in hiding, anyway, emerging at night to feed.

So that’s where you look. Around structure.


With your “tickle stick”, find the lobster in their holes and slide it behind the lobster, urging him out of hiding. Once out of their hole, place your net behind the lobster’s tail and tap it on the head with the stick, prompting it to propel itself backward into the net.

It’s important to remember that the Florida lobster moves backward. Quickly.

Keeping it in the net is another matter. Adding to the challenge is the legal requirement to measure the lobster before you take it out of the water. Use gloves. You will undoubtedly lose a few of those feisty rascals before you get it right.


Requirements for recreational lobstering

A saltwater fishing license AND a lobster permit are required. For Florida residents, the fishing license is $17 per year, and the lobster permit is $5. The annual fishing license for non-residents is $47.

No license, no lobster.

You can obtain a license online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com, by phone (888-FISH-FLORIDA), or download the app Fish|Hunt Florida instantly ( IOS or Android ) to your smartphone, enabling you to purchase your license and permits immediately and store them on your phone.

The daily recreational limit for is six lobsters, whether it’s mini-season or the regular season. You are required to carry a measuring gauge that will allow you to correctly measure the carapace. The minimum allowable size of the carapace (shell on the body, not including the tail) is three 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.

It’s against the law to harvest egg-bearing lobster of any size.


What gear do you need to catch a Florida lobster?

Here’s a list of the basic gear you need for lobstering in the Keys. We’ve included links to Amazon for your convenience, but you can buy the gear you need at any dive shop and many bait shops in South Florida or the Keys.


Basic snorkeling set — Cressi is the top pick for a basic snorkeling set. The set includes Palau Short Fins, a silicone two-window mask with a skirt edge, dry snorkel and a mesh gear bag. Nothing fancy, just the basics, and an Amazon best seller. $60 on Amazon.

Lobster dive kit — Everything you need (except the snorkel gear and dive flag) from Promar for $25 on Amazon. Includes an aluminum Florida measuring gauge, puncture resistant gloves, catch net, and mesh bag. Here’s a lobster kit from Dixie Divers that includes an instructional DVD for $40 on Amazon.

A la carte

Snorkel mask — The Ouspt full-face snorkel mask has a detachable camera mount. The full-face mask is curved and anti-fogging, enabling you to see more. The camera mount accommodates your GoPro camera to capture your dive. Excellent seal, and a dry snorkel with multiple air channels, one for incoming oxygen and two for exiting carbon dioxide. (Does not include fins). $34 on Amazon.

Flippers — You don’t need to go fast unless you want to cover a lot of territory, and that will often be necessary. Check out the FINIS Long-Blade Floating Fins in 10 color-coded sizes for $18 to $73 on Amazon.

Diving flag — You should not be in the water without a diving flag on your boat, a towable buoy or a floating flag tied to your ankle so it trails you. Anybody who dives in the Keys will tell you that there are far too many cowboys in motorboats, especially during mini-season. Check out this high visibility inflatable surface buoy by Sunnimix. $44 on Amazon.

Tickle stick — You’ll never get a lobster without one. Check out this non-corrosive aluminum tickle stick with a curved end to add an angle to the tickle. From Innovative Scuba Concepts, inexpensive and highly rated on Amazon for $9.77.

Bully net — Need I say more? Here’s a nice one, and highly rated, from Innovative Scuba Concepts for $17 on Amazon.

Game bag — Bringing home the catch. Check out the 5-star-rated Palantic Blue Lobster Fish Catch Gear Nylon Game Bag for $30 on Amazon.

Measuring gauge — Required by law. If you don’t have one on your person while diving, your lobsters will be seized and you will be fined. Here’s a basic gauge from Innovative Scuba Concepts for $7 on Amazon.

Gloves — It’s a spiny lobster. Spare the hands; save the fingers. Here’s a basic pair of coated fishing gloves from the fishing experts at Berkley for just $6 on Amazon.



How-To-Do-Lobstering: Video produced by Florida’s tourism agency, Visit Florida.


Where to stay in the Florida Keys

Lower summer rates at hotels and campgrounds in the Keys make these islands an attractive destination through October, although discounts may be hard to find during the two-day mini-season, July 24 and 25, not to mention many hotels will require minimum stays. Go to the Keys during the regular season.

Compare rates at Hotels.com:

For summer campground rates, read this article: Lower summer rates greet RV campers in the Florida Keys


Cooking Florida lobster

Now we get to the good part!

Cooking lobster tails on my griddle with a side of homemade crab cakes at my campsite in the Florida Keys.

When we used to gather in the Keys for Hobie Cat weekends, we would hunt lobster in the flats near our motel, then bring our catch back, remove the tail from the body, split the tail in half, then baste the meat with butter and garlic and throw it on the grill (or griddle).

Be careful you don’t overcook the lobster or it will dry out. Baste the meat frequently with butter and garlic, or olive oil infused with spices of your choosing. Cilantro and lime juice are perfect!  It should only take about 7 minutes on a hot grill, or until the meat is opaque.

Yum!

Take the remaining carcass and toss it back in the ocean to feed the fish, or crush it up for chum and freeze it. (Better tell mom you put chum in the freezer. I learned that lesson the hard way!)

Do not discard the carcass before you return to shore or you could face a fine.

Boiling Lobster

Get a large pot of boiling water going, add Old Bay seasoning, and slide the whole live lobster (or just the tail) into the boil head first.

Turn down the heat and allow the lobster to simmer for 9-12 minutes, or until the lobster’s shell turns red (same as a Maine lobster).


Break the tail off the body and push or push the meat out of the shell from the tail end with a fork, or cut the tail in half and scoop it out.

You can also split the whole lobster in half with a butcher knife, sprinkle with seasoning.

Brush with butter and lemon juice, or add it to a salad.

Another popular: Pull it out of the boiling water early, cut it in half, and slap it on the grill for a minute or two until you get grill marks, but don’t overcook.

Freezing lobster tails

Lobster tails can be frozen and kept in the freezer for several months. Some seafood restaurants do just that to extend their lobster menu past the end of the season (March 31).

Remove the tail and clean the digestive tract by slipping the lobster’s antenna up its butt at the bottom of the tail.

Wrap it in freezer wrap, or in a plastic freezer bag, and freeze it immediately. I highly recommend adding a dash of water to the bag to keep the lobster from drying out.

The faster you freeze the tail after removing it from the body, the better it will taste later.


Useful resources

Download and print this handy brochure about Lobster handling and recipes (PDF) prepared by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Here’s a link to some fabulous Lobster Recipes in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.


Florida Sportsman magazine is a great source for seafood recipes. Try their Spicy Grilled Lobster Salad. (Video)

And you’ll find a nice selection of Florida Lobster recipes on FreshFromFlorida.com, the web site of the state Department of Agriculture.


More from Florida Rambler

Mile Marker Guide to the Overseas Highway

Legendary Road Food in the Florida Keys

Our favorite beaches in the Florida Keys

11 great kayaking outings in the Florida Keys


Comments and tips are encouraged below.