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Florida lobster: How to catch, cook and eat

Last updated on July 29th, 2022 at 11:14 am


The regular Florida lobster season begins on Saturday, August 6, and continues through March 31, 2023. Commercial fisherman will be putting out their traps for the regular season, which is also open for recreational use.

If you plan to be out during the first couple of weeks of the regular season, you still need to be aware of elevated hotel rates, as well as crowded restaurants and bars. Law enforcement activity will be more relaxed than mini-season, but you may still be stopped, your catch examined and licenses checked for compliance.

Commercial trappers will be placing and retrieving their traps, marked by their signature buoys. Steer clear of the traps, which are licensed and protected by law.

The two-day sport mini-season for recreational catch ended on Thursday, July 28, 2022.

Related News: Deaths, arrests and hundreds of boat stops mark first day of lobster mini-season SunSentinel, 7/29/22


Where do you find 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.

Rambler Tip: Marine patrols are out in force during mini-season and the beginning of the regular season. They look for people who want an edge by sneaking out early, harvesting ‘shorts’ or bringing back more than allowed. Fines are stiff and may include jail time.


Requirements for recreational lobstering

A saltwater fishing license AND a lobster permit are required. No license, no lobster.

The daily recreational limit in Monroe County (which includes the Keys) is six (6) lobsters, whether it’s mini-season or the regular season. The bag limit during mini-season for the rest of the state is 12 but drops back to six for the regular season.

License Information

Both a saltwater license and lobster permit are required, even from shore. Shore licenses are not valid for lobstering.

Saltwater License (annual): $17 for residents; $47 for non-residents

Lobster Permit: $5

Lobster Combo (annual) includes required saltwater fishing license and the lobster permit, includes a $5 hard card for your wallet. — $27 for residents; $57 for non-residents.

Snook and Lobster Combo (annual) includes permits for Snook and Lobster (annual), includes a $5 hard card for your wallet. — $37 for residents; $67 for non-residents.

Obtain license and lobster permit online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com, by phone (888-FISH-FLORIDA), or download the app “Fish | Hunt Florida” ( IOS or Android ) to your smartphone and purchase license and permits to store on your phone.

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, and spear fishing for lobster is prohibited.


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.

Rambler Tip: If you already own your own gear, you should test it now and not wait until the last minute. The closer to the beginning of the season, the less likely you’ll find a dive shop that will have openings to service your equipment. 


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 may be hard to find during the two-day mini-season and many hotels will require minimum stays. Your best bet for lower rates is after mid-August, when the frenzy dies down.

Compare rates at Hotels.com:

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


Cooking Florida lobster

Grillin’ and chillin’

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 and split the tail in half, baste the meat with butter and garlic and throw it on the grill (or griddle).

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! About 7 minutes on a hot grill, or until the meat is opaque.

Toss the remaining carcass back into 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!)

Rambler Tip: Do not separate the tail from the carcass until after you return to shore. The entire lobster must be available for inspection while it’s on your boat or in your bag. Ignorance of this law is no excuse. Fines are stiff and may even include jail time.


Boiling Lobster

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. Break the tail off the body and push or pull the meat out of the shell from the tail end with a fork, or cut the tail in half and scoop it out.
  4. You can also split the whole lobster in half with a butcher knife, sprinkle with seasoning.
  5. Brush with butter and lemon juice, or add it to a salad.

Another popular method: 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

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)

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

A final thought: Every year, there are deaths during mini-season as a result of boating and diver mishaps. Be careful out there.


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11 great kayaking outings in the Florida Keys


Comments and tips are encouraged below.


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