Sunday, December 17, 2017

Gulf waters offer lobster-hunting opportunities

You could head south to the Florida Keys on Tuesday for the opening day of lobster season, but if you don't mind deep water and diving in the dark, you can stay in the Tampa Bay area and go "bug" hunting in the Gulf of Mexico. The Caribbean spiny lobster ranges from North Carolina to Brazil. Crawfish, as they are commonly called, are found in most tropical and subtropical waters, but the patch reefs that range from Miami to Key West are the most productive grounds in Florida.

In fact, 90 percent of all the lobsters harvested statewide are taken in Monroe County. The rest are found primarily south of Martin County on the state's east coast. But the gulf waters off of our bay area have larger lobsters for scuba divers willing to put in the time and effort.

To find lobsters in local waters, you need to travel to depth of about 50 to 80 feet of water, which is about 12 to 20 miles offshore. There was a time when divers could find lobsters around local bridges, as they do in the Florida Keys, but those days are long gone. In more than 30 years of diving local waters, this bug hunter as seen only one inshore, and it was undersized.

Our local lobsters tend to hunt for food at night. They often can be found walking along rocky outcroppings. But during the day, lobsters hunker down as they seek shelter in rocky outcrops and coral reefs. And that is where divers should look.

These "holes" often provide homes to other creatures as well. One of the most common residents is the "shoveled nose" or "slipper" lobster.

Unlike the spiny lobster, the slipper lobster has no season or size or bag limits. They frequently are overlooked by many sport divers because they cling to the roofs of the same rock dens as spiny lobsters. They are not as heavily pursued as the spiny lobster. But they are tasty. Most people will agree that they make a better meal than the spiny lobster.

Nurse sharks like spiny lobsters, too, and you'll often find them hiding in the same caverns as the tasty crustaceans. This can be problematic for the unwitting diver who reaches for a lobster and grabs a shark instead.

Another advantage to lobstering local waters is that you get more bang for the buck. The local lobsters can weigh 8 to 12 pounds, compared to the Keys variety, which typically average less than a pound.

The local lobsters are also much slower than those in South Florida, which ricochet around like bullets when confronted with a diver armed with a net and a tickle stick, two indispensable tools for any lobster diver. The trick is to slide the tickle stick in behind the lobster, tap it a few times so it scurries out of the hole and into your net.

Florida lobsters don't have large claws for hunting and defense like their cousins from Maine. The spiny lobster's chief defense is speed. All it takes is one flip of the tail and they are gone. So don't be surprised if you miss a few when you first get started.

Another option is to head to the Atlantic side of the state. The waters off Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale are also great for lobster hunting. The water quality on these reefs, which lie about a mile or two offshore, rivals that of the Keys. On a typical August day you can snorkel along the surface and clearly see the reef 70 feet below. But because the reefs are deeper than those usually worked in the Keys, lobster hunters need to be well-trained and experienced divers to avoid the perils of diving at depth.

Lobster season runs from Tuesday through March 31. The bag limit is six lobsters per person per day. A legal spiny lobster must have a carapace that is at least 3 inches long (lobsters smaller than this are too "short" to take legally), and the lobster must be measured in the water. You must have a measuring device in your possession at all times.

A diver must also know how to identify an egg-bearing female. Female lobsters carry eggs (you will see them directly under the tail) for about a month anytime between April and August, although eggs have been found as early as February and as late as November. An egg-bearing female is said to be "berried," and under the regulations they must be released unharmed. A recreational saltwater license and a crawfish permit is also required.


Captainís Corner: Bottom fishing is good with dropping gulf water temperatures

The past few weeks have delivered lots of cold air, dropping water temperatures in the gulf. Thermometers are reading in the low 60s. This is going to change a few things closer to shore. Anglers will find an absence of kingfish on many of the spots ...
Updated: 12 hours ago

Captainís Corner: Look for that strong speckled trout bite on grass flats

The speckled trout bite has taken off nicely after the first good cold front last weekend. You will find a consistent bite along the grass flats from Apollo Beach down to Pinellas Point. The sweet spot seems to be 4-6 feet of water. If you can find s...
Published: 12/15/17

Captainís Corner: Drop in gulf water temperature means itís sea trout time

The gulf temperature has dropped significantly since our first real cold front last week. One day the water was in the mid 70s, then after the front, it fell to the low 60s. That caused speckled sea trout to become a reliable target. Redfish have bee...
Published: 12/14/17

Captainís Corner: Good time for shallow-water flats fishing

Shallow-water flats fishing can be very exciting this time of year. Trout and redfish are available in good numbers, and the opportunities to catch some gator trout have made recent trips very rewarding. Some of the largest trout have been in very sk...
Published: 12/11/17
Updated: 12/13/17

Captainís Corner: Seek clear water for bottom fishing as temperatures plummet

The great weather, calm seas and exceptional fishing we experienced at the end of November and beginning of December came to a screeching halt with the cold front that came through. Surface water temperatures plummeted from an unseasonable 71 degrees...
Published: 12/11/17
Updated: 12/12/17

Captainís Corner: Sheepshead action lively in cooler weather

Conditions after the cold front are cool and are going to be for a while. That doesnít mean you canít or shouldnít fish. Many anglers get stuck on snook, reds and trout and forget how fun it is to catch sheepshead. Many reefs are already holding good...
Published: 12/09/17
Updated: 12/10/17

Captainís Corner: Fishing will return to normal, but when?

The severity of this cold front will determine the fishing forecast for the next several days. Bait that had been abundant inshore will scatter. Nearshore gulf waters will muddy, and water temperatures. at least temporarily. will plummet. How cold, h...
Published: 12/08/17
Captainís Corner: Planning around fronts can lead to productive days

Captainís Corner: Planning around fronts can lead to productive days

I canít believe we are in the last month of the year. And while this is one of my favorite months to fish, it will be controlled by weather. As cold fronts become more frequent and harsh, planning your trips around them will make the biggest differen...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/09/17

Captainís Corner: Strong results for redfish, speckled trout

This is a great time for variety. Combined trips for speckled trout and redfish are achieving excellent results. With the correct approach, great catches of both species are a reality now. The best anglers use the lightest tackle. Light rods and reel...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Captainís Corner: Take advantage of abundant gag grouper before season ends

Gag grouper fishing and spearing is hot. The season for these grouper in the Gulf of Mexico is winding down, with a slated closure at the end of this month. The cooler water has the gags moving closer, and they are happy when the bottom temperatures ...
Published: 12/05/17