Saturday, February 24, 2018
Outdoors

The dos and don'ts of enjoying lobster season

The regular season for lobster in Florida starts Saturday and runs through March 31. It's time to dust off your equipment and if you're new to the sport, make a shopping list.

The great thing about catching "bug fever" is you really don't need a lot of expensive equipment. The beginner can get started with a mask, snorkel, tickle stick, gloves and lobster net. Throw in a sense of adventure and you're ready to make some dinner plans.

One of the most important things — for beginners or experts — is location and knowing how to find the sometimes elusive bugs.

The Florida spiny lobster is nocturnal, making them easier to catch. Popular lobster hangouts include ledges, patch reefs, holes, big coral heads and just about any type of structure where a lobster can hide. A lot of seasoned pros have their secret spots, and many of those gems can be found in shallow water. (I have limited-out of lobster in 3 feet of water in Key West.)

Lobsters' antennae tend to give away hiding spots. They use these extremely sensitive appendages to detect danger and, if touched, will then burrow deeper out of sight. Once you locate a set of antennae, place your tickle stick behind the lobster to gently urge it out and slowly walk it into your net. Once in your net, grab the excess material to quickly close the net or the lobster will do the "boot scoot boogie" and be gone.

A few important things to know in order to bring home lobsters and, most importantly, everyone safely back to the dock. Have your "diver down" flag up at all times when someone is in the water. Whether snorkeling or diving, swim and surface close to the boat. Don't forget your measurement gauge — in fact, attach it to your tickle stick — since lobsters must be measured in the water.

A lobster's carapace has to be larger than 3 inches, which means the crustacean is at least 2 or 3 years old and has reproduced at least one season. To measure a lobster, place the end of the gauge between the horns and other at the end of the carapace. If it is under 3 inches, release and keep looking.

The limits are six per person, per day during regular season. There are a few exceptions on limits within Monroe County and Biscayne National Park and places that do not allow harvesting during certain times. Check the FWC regulations before going out.

Remember, you must have a lobster stamp on your saltwater fishing licenses and cannot harvest them off any man-made structures.

Once caught, if you don't have a live well, throw the lobsters on ice in the cooler. Cleaning is easy. Wrap both hands around the lobster and twist in the opposite direction to separate the carapace from the tail. Remove the waste track from the tail — I like to use one of the antennae to accomplish this goal.

Now here comes the easy part. Fire up the grill, grab a cold beverage and sit back and admire the lovely lobster tails you and your family will be having for dinner.

Misty Wells is a Clearwater native and host of the "Let's Take It Outside" radio and TV show. Find out more about her at mistywells.com.

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