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Lobstering offers great family fun in the Florida Keys


Lobster season officially started on Aug. 6. While we do have some lobsters off our coast in Manatee County, the Florida Keys is the epicenter for most of the lobstering in the state.

Lobstering in the Keys
A lobster in eight feet of water in the Florida Keys. 

From Manatee County to Key Largo, the family trip should take only about 5 hours and you can be in a totally different world.

My favorite place to go is Key Largo at mile marker 100. I have stayed in a number of places but recently have found Port Largo Villas a great place to call home. They have two-bedroom, two-bath villas that back up to a canal with several boat docks. The pool and spa on the property are a great way to unwind after a day on the water. They even have a sand volleyball court, horseshoes and shuffleboard. (See the photo album with more pictures.) 

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is adjacent to this area. The park offers protection to the coral reefs and amenities for visitors. The park has campsites, tours, rental equipment and the best boat ramp to launch your boat in the area. Lobstering is permitted in the park but there are restricted areas that you must avoid. It also provides a great place to snorkel or dive at the many inshore and offshore reefs.

Lobstering in the Keys
A lobster in a crevice. 

After launching the boat, the first thing you notice is how clear the water is compared to our waters. At first you feel like you are in shallow water until you get used to the water being so clear. The channels are marked to provide easy navigation to the Atlantic Ocean.

Once in the Atlantic, you will notice that the outside reefs do a good job of keeping the wave action down. However, if you are go outside the reefs the water changes to swells and noticeably rougher conditions. Watch the weather and pick the right day to visit the outer reefs. There are a number of great reefs to snorkel if the weather and currents are acceptable.

Most of the lobstering is done one to five miles from shore and in six to eight feet of water. Snorkeling for lobster is all you need to do, but even at eight feet it is easier if someone can dive down and chase the lobsters out of their hiding places.

Lobstering in the Keys
Chasing a lobster in the Keys. 

To find the lobster, one way to look for the shallow areas you think have some structure and snorkel around and see if you get lucky. Another method is the use of planing boards that you tow behind the boat at a slow speed while you look for lobster. I prefer this method since you cover more ground and see more sights.

To catch a lobster, the most common method is with a net and a tickle stick about three feet long. The lobsters hide in little crevices or holes and if you are lucky you may find a place where they stack up together, which makes the catching that much easier.

Florida requires a saltwater license with a crayfish stamp to catch lobster. You also must have a gauge to measure the lobster.

Lobstering in the Keys
Success! A lobster in a net. Remember that "keepers" have to have carapaces bigger than three inches. Any smaller than that have to be returned to the sea.

So once you find some lobster, you take your big breath, dive down and the chase begins. The tickle stick is poked behind the lobster to encourage the lobster to leave its protection. When it is out you will notice quickly how fast a lobster can walk backwards. If a lobster is really excited, it will even swim away backwards, but not usually too far. So the chase goes on until it is just you and a lobster. If you sill have enough breath, you know you are ready to ease the lobster into your net.

The net is placed behind the lobster and you keep the lobster busy with the tickle stick and try to get the lobster to walk back into the net. Of course some are smarter than others and turn sideways and swim away from the net, starting the chase all over again. Once in the net, a twist of the wrist will keep the lobster there until you can measure the lobster for proper size. The lobster's carapace must be greater than three inches, and any ones below that size are called shorts and must be returned.

Lobstering in the Keys

A day's worth of lobsters. 

As part of the family teamwork, it is usually easier if someone on the boat can take the lobster from the net. We always have another person check the size again before we put the lobster in the bait well or on ice. You will also notice that, unlike a Maine lobster, these lobsters just have antennas and no claws. Their body does have some spiky areas, and a good pair of gloves will save your hands.

So after a day of lobstering you return to the docks and get ready for a taste of fresh lobster. To prepare the lobster, the head is twisted in a different direction from the tail and the body separates from the head. Next, you snap off the antenna and poke it inside to clean out the lobster.

Before grilling the lobster, split the tail in half, using a knife and pushing down on the back of the shell, and making sure your fingers are kept clear of the blade coming down. Once cut in half, season to preference and place on the grill shell side down. Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes on a low to medium heat and then flip for a few minutes, and the lobster is ready to eat.

Lobstering in the Keys
Lobsters on the grill. Cook them for 10 to 15 minutes on low to medium heat, then flip for a few minutes. 

Have some butter melted and take the lobster from the shell and dip it in the butter. There is nothing like a fresh tail from the sea. For many people, lobstering is a family tradition each summer.

Of course, the Keys offer more than lobster. You can try some great fishing, diving, shopping or try feeding the tarpons at Robbie's. It is all fun and the best part is that it is close to home.

If you do not have a boat you can rent or charter a boat. Always remember to check the weather and the safety equipment, and keep everyone safe.

If you try it once, it may become your family tradition too.

The season lasts until March 31, so you have time to get in on the action this year or plan your trip for next year.


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