What divers can expect during 48-hour mini-season sprint to bag spiny lobster
Florida's annual 48-hour sprint for spiny lobsters — the lobster sport season — begins at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. Tens of thousands of lobster lovers will hit the state's warm coastal waters seeking seafood gold.
What kind of conditions will they find once they dip below the waves? Will the weather be calm or will it storm? And the most important question on the minds of divers: Where will the tasty little crustaceans be found in numbers large enough to satisfy bag limits?
"The good news is," said Steven Wood, manager of Deep Six Dive & Watersports in Jensen Beach, "the easterly wind we had all last week finally quit blowing. That should allow the shallow waters closer to the beach to clear up."
Underwater photos taken Saturday and shared with Wood by one of his customers were posted on the store's Facebook page. The dive site is just off Bryn Mawr Beach on Hutchinson Island and the photos indicated fair visibility.
"It looks like it is going to pretty good for divers," said Scott Shaler, owner of Dive Odyssea in Fort Pierce. "In deep water, some of our customers gave us reports of 80 feet of visibility. It may not be clear on the beach, but it should clear up by the start."
The National Weather Service Marine Weather Forecast for Wednesday and Thursday is calling for light winds of 5-10 knots, seas of only 1-2 feet and only slight chances of showers or thunderstorms. If that holds, divers should have as good as conditions as they can hope for.
Where to go
In the Florida Keys, lobsters are often in good supply for sport season divers. However, there and in Biscayne Bay, the daily bag limit is six per person. Typically, Wood said, the Treasure Coast is known for producing lobsters of larger than average size.
Although sometimes bag limits of 12 per day may not be acquired in shallow water. Divers who have reliable spots in deeper areas off Fort Pierce, Stuart and Sebastian, sometimes easily score their limits.
Corey Embree, a former Vero Beach diver who recently relocated to Palm Beach Shores and works for Aquahunter Fish and Dive charters out of Lake Park Marina, said a weekend scouting trip to look for lobster and spear fish revealed great numbers of lobsters off Palm Beach.
"The visibility wasn't that great, but in about 50 feet of water, there were lobsters everywhere we looked," Embree said. "We started out in 90 feet, but there was four knots of current, so we moved in shallower."
Shaler and Wood said they haven't received much information from customers as to where lobsters have been found off the Treasure Coast.
Lobster season this year could see large numbers of participation. There have been 176,190 resident lobster permits and 41,509 non-resident lobster permits sold this fiscal year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
That's up about 9% from 2019, with just more than 20,000 additional licenses sold year to year.
A saltwater fishing license (variable price, but $17 for residents planning to dive from a boat) and $5 lobster permit can be obtained quickly and easily — even at the boat ramp — by going to Gooutdoorsflorida.com or by calling 888-FISH-FLORIDA (888-347-4356).
Wood said since there haven't been any Lake Okeechobee discharges this year, the water is pretty clear once one pushes a mile or so away from the St. Lucie Inlet and the normal dark water flowing out during the outgoing tides.
That means Peck's Lake and the reef line off St. Lucie Inlet State Park Preserve could be a good place to find lobsters this year.
Wood didn't think other coastal locations in South Florida would see more divers since the Keys have announced several restrictions for visitors coming next week.
"Everyone I've talked to who has headed down there found a private ramp to launch their boats," Wood said. "Private ramps are everywhere."
Late last week, the city of Marathon became the latest part of the Keys to close its public ramps to those who do not reside in Monroe County. Earlier in the week, Monroe County announced it would close boat ramps and public beaches on Key Largo. The Village of Islamorada did the same a week earlier.
Keys officials stopped short of enacting another checkpoint on U.S. 1 at the entry to the Keys. Most of the county already requires facial coverings indoors and outdoors.
Joe Schoettle, an avid scuba diver from Fellsmere, always hits the water every year at midnight Wednesday. He usually dives from one of the beaches here on the Treasure Coast hoping to find lobsters under ledges along the patch reefs in 15-20 feet of water 100 yards off the beaches.
"I love mini-season and I love diving at night," Schoettle said. "It's the thrill of being out there where you see things you can't see during the daylight hours."
Schoettle, owner of SOS Plus Cleaning Service, said something that brings him the most excitement is when he happens across a convoy of lobsters moving from one place to another.
"It's like looking down the cereal aisle at the grocery store," he said. "They walk along in a line, touching the ones in front of them with their antennas. You have to pick out the biggest one, put the snare away and just dive down there with two hands and try to get two."
Schoettle said the trick is trying to keep track of the convoy as he wrestles his catch into his bag. He said the line usually reforms and then he dives down for another run.
The largest convoy he ever saw was so big he couldn't see the end of it.
"You can load up fast if you hit it right," he said.
And if conditions are right, divers everywhere will do the same.
Marine weather forecast
Wednesday: Southeast winds 5 to 10 knots. Seas 1 to 2 feet. A light chop on the intracoastal waters. Slight chance of showers and thunderstorms.
Thursday: Southeast winds 5 to 10 knots. Seas 1 to 2 feet. Slight chance of showers and thunderstorms.
Sport season: July 29-30
Regular season: Aug. 6-March 31
Size limit: 3-inch carapace (head section from between the horns over the eyeballs to the where the head joins the tail), measured in the water. Divers must have measuring device in their possession at all times.
Bag limit: 12 per person per day during sport season except in Monroe County and Biscayne National Park, where the limit is six. Six per person per day statewide during regular season.
License requirements: Saltwater fishing license plus $5 lobster harvest stamp.
– No egg-bearing females may be harvested or possessed.
– No night diving is allowed in Monroe County during sport season.
– Possession limits are enforced on and off the water.
– Harvest of lobster is prohibited in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park during the sport season and in Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, no-take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and in the Biscayne Bay/Card Sound Lobster Sanctuary during both the 2-day sport season and regular season.
– More information: MyFWC.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/lobster