Catching Lobster in the Florida Keys, this is a “How To Guide”

Catching lobster is truly one of the activities I enjoy the most while diving in the Florida Keys. If you haven’t tired to catch these “bugs” yet, you’re missing out on a really great time. It’s tough at first but with a little practice and understanding you’ll get the hang of it.

I’ve been catching lobsters for so many years now, and it seems oh so easy to me. I’ve taught several people the techniques I use and will try and pass them onto you here in this page.

Important to remember, lobsters move backwards and they can move fast.

I dive both using the Hookah and free diving for lobster. I probably catch more lobster free diving than on air. I love it. What a work out.

First thing you need to do is check the weather and the tides. If you're going to the backcountry you’ll need to know how to convert the tides for the different areas out back.

Next you’ll need to get your gear ready. Be sure to check your net for any holes. It’s like every time I go out catching lobster, I’ll end up with a hole in at least one of my nets. They get hung on coral branches and rocks. When I jerk them free, it rips a hole in the net. I use small plastic cable ties to mend them. It works great.

The gear list should include your mask, fins, snorkel, net, tickle sticks with the measurer attached, catch bag, a tough pair of gloves, and I wear a sleeve. I also have my name on all my dive gear. It just makes things simple when you get back to the dock, especially if all the gear gets piled together.

Net, tickle stick, catch bag

My sleeve is way overdue for replacement. I’ve had it for almost 20 years. It came from Ron Jon’s up in Melbourne Florida. My friend’s wife bought it for him and it was too small, so he gave it to me. I haven’t been able to find another one. I wonder if they still make them. It’s made of a thin neoprene, the stuff wet suits are made of, but much thinner. Its purpose it to keep your arm from getting shredded when your handling the lobster after catching it. It works really well.

I prefer a catch bag that has the rigid plastic tunnel with the flap that closes when the lobster passes by the flap. It closes automatically. I prefer the catch bags that are all mesh. With the all mesh bags you may get a few cuts and jabs on your legs while carrying the lobster around. If you use the bags that are part mesh and part canvas you’ll get a lot of drag from the water it holds. You see I plan to have my bag full of lobster so I worry about extra drag and weight.

Dive gear for catching lobster I always take two nets and two to three tickle sticks on the boat for my use. If I get a hole in my net, I have a back up. I take two long tickle sticks and one shorter one. I have an extra long one for a back up in case I lose mine. The short one is for the different areas I may dive in. If I’m diving where there’s lots of heads and their really close to each other I need the short tickle stick for catching lobster. Any other area I prefer the long stick. Some heads and ledges can be really deep. The long tickle stick allows me to have a better chance of reaching the ones that are hiding in the back.

OK, you’re diving, you spot the lobsters antennas. The first thing I do is go down and see how many are with him. Then I start to catch them. It’s best to take the first one in the line and work your way thru them. If you try to tickle one in the middle out, you’ve got a good chance of scattering the rest of them.

me and becky with big lobster

Place the tickle stick to the opposite side of the lobster from the way you’re wanting him to move. If you’re going to put your net on the left side of the lobster, then put your tickle stick on the right side of the lobster. Just give him a few taps near his tail to get him started moving. Guide his movement with your tickle stick. Have your net in position when you start moving him out. Be sure your net isn't going to come in contact with the lobsters antennas or that the net isn't hung up on some coral around the head or ledge. If he feels the net with his antennas he’s going to stop moving or dart back into his hiding place. This is the one thing that people new to catching lobster have a tough time with. You need to keep the net away from his antennas. This means moving the net sometimes. I keep mine almost vertical with the rim on the bottom of the ocean. When I get the lobster tickled out, I adjust the net to be behind and under his tail. As soon as he’s there, I nail him. Then I grab him thru the net with my other hand.

Hold the lobster firmly when removing him from the net. This is a really good time for him to escape. Maneuver either the tail or the antenna and horn area out first. They’re usually both stuck in the net. You’ll need to get one of these parts out first to allow the rest of the lobster to be removed from the net.

lobster measurer

Now you need to measure your catch. The measurer is exactly 3". While you’re holding him firmly place one end of the measurer between the two horns on his head. If the other end of the gap in the measurer is unable to slide over the body cavity, he’s legal. If the measurer slides over the body area at all, he’s a short. You would then let him go free.

The carapace of the lobster must be greater than 3' to be legal. Dive down and get your catch bag and stuff him in if he is legal. That's all their is to catching lobster. Pretty simple.

With a little practice and also watching someone that’s good at catching lobster you can figure out your own particular technique and be a master at the sport.

Hope this helps you so the next time you’re in the Florida keys. You’ll be able to try catching lobster on your own and have a blast doing it.

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