Florida’s annual two-day lobster miniseason is a little more than two weeks away, which means now is the time to make sure you and your dive gear are ready for the unofficial holiday that has thousands of divers scouring the waters of South Florida and the Florida Keys in search of a delicious dinner.
Many divers only dive during miniseason, which this year is July 25-26, so their skills and their neglected dive equipment could be rusty.
Miniseason is popular because it is the first opportunity to catch lobsters since the regular season closed April 1, so lobsters should be plentiful and less wary than usual. In addition, divers can keep 12 lobsters per day, which is double the limit during the regular season, which opens Aug. 6. The miniseason limit in Biscayne National Park and the Keys is six per person per day.
Whether you dive a little or a lot, having a local dive shop check out your gear now will save you some headaches.
If you want your air tanks inspected and filled, don’t wait until a few days before miniseason because dive shops won’t have time to do it. The same goes for having your regulator and buoyancy compensator checked and repaired, if necessary.
Why have your dive gear inspected at all? Because a dried-out rubber O-ring that allows air to leak from your tank or your regulator can end your miniseason in a hurry. So can a tear in your BC. Even something as simple as a broken fin strap can keep you from catching lobsters.
That’s why it’s also a smart idea to dive before miniseason. Not only can you scout for lobsters, you can get reacquainted with being underwater and make sure all of your gear is working properly.
I discovered first-hand how important that is thanks to Jim “Chiefy” Mathie, who invited me to dive with him a few days before miniseason last year.
We were on the bottom in about 50 feet when I noticed that water was seeping into my dive mask. I mistakenly assumed that it was because I had recently gotten a haircut and I needed to tighten the mask’s strap to account for my reduced amount of hair.
Actually, my mask had a crack in it. When I lifted the bottom of my mask to clear it for like the fifth time in five minutes, the right lens popped out into my hand and my mask completely filled with water. Being a conscientious dive buddy, Mathie was right there to witness what happened and he grabbed my arm and helped me slowly ascend to the surface.
Back in his 29-foot SeaVee, we examined the mask and saw the problem. Fortunately, Mathie had a spare mask and we were able to resume our dive.
A retired Deerfield Beach fire chief, Mathie is the author of “Catching the BUG: The Comprehensive Guide to Catching the Spiny Lobster,” which covers everything from how and where to find lobsters, which are known as bugs, to how to catch them to how to cook them. The softcover book is available for $24.95 from local dive shops.
Mathie dives several times a week year-round, and he’s feeling good about the prospects for miniseason.
“We’re seeing the bugs on the third reef from Hillsboro Inlet north,” Mathie said Thursday, referring to the easternmost reef off South Florida’s Atlantic coast, which is 50 feet on the top and 65 feet at the bottom. “I’ve heard reports that it’s looking really good in shallow, in 30-45 feet. I’d venture to say they might also be really shallow, in the 10- to 15-foot depths.
“The conditions couldn’t be better. We have 85-degree water temperatures, 70-foot visibility and calm seas.”
As Mathie notes in his book, things can change in a hurry. Lobsters that were deep can move to shallower reefs and vice-versa, so he plans to keep scouting.
“It’s still early,” Mathie said. “I’ll start putting my game plan together the week before miniseason. I think next week I’ll start doing more shallow, south stuff and decide where we’re going to go during miniseason. I’ll have in my mind three spots where we want to go.”
Mathie will share his lobstering tips and techniques, and give away some of his books, during Lauderdale-by-the-Sea’s seventh annual BugFest, which is July 24-29.
The event will give away $30,000 in cash, dive equipment, dive trips and other prizes as part of its Great Florida Bug Hunt contest and Diveheart Music Fest and Art Festival, which features a free concert July 28 to benefit Diveheart, a non-profit that teaches people with disabilities how to scuba dive. Mathie’s free seminar is 6 p.m. July 24 at Plunge Beach Hotel followed by a miniseason kickoff party at 7.
The cost is $20 and prize divisions include the heaviest 12 bugs caught by a buddy team on July 25 off Miami-Dade and Broward counties and the biggest single lobsters caught off a boat and off the beach. Divers will get a raffle ticket for every bug they enter and tickets will be drawn for a variety of prizes following the lobster chef cooking contest, which starts at 6 p.m. July 26.
Jim Maler of Pembroke Pines helped lead his family of divers to the Buddy Team award last year diving off Miami Beach. Maler, who played first base for the Seattle Mariners for three seasons, said patience is the key to catching lobsters.
“You’ve got to make sure you can calm yourself down so that you can tickle them out and catch them,” Maler said. “You don’t want the story about the one that got away.”