[Last Update: 26 July 2021]
CATCHING LOBSTER IN FLORIDA— a Guide to Lobstering
The world agrees lobster is one of the best things to eat on our planet. Nearly everyone loves grilled lobster with butter and garlic unless they are allergic to it. How to catch one in Florida is probably on your mind, so we’re going to tell you exactly how to catch them with your hands and all the right gear. Let’s Go!
Florida Spiny Lobsters
Actually, the “Florida” spiny lobster is the Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) and they are also known as Rock Lobster, Bugs, and Florida lobsters. These are decapods that eat mollusks and detritus found on the ocean bottom. For shelter, they use coral reefs, rocks, and other structure. These are typically found between 3 and 100 feet deep. Spiny lobsters grow up to 24″ (60 cm) long at full-size but the average size in Florida is around 7″ (20 cm). Lobstering along the coast of Florida – and in the Florida Keys (Islands south of Miami) can be highly productive in season.
Lobstering Season in Florida
Every year there are 2 different seasons when lobster catching is permitted. A long regular season and a short 2-day ‘Sport’ season.
1.) SPORT SEASON – The last Wednesday and Thursday of July. In 2021, this means the dates: 28 and 29th of July. Yes, it’s short. It’s short for a reason. Thousands of people try their best to catch them in a frenzy during these two days. If more days were allowed, the spiny lobster species (Panulirus argus) would be depleted in a heartbeat.
2.) REGULAR SEASON – August 6th to March 31st is the main season. Almost 8 months of lobsters-catching bliss! This season schedule has remained the same for years, but you should check back here every year to make sure!
It’s important to follow the season regulations because from April to July they are mating and replenishing the species. Please don’t take them during the off-season.
Best Gear for Catching them
Gloves – some people go ahead and grab them by hand, but if you’re not comfortable doing that, use gloves like most lobster catchers. We recommend these gloves for Florida’s warm water.
Measuring Gauge – measuring your lobster’s length under the water is the essential first step. In Florid they must have a carapace longer than 3-inches in order to be considered legal for harvesting. This simple aluminum measuring gauge for them is the ultimate tool for your bag. By law you must have one available if asked by FFWCC.
See-through Mesh Bag (bug-bag) – if you’re not on a reef, using a mesh bug bag is best because you’re not going to worry about it snagging on the coral reef. Use this bag because it closes securely and quickly – you don’t want to lose your delicious lobsters as they escape your bag! This bag gets great reviews and is the right price.
If you’re looking for lobster ON A REEF, use this 38″ long tail snare instead. This doubles as a TICKLE STICK.
Tickle Stick – to encourage lobsters to vacate the hole they’ve wedged their body into, you can poke them with a tickle stick. The Tail Snare mentioned above works well for this, so it is recommended.
Diving Flag – even though your boat is above you, you must post a diving flag by law. Choose one that will be highly visible and that will last at least a full season, hopefully, multiple seasons. This one will work.
Florida law requires all divers to display a red divers-down flag with a white horizontal stripe. The width of the stripe must be 25% of the height of the flag. Divers must display the flag and remain within 100 feet of it while diving in oceans, rivers, inlets and navigation channels. The flag may be displayed from a float on the water, or at the top of a boat.
Diving Light – one of the most essential tools you can invest in is a good diving light for lobstering. In fact, you shouldn’t try to save a lot of money on anything you use for diving. Buy top quality gear that will serve you well, keep you safe, and that you can resell later if you choose. A light you can rely on is very important, don’t waste days looking, this is the one.
Prime Areas to Find Florida Spiny Lobsters to Catch?
Where to catch these tasty critters is the most important info, right? There are a number of good places we’ll list below, but you are going to need to scour the area for the right spots. Lobster hunters are very secretive about where exactly the best spots are, and nobody is releasing that information, I can assure you! In general, you want to find rocky and or coral reef spots where lobsters have plenty to eat and where they have plenty of places to hide. That’s basically it!
If you’re going to be on vacation anyway, why not just head down to the best place for lobstering in Florida – the FLORIDA KEYS. The keys are a series of islands (keys) that are connected by a hundred+ miles of bridges. This is a super-scenic spot that will put a smile on your face, even if you already live in Florida. Go to the keys to find your spiny treat.
The Florida Keys are part of Monroe County and there are hundreds of coral reefs all around the islands. There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re lobstering in Key West – the number of them you can take during the short two days in July – is fewer. Also, there is no night lobstering allowed in the Keys. Another drawback could be the crowds. You’ll need to book your boat and accommodations very early in order to secure a spot. If you’re bringing your own boat, all the better!
Do your research to find the maps of areas you can boat in the Keys. There are a number of protected wildlife sanctuaries that you’ll need to avoid.
Florida’s Entire East Coast
From the Keys to Jacksonville, you can find decent lobstering spots. Going during the long-season is suggested because there’s nothing worse than running into a group of boats over the coral reef you were hoping to find lobsters at. In all honesty, it will likely take you a couple of seasons to nail down some very productive spots. But, once you do – you’ll have lobsters the rest of your life if you want to keep returning.
No restrictions on night diving exist for the east coast outside of Key West, so you won’t have any trouble finding someone to take you lobstering overnight or for longer 2-3 day trips on the water.
Are They on the West Coast of Florida?
Gulf of Mexico lobster are there, but more difficult to find. It’s sporadic on the west coast and much more regular on the east coast.
The ones off the west coast of Florida are HUGE compared to the tiny 1-lb. average around Key West.
How big do they get over on this coast? On average around 8 to 12 lbs.!
We don’t have the volume, but the size – yes!
Unfortunately, to reach the spiny lobster off Florida’s West coast, you’ll need to head out offshore to reach depths of 50 to 80 feet of water. What does that mean in terms of distance from shore? You’re looking at 12 to 20 miles offshore. Not a crazy distance, and well worth it if you want to bag some bigger dinner.
How To Catch Florida’s Spiny Lobster
Diving for them is great fun. Mostly because divers don’t typically get anything during their dives to see marine life. While lobstering, you get the thrill of the hunt and catch which can really make it one of the best experiences you’ve ever had in your life!
Ideally, you’ll go with someone experienced. They’ll show you how to look under rocks and coral to find lobsters backing up and wedged into small spaces. Sometimes you can grab the antenna at the base and pull them out, other times you cannot. Use your tickle stick to encourage them to come out a bit and give you a chance to grab them.
Grab from BEHIND while lobstering. If you approach from the front, the beast will quickly back away, they move backward, and you’ll lose your chance. You may not have unlimited chances to catch some during your dive, so make each effort count!
Using the tail snare recommended above is probably best for beginners. Learn how to loop the snare around the back tail section and cinch it tight to catch the lobster. They are NOT passive! Once grabbed or snared, they put up a fight. The tail is powerful and it can get out of your grip before you know it. Hold on TIGHT.
Practice putting a thick branch into your bag before you go out. Put the lobster in TAIL FIRST so it cannot easily escape. Remember, they only move quickly in reverse!
As you search the bottom, look for their long antenna. This gives them away. After a short time, you’ll know what to look for and it won’t be too difficult to scan an area and find whatever ones are there. Use your dive light to peer deep into holes and cracks and crevasses. Sometimes they are in there deep!
FINDING TIP – if you find an eel, the lobster may be close by. They also can often be found in very close vicinity to eels.
Some people are comfortable using nets. Others prefer the snare. I think most people prefer the snare, but the net system can also work well. When you get really good, you’ll just be pulling the suckers out of holes with your hands with no problem. Watch some videos to see how others are catching them bare-handed. I do know a guy who is using one of his toes for a thumb after putting his hand into a Moray Eel hole, so do be careful!
How To Catch a Florida Spiny Lobster (Video)
Florida Lobstering Regulations
Become very familiar with the rules covering harvesting. Like Florida fishing, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is very strict and won’t hesitate to apply stern fines and even confiscate your diving equipment if you are breaking laws while harvesting these delicious things. Lobster is one of Florida’s prime natural resources and it must be protected. As a sportsman/woman, you need to ensure that you’re following the laws and that others around you are also following Florida law.
Lobsters and fish are in a precarious balance between prosperity and population depletion and devastation. The rules and regulations help keep the balance so we can have something fantastic to eat, and so they can both can continue to spawn at a rate to sustain us and their marine populations.
How To Get a Lobster License
A saltwater fishing license and a lobster permit are required to take lobsters during harvest seasons. Find out about crucial differences in lobster seasons here. Do you need a license? Find out here. Purchase a license here.
General Harvesting Rules
Here are some of the general rules regarding the taking of lobsters during the two seasons outlined above. Knowing the following does not exempt you from knowing every rule pertaining to the taking of them in Florida, so read this guide as well.
- Two lobster seasons mentioned above.
- Each one must have a carapace measured in the water at over 3″.
- Possession and use of 3″ carapace measuring gauge is required.
- Harvesting of 6 per person per day in Monroe County and Biscayne National Park during Sport Season.
- Harvesting 12 per person per day in all other areas of Florida during July Sport Season.
- Night diving is completely prohibited in Monroe County during lobster Sport Season in July.
- Off-limit areas include John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Everglades National Park, and the Dry Tortugas National Park during the 2-day July Sport Season. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Biscayne Bay / Card Sound Lobster Sanctuary is off-limits during both lobster seasons.
- Harvest limit of 6 per person per day from August 6th through March 31st Lobster Season.
- Trapping, spearing, gigging, and crushing lobsters is prohibited.
- Taking egg-bearing (berried) lobsters is prohibited.
- 2 licenses needed to harvest spiny lobster.
A. Florida Recreational Saltwater Fishing License.
B. Lobster permit (stamp).
- You cannot legally give your harvest to another person, licensed or not, for purposes of harvesting more lobster.
More Fishing Guides with All You Need to Know
Fishing Tacklebox Essentials
Fish Scale (Digital and up to 110 lbs.)
Florida Fishing Identification Booklet – 5×7″ Laminated (Waterproof)