Lobster Mini Season, Our Two-Day Free-for-All

Lobster Mini Season is a very big deal in Key West. Late July is a quieter time this time of year, since tourism is slower and it’s over 90 degrees almost every day. But for two days in the last week of July, our population doubles and everyone seems to go crazy for lobster. People from all over Florida come to the Keys to do this, and they bring their boats with them. Lobsters have been chilling all year under rocks and in the reef, growing and getting fatter during the off season for commercial lobster trapping.

mini lobster season

The commercial season on lobsters opens back up the first week in August. You can see commercial guys getting ready all over the island: stacking their wooden traps on the sea wall, branding their Styrofoam boueys, putting the boats back in the water. Once they get out there, it’s basically over for the lobster population of Key West. …during Lobster Mini Season, Key West’s population doubles! Lobster Mini Season gives the little guy a chance before the pros get all the lobster. From sunrise on the first day until midnight on the second day, anyone whose not a commercial lobster trapper can try for bugs. To increase their chances of a big haul, locals always keep an eye out for good spots in the months before the mini season. Sometimes on the night before mini season opens, they’ll go out way before sunrise and sit on a good spot so nobody else takes it in the morning.

It’s easy to find lots of undersize lobsters. Take your measuring tool in the water with you so you don’t take any illegals. There are three types of places where lobsters hang out: the reef, patches of rock, and ledges on the edge of seagrass fields. Anywhere there’s a hole or cave for them to hunker down into, lobsters will hang out. Look for their antennae sticking out, and remember that the hole or cave might be deep and the big ones might be in the back, behind the smaller ones. Dive down and see what’s way back inside. Pull the little ones out and stick your arm down the cave, if you dare.

┬áIf you find a big candidate, tease him out with your tickle stick and remember they move propelling themselves backwards. Take your net and get it behind him so when he runs from you it’ll be into your net. You can also carry a lobster back with you. It’s like a mesh ditty bag with a zipper in one end and a plastic ring with a one-way flap at the other end. Lobsters go in easily without gettting tangled, but they can’t go out the other end until you unzip it.

Snorkeling skills are a must, since you have to dive down to find and get the bugs. Some people snorkel and some scuba dive for the lobster. In the Keys, you can take six per day and make sure they measure at least three inches from back of head to start of tail. This is their carpace, or torso. Another strictly enforced rule is you must show your dive flag when you’re in the water. And of course you need a fishing license from FWC with a special lobster permit.

If you go out for lobster mini season, you’ll be sure to see lots of undersize lobster. Don’t be tempted to take any because amateur lobster divers aren’t the only people to get excited about the mini season. Marine patrol and FWC gear up for lobster season like it’s the biggest event of the year, and maybe it is, from their perspective. They’ll get you if you take small lobster, if you get impatient and go out before the season starts, and if you take too many. They even have a way of telling if you already hauled in your limit but took them home and headed out for round two. They’ll stamp your lobster permit and if you get stopped again they’ll know you already hit the limit for that day. Lobsters are serious business in Key West and the rest of the Keys.