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Keys Lobster Season Guidance

Old 01-14-2020, 11:09 AM
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Default Keys Lobster Season Guidance

Reaching out the THT community for guidance for a July trip to the keys for lobster. Family trip with teenagers and friends. Never been to the keys, any advice or tips would be greatly appreciated. We will be taking our boat down, Cobia 261 twin 150's.

Which area is the most productive (Islamorada, Marathon, etc.)?
What is the best depth to look?
Gulf or Atlantic?
Sites or places to visit?
Do's and don'ts?

Thank you for your help.
Old 01-14-2020, 11:19 AM
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Are you snorkeling, freediving or scuba? It makes a big difference. Don't keep shorts. Have you ever hunted lobster before?
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Old 01-14-2020, 11:24 AM
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Snorkeling.

New to lobster.

We have been scalloping but not lobster. This will be a new experience for our group.
Old 01-14-2020, 11:27 AM
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If you think scallops swim fast, you ain't seen nothing yet!

I haven't been for years, but if I recall, Bayside off Lower Keys, around Sawyer and Content are popular spots. Lots of good bottom in shallow enough water to snorkel. Problem is that it is not a secret.
Old 01-14-2020, 11:28 AM
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Originally Posted by tangledline View Post
Snorkeling.

New to lobster.

We have been scalloping but not lobster. This will be a new experience for our group.
Be prepared to do a lot more work than scalloping. Especially if you are just the average snorkeler.
Old 01-14-2020, 11:33 AM
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As airbrush mentioned, how you'll be trying to catch them will factor into the area and depth you'll be trying to get lobster.

The mini season, which I presume you are referring to since you referenced a July trip, can conservatively be characterized as a shitshow. Mini season marks the beginning of an initial month long assault on the Keys' natural resources that strains the islands' capacity and unfortunately routinely results in accident and sometimes deaths from the broad spectrum of folks partaking in the festivities.

Keys are generally pretty loaded with lobster by mid-July, but my personal observation is that the majority of folks are concentrated in Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine, and Key West. Good luck getting people to reveal their spots, but you're generally looking for structure or hard bottom where the lobster hide.

Best depth to look is the one at which you can safely retrieve lobster. There seems to always be a report of someone dying from scuba-diving in 6-8 feet of water from over-exerting themselves. I'm a diver myself but usually just freedive for lobster in 10-15 feet of water. I usually stay gulf-side, especially since Atlantic side can drop off pretty quick.

Make sure you have appropriate lobster and safety gear. Try to buy your tickle stick, net, and gloves in advance of driving down to the keys unless you want to pay out the wazoo at the local shops. Dive flag also a necessity. And don't forget fishing license with lobster stamp.

Make reservations as soon as possible - many places often book up for that time period up to a year in advance.

Most of all, be safe.
Old 01-14-2020, 11:57 AM
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I have read on THT mini season can be crazy. Since it's a new area for us plus our first time I did not know if the lobster were more abundant in one region vs. another.

We are looking to stay in the Marathon or Islamorada area. Not looking for numbers just a little guidance.

Thank you for the tips.
Old 01-14-2020, 03:55 PM
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Hi Tangled,

I'm relatively new to lobstering and mini week (about 8
years now) in Marathon/KCB but can share my little knowledge.

Yes, I have seen some pretty stupid stuff but for the most part it's not that crazy. With a little common sense you'll be OK.

Catching lobster in the bay is all about finding holes. When we first started we were given a general idea where to start looking for spots (head 7 nm nne out of Vaca Cut). Our first year I think we ended up with about 8 lobster but learned the importance of gathering "numbers." Finding good numbers has become a fun "go to" family activity. The bay can be windy, overcast or the water visibility can be poor making finding new holes impossible. If you are lucky enough to get a day with the right conditions you should spend it looking for new holes. The visibility in the bay can be spotty sometimes and you'll find areas with better visibility.

Hope this helps and stay safe.
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Old 01-14-2020, 04:57 PM
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Plenty of people to hire for the day on your boat to show yo7 the ropes, reduce the learning curve exponentially
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Old 01-14-2020, 05:19 PM
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Haven't been in years but during the mini season I saw so many violations the LEO's could not keep up!
A lot of "no speak english" with shorts and over the limit.
Learn about how to use tickle stick and dip net and have lobster gauge on you.
Best way to cover a lot of area is with a tow rope and people holding on behind the boat with mask, fins snorkel, tickle stick/net. When they see a bug you let go of the rope and dive for it. Boat makes a large circle back to diver, picks up bug, measures it again!
Also know what an egg bearing female looks like and NO you can't strip the eggs it will be obvious.
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Old 01-14-2020, 05:21 PM
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Lobster diving

Ive had better luck/visibility bay side from Marathon. Head north 3-8ish miles from Marathon into the bay then work west to the content Keys. The above thread will cover the rest.

Ps. Just sold our house of 20 years in islamorada. We caught most of those lobster in them parts.
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Old 01-15-2020, 06:30 AM
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Like stated above. We go to Marathon (KCB) once or twice a year for the last 25 years.

Head out towards the bridge bay side Vaca cut than head due west about 4-5 miles. That will put you in about 7’-12’ of water. Dive flag up, tie a ski rope off back of the boat (engines off) and jump on in with mask and snorkel. This is called dragging and you pull the person in the water at a slow rate covering water looking for spots. If you have two ropes even better. When you see a crack or some pointy things (lobster antennas) sticking out of a ledge drop down and take a look. If it has keepers holding, mark the spot and on to find the next spot. FYI, who ever is being dragged keep your shirt on, your back will look like one of those lobsters cooked very quickly.

This is how we have found most of the spots we dive for lobsters today. I have not done any dragging in a few years. The spots we have keep holding and we usually get are limit pretty quick.

Be prepared to burn a lot of fuel. Bring your speargun, I have speared some nice fish while dragging as well. You never know what’s under those limestone ledges. On that point, wear gloves and don’t stick your hand in a hole, you may not like what attaches to your hand. It hurts trust me. My kids loved dragging as well. It’s a lot of fun. Mini season is crazy on the streets. Find your spots and just stay away from Content Key and you will have a stress free holiday. I would not recommend Content Key your first year down. That place is a zoo and people down there could care less if you have a dive flag up or not. It’s a cool area but not worth it during mini season.
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Old 01-15-2020, 06:55 AM
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The problem is that if you park your boat over a certain hotspot and start handing lobsters over the gunnel, there will be 30 boats around you in short order. If you stay down and dive within a hundred yards or so from your boat, you WILL have people drive over you in the water. We were just debating delaying our annual lobster trip until the general season opens a few days later. Everything is a zoo, getting gas, air, parking, rooms, reservations for dinner, all a challenge.

The other thing is finding them. You will hear many stories about so and so that limited out in about 20 minutes, or worse yet, they limited 3 times in the day and just kept taking the lobsters back to the dock and going back out. Mostly those stories are BS. The lobsters aren't always in the same area they were last year, so you have to find them each year. Sometimes deeper, sometimes shallower, sometimes more bayside, sometimes not. It is not like scalloping where you just mosey along and pick them up in a big grass flat. It is a lot of fun, but it is work.

Most of the locals aren't really thrilled with the mini season, and the cops run three deep, meaning on each coast guard boat there is a deputy, a FWC officer and the regular coast guard people. They will thoroughly check you and your boat if you get checked. There seem to always be accidents, heart attacks, arrests for shorts, being drunk, etc.

If I were you, come down first in the regular season and get a feel for the whole process before you attempt to stake your ground with the thousands of other people stacked here in mini season. Let me know if you have any specific questions and I will try to help.
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Old 01-15-2020, 07:36 AM
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^^^^^^^ - this.
I agree with LessImpressed. We go down each year the second week of regular season. I gave up on the mini-season as I did not like having my family in the water with cowboy boaters flying by us with little regard for a dive flag or the safety of others. Just too many people on the water. We go out each day, take a casual approach, are respectful of the laws and the rights of other boaters. Much fewer people and less stress. We have a few lobsters for dinner every night and some extra to take home. It's a vacation and not a competition. You will love the experience and nothing is more satisfying the eating your catch each evening.
Old 01-15-2020, 02:06 PM
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If you can delay your trip until the first week of regular season do it! Mini-season is like black-friday after thanksgiving, but on the water, and more importantly you do not have any gps#s! Keep in mind that parking and boat ramps can be an issue. Talk with your rental people about that, or ask here for advice.
IF you cannot delay your trip, then at least try to be there a few days prior to mini-season opening. This will give you time to scout out the areas.

This is what I do:
I make my own marker bouys out of 18" bright colored pool noodles. I put 20 feet of cord and a heavy weights on it. I have 2-3 on the boat at any time. I also have a smaller plastic walmart bouy that I try to keep in my hand while being towed on a tow rope. I also keep the buoy handy while running and will throw it if I see a spot. A heavy weight is nice for this as you can throw it a distance from the boat while running. I use a 2# dive weight on the cord.
This way, when you find a spot, you can mark it with the buoy. If the spot looks good, you can mark it on your gps, and try to keep a log of how many lobster/fish are on it. That particular hole may not have lobster in it that day, but might in a few days/weeks/months. Figure out a way to name your gps numbers so that you can remember what type of bottom it is. i.e. shallow ledge, deep ledge, etc... This way, next year you know what to expect and look for. My buddy prints out his gps #s and keeps a log of how many keepers every year on each spot. I dont do that, but its a good idea.
I have 100s of numbers that I have had to delete as the holes got filled in over the years.

Many of the spots are small, and very difficult to find a second time if you lose it. The current can be surprising strong even in the gulf, and if the diver looks away you can lose the spot. After I have checked the spot, I will bring the boat directly over the spot and then mark or re-mark the gps#s and try and get within a few feet.

Lobstering is a blast and I enjoy it every year. I developed an allergy to lobster, but I still enjoy doing it with family and friends.


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Old 01-15-2020, 03:24 PM
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Marathon has been tough for 5+ years for regular season. Big Pine is where you want to be.
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Old 01-15-2020, 05:18 PM
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Yea no lobster in marathon there all in cudjoe. All we have are sea lice and lion fish on and a lot of “ no speak English” which I assume the TPT meant French people.
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Old 01-15-2020, 09:15 PM
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Last year was tough in marathon. At least for me.

Dont take short lobsters and dont mess up the habitat.

Good luck and remember you are there to make great memories, so dont put pressure on the trip. Typically your first year is a dud, but lots of fun.
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Old 01-16-2020, 05:16 AM
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Mini season isn't my first choice for a first time trip however the boss wants to go and well...………..I'll make it happen.

We are long time offshore fishermen. The panhandle is our home stomping grounds and often gets busy on the holiday weekends. I'm sure it's nothing compared to mini season but lobster or no lobster we are looking forward to the experience of a new area and beautiful water.

Thank you to everyone for the tips.
Old 01-16-2020, 02:55 PM
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PM me I’ll direct you to get you your limit in 30 minutes in marathon.
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