Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mini-Season: Day One

Welcome to the Two-Day Florida Sport Season for Lobster, otherwise known as Mini-Season!

As you've read in our previous articles, Mini-Season is the last Wednesday and Thursday of July here in Florida. The two day extravaganza allows sport divers the opportunity to pick up a few lobster for the official lobster season begins the first week of August.

Divers are limited to a total of 12 lobsters per day throughout Florida, with the exception of the Florida Keys, which limits divers to just 6 lobsters per day.

Since Mini-Season starts on Wednesday and Wednesday itself technically starts at Midnight Tuesday night, the waters off the coast of Florida were filled with boats and divers armed with lightsticks and flashlights last night. My buddies and I decided that night diving for Mini-Season was going to be a bit much work this year, so we opted to go out at 6am Wednesday morning instead.

As we were preparing to leave the dock, some of our midnight diving friends were pulling into the dock. Looking a little tired, they boasted 16 lobster with 4 divers. It's not limit, but it's a far cry better than I did last year during our midnight dive. We made our assessments of proposed depth and headed out of Port Everglades.

Part of our group wanted to dive shallow and two of us were holding out for deep water. We two deep fans opted to stay on the boat for the first dive and let the rest of our party of 8 splash in about 30 feet of water to start. At the end of their first dive, they had about a dozen bugs between them - not bad, but not great either. By the way, the term 'bugs' is diver slang for spiny lobsters because they're just so darn cute.

My dive buddy and fellow deep enthusiast, Pat, and I were all too happy to try our hand at the third reef. The reef itself is about 45 feet in the center with about 60 feet on the West side and 60 to 100 feet on the West side, depending on the area. We splashed in at about the center line and worked our way East. We were joined shortly thereafter by the second wave of divers and worked our way back and forth across the reef.

Pat and I came upon a nice ledge with 6 bugs beckoning us onward. All 6 were keepers - no eggs and no shorts. By the way, if the lobsters are females with eggs, you are not permitted to take them, and of course, the rest must measure up in size as well. We continually worked our way East and West across the reef as the current pushed us Northward. I picked up another lobster nearby and then it was slim pickings for awhile. There weren't many places for the bugs to hide in this particular section of reef, but our patience paid off as the edge of the reef became more defined.

Pat and I picked up 3 more bugs in one den (lobster hole) and then spotted another den a few yards away. Pat pushed his lobster snare in through one side of the hole to spook them out in my direction. When he did, a chubby little 2-foot nurse shark came scurrying out of the hole right past me. By this point, we were both running a little a low on air, so we decided to surface. Pat landed a total of 7 on this dive and I landed 6 - not a bad first dive.

Needless to say, the rest of the group was now convinced that deeper was the way to go. My long-time dive buddy, Randy Docks, spent a good 15 minutes wrestling a monster bug out of a deep crevice. It was so far back in the hole that he had to actually remove his gear to get far enough in to loop the lobster. Here's a photo of Randy with his prized lobster - the largest of the day from our boat.

For the record, Randy is by far the most successful lobsterman that I have had the pleasure with whom to dive. He and I have been on the same dive on the same reef where I didn't even see a bug and he limited out. Today, he was apparently going for quality over quantity. Nice Lobster, Randy!

Pat and I decided to stay deep for our second dive of the day, and again, we were rewarded. Pat picked up an additional 2 bugs and I landed 6 more bugs, a nice Danforth anchor, and a 20-inch mutton snapper as an added bonus.

My first dive ranged from 40 to 70 feet and my second dive was almost entirely at 70 feet. I achieved my limit of 12 bugs for the day and will be back out there tomorrow to see how well the lobster gods smile down upon us.

Our boat with 8 divers landed a total of 53 bugs; not a bad first day! We only saw a few shorts (lobsters too small to keep) and probably a dozen or so females with eggs. I was the only one on the boat to limit out and Randy took home the prize for the largest bug of the trip.

Best of all, the weather cooperated, seas fluctuated a bit, but never spiked over 2 feet; everyone came home safely, and nobody went home empty-handed.

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