The proper equipment will make a day of lobstering a much more enjoyable and fruitful endeavor. Whether you’re donning the SCUBA or free-diving, gear is largely the same. Below are a few of basics and some of our favorites. Most of the gear is available at any number of dive shops. Shop around for the best prices, but for the most part, the prices listed below are roughly the suggested retail price.
The measurement gauge is essential, and everyone in the water must have one (they cost only $3). In its simplest form, it’s a machined piece of aluminum with a slot marking three inches. This is used to measure the lobster’s carapace—more on this below—and, unless the lobster is a bonzer, will be needed on every catch. The overall length of the guage measures 5 1/2 inches, which comes in hand once on land. After landing your share of keepers and you’re back at the docks, clean those bugs. But the regulation doesn’t end there. Keeper tails must measure 5 1/2 inches; so if you’re cruising around with a cooler of undersized tails, especially in the Keys, those “fined to dine” can follow you around.
Go-Go Gadget Arm
The tickle stick may not sound like a fishing implement, but it is a key element to prevent eel bites and lionfish stings, and a rather important armament in bagging bugs. Essentially an extension of your arm, tickle sticks can be as simple as a 36-inch plastic stick, costing just a few bucks, to retractable loop snares topping $50. Regardless of the what you’re using, the device is basically used in the same manner: to explore holes and crevices for hidden and hunkered-down lobster, then, once found, to coax the critters out and spook into the net. Tickle sticks are invaluable, especially because many of the ledges and holes lobster like to hide in are usually occupied by other forms of marine life, like moray eels and lionfish. They are one of the only lines of defense, and offense, a diver is allowed to use in the lobster search—here we touch on implementation.
As mentioned above, tickle sticks come in an array of shapes, forms and functions. At the most basic, the $2 tickle stick will work in a pinch, and it’s always good to have an extra on the boat or with the equipment. The Pro Teaser ($15 for basic, $30 for extendable) improves upon the basic form with an oversized bright yellow handle. Not only does it have a more comfortable to grip, but also is buoyant, so if you drop it, it will float and is easy to spot. The crooked neck helps when coaxing the lobster out of deeper spots, and the built-in measurement gauge is great in a pinch (though it is kind of cumbersome trying to manipulate to measure).
On the more advanced, expensive level, lobster snares are essentially a tickle stick with a lasso at the end, allowing the diver to loop a lobster without the hassle of coaxing and capturing with a net. This takes an adroit hand, slipping the loop around the tail, but with practice gives you the best chance of hitting that limit. Diver’s Direct sells a number of loop snares, from $25–$65. We recommend testing the waters with the cheaper version and graduating from season to season.
Catching the Bug
The lobster net is the diver’s version of a catcher’s mitt. As invaluable as the tickle stick may be, it would be nothing without the net. Inexpensive, usually running from $10-$15, lobster nets are squat, handheld nets with a flattened head and roughly a 2-square-foot opening. The goal is to use the net as a catchall, more scenery then an actively moving netting device. Click here for instructions on using a lobster net.
Gloves are not exactly a necessity when catching lobster, but these underwater critters are called “spiny” for a reason. Don’t go crazy when it comes to gloves—the $4 orange lobster gloves work like a top, although are not exactly form fitting. While the blue rubber-coated dive gloves have a better fit and a good price ($7 per pair), they tend to break down in saltwater and in UV, making them a pretty big mess after a season or two, and will leave a mark all over the boat, gear, and lobster. They aren’t really worth the clean-up hassle.
We recommend HexArmor’s Sharspmaster II 9014 gloves. Originally designed to handle hazardous medical waste—syringes and needles—these gloves and the proprietary SuperFabric coating are pretty much the only thing that can handle a lionfish. They are a little stiffer than other gloves and somewhat costly at $50 through reef.org, but they’re worth the buy if there is any lionfish hunting in your future. Plus, a portion of the proceeds help fund REEF’s programs.
Find a Spot
For those searching in vain for a spot to dive, grab a chart of dive locations for your specific region. Most dive shops offer an array of books—some self-published, some from larger companies. Look for books and charts that offer GPS coordinates and, if available, a description of the dive site in question. Fare warning: Published sites will be crowded and fished out pretty quickly. But lobster migrate nightly, so keep checking throughout season; you’re bound to nab something.
- Top Spot Fishing Maps ($19) offers a great chart with regional breakdowns running from Jacksonville to the Panhandle. This is strictly a chart—no detailed analysis—but the fishing and recreational version offer suggestions for the newbie and boat owner alike.
- For a more detailed description behind some of Palm Beach County’s best dive sites, the self-published Dive Locations: Palm Beach County, MGIII to Miracle of Life is a great pickup for $17 (Force E Dive Center). Listing 79 dive sites from Jupiter to Boca, the book comes with a description of the sites, GPS coordinates, reef pictures and range markers to help pinpoint where to dive. We recommend this book to anyone interested in diving, regardless of lobstering intentions.
- Another resource that’s free of charge is brought to you by the Palm Beach County government. The department of Environmental Resources Management‘s artificial reef program has scuttled more than 45 vessels and laid more than 82,000 tons of concrete and 130,000 tons of limestone in the construction of inshore and offshore reefs since its 1987 incpetion, all designed to encourage fishery development. What’s more, all the reefs have been plotted on a handy GPS spreadsheet available by PDF for free (click here). Some reefs are well beyond the reach of recreational divers and are strictly for hook and line fishing, but others are easily accessible by boat or even by beach.
Bag the Catch
For those in the SCUBA set, a Lobster Hotel ($30) is a must to make the most out of each dive. These are basically glorified collection bags with a PVC gate affixed to one end, allowing the diver to deposit the catch one-handed without having to open anything. The plastic flange acts a barrier, keeping the catch secure while the dive continues. One word of advice: Make sure the zipper on the other end of the bag is zipped shut before descending. It is particularly irritating when, after making the catch and thinking it is deposited securely, you see the bugger swimming away with a satisfied exoskeletal smirk.
Cover Extra Ground
Being towed behind a boat is one of the best ways to cover large swaths of seabed in the quickest amount of time while searching for lobster. A simple tow rope with a loop tied for a hold works great, but for those looking for a smoother ride, the Sea Scanner Lobstering Sled ($85) from Divers Direct is a great contraption. More luxury than necessity, the sled is designed to pivot with the flick of the wrist, allowing the diver to plunge and surface with ease.
- For recipes to prepare your Florida spiny lobster catch, click here.
- For regulation details and lobstering tips, click here.