By Steve Waters
Florida’s annual lobster miniseason is July 28-29 this year, which means now is when divers need to make sure that they and their scuba gear are ready for one of South Florida ’s biggest events of the summer.
Thousands of recreational divers hit the water for miniseason because it gives them the first shot at lobsters since the recreational and commercial seasons closed on April 1.
Because of the nearly four-month-long closure, lobsters are usually plentiful and less wary than normal, plus the daily bag limit outside of the Florida Keys is 12 per person, which is double the regular-season limit.
Equipment such as regulators and BCs (buoyancy compensators) should be brought to a dive shop for service and air tanks should be filled before the last-minute miniseason rush.
Waiting until the last minute to get your scuba equipment checked out can leave you stranded. Dive shops have time now to inspect and repair gear. Procrastinate until the week of miniseason and you might not get your stuff back until the regular season opens on Aug. 6.
Matt Stout of Underseas Sports in Fort Lauderdale said that when people bring him their dive gear three days before the miniseason he has to tell them he can’t help them “because we’re already up to our elbows” working on other divers’ equipment.
And just because your gear worked fine last miniseason doesn’t mean it’ll work if you haven’t dived since then, which is something many people do.
Jim “Chiefy” Mathie is a retired Deerfield Beach fire chief and the diving expert on the Nautical Ventures Weekly Fisherman radio show, which airs from 6-8 a.m. Saturday on WINZ 940-AM and live-streams on the Nautical Ventures Facebook page. He said that people who haven’t been diving in a while should do some dives before miniseason to become reacquainted with their dive gear and diving.
Not only is that a good way to locate areas with lobster, it’s also a good way to double-check your equipment. For lobster divers, few things are as disappointing as having the strap on a mask or a fin break during miniseason. Unless you have a replacement strap, you probably won’t be catching any lobsters.
A few years ago I was scouting with Mathie the Monday before miniseason. We were on the bottom in about 60 feet and my mask was taking on water. When I tried to clear the mask, the lenses popped out into my hands.
Mathie saw what had happened and he safely escorted me back to the surface. As it turned out, I had a crack in the mask’s frame that held the lenses in place. Fortunately, Mathie had another mask on his boat that I used that day, and I dove with one of my older masks during miniseason.
One downside to lobster miniseason is some divers get so excited about catching the tasty crustaceans that they forget the basics of safe diving and end up injured, or worse.
Mathie, whose how-to lobstering book “Catching the BUG: The Comprehensive Guide to Catching the Spiny Lobster,” is available in local dive shops and at chiefy.net, suggested that any pre-miniseason scouting dives you make also be used to check out potential dive buddies.
Buddies who suddenly take off, leaving you alone, or use up all their air, forcing you to have them breathe off your backup regulator, are dangerous.
Also dangerous are boaters who don’t pay attention to what they’re doing during miniseason.
Capt. Bill Cole of the Fort Lauderdale dive boat Sea Experience is always amazed at how other private boats, knowing full well that divers are in the water, will run through dive flags like it’s a miniseason slalom course.
Mathie flies a dive flag high atop his boat and his divers also carry a dive flag with them. Yet he has had to use his boat to divert careless boaters who were headed for his divers.
One of the most important factors in having a safe miniseason is having an experienced boat driver. Because every diver wants his or her shot at catching lobsters, the person left in the boat is often a non-diver with no clue of how to drive the boat or how to keep tabs on the boat’s divers.
Frank Schmidt of Lighthouse Point, a longtime lobster hunter, has rescued stranded divers during miniseason far away from their boats. When Schmidt brought the divers to their boats, the drivers had no idea that their divers were missing.
For more lobster diving and fishing tips, listen to The Nautical Ventures Weekly Fisherman radio show every Saturday morning from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. live on 940 WINZ, an iHeart station. You’ll learn where the fish are biting and how to catch them. If you can’t tune in live, the Weekly Fisherman radio podcasts are available through:
iHeart Radio: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/53-weekly-fisherman-28270572/
You can also watch the show on Facebook Live by liking our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/The-Nautical-Ventures-Weekly-Fisherman-Show-136020173136939
You can watch past Facebook live shows at: https://www.facebook.com/The-Nautical-Ventures-Weekly-Fisherman-Show-136020173136939