The Key West lobster season is an incredible time of year when locals, visitors, and commercial fishermen dive into the waters in search of these delectable creatures. The Florida Keys is home to different species of lobster, but the Florida spiny lobster is the most prevalent and sought after during lobster season.
Whether you book time on one of the many lobster charters to do some lobster fishing or merely want to visit these docile creatures in their natural habitat during lobster season, like at the Dry Tortugas National Park, lobster season in Key West is the best time to find them!
Not Fishing? How To Find A Spiny Lobster Lair In The Florida Keys
Key West Paddle offers some of the best opportunities to spot spiny lobsters in their natural habitat for lobster season. Take our Night Kayaking Tour to see if you can spot the spiny lobster within the intricate root systems of the mangrove forests as the LED lights beneath your kayak illuminate the crystal-clear waters.
You can also hop aboard one of the daytime charters to spend an afternoon on the sandbar at Snipe Point, where you might spot them in the shallow waters. If you’re looking for more viewing spots to enjoy the lobster season at Key West tourist spots, you can try these:
Dry Tortugas National Park
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Everglades National Park
What To Know Before You Go Fishing In The Florida Keys During Lobster Season
Florida has lobster season two times a year. The first is the sport or mini lobster season during the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July every year. After the mini lobster season, the regular lobster season starts on August 6 and runs until March 31 annually.
The daily bag limit for the spiny lobster season in the Florida Keys is six lobsters per person in Monroe County and Biscayne National Park. Everywhere else in Florida allows lobster hunters to bag 12 spiny lobsters as the daily bag limit. The possession limit on the water is the same as the daily bag limit during lobster season.
The possession limit of the water equals the daily bag limit on the first day of the mini lobster season and double the bag limit on the second day of the lobster season. These limits are enforced on and off the water. Night diving is prohibited in Monroe County during the mini season, so keep this in mind when planning your lobster fishing trip.
Lobster harvesting is prohibited in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park during the mini lobster season and in Everglades National Park no-take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Lobster fishing is also prohibited in the five coral reef protection areas within Biscayne National Park during the mini lobster season and regular lobster seasons.
Here are a few other points to keep in mind while catching lobsters in the Florida Keys during the lobster season:
You must have a saltwater fishing license and a lobster permit on hand
Lobster must be landed in whole; separating the body and tail is prohibited
You must use and have a lobster gauge for measuring
Harvesting female lobsters is prohibited
Any device which punctures, penetrates, or crushes the shell or flesh of the lobsters is not allowed
Each spiny lobster must reach the minimum size limit of three inches to keep
Best Practices For Harvesting Lobsters In The Florida Keys
Lobster hunters will want to keep these things in mind when planning a fishing trip to Monroe County and other locations in Florida for lobster season.
Be sure to measure properly with a lobster gauge while the animal is still underwater. You should be measuring the carapace or the hard part of the shell. If it’s not three inches or more, throw it back!
No double dipping! The daily bag limit of six means only six lobsters per day
It is a felony to damage, molest or take lobster from traps in state or federal waters. Recreational trapping is prohibited
No touching corals or bumping into them with diving fins. Do not stand on them or anchor your boats to them
All female lobsters must be thrown back, especially if they have eggs
Tips For A Safe Lobster Season In The Florida Keys
There are many steps you must take to have a safe and successful lobster season. You must use a dive flag while lobster fishing; your flag should be up while in the water and down when you’re underway. Divers must stay within 300 feet of the dive flag or 100 feet if fishing in a canal.
Keep an eye on all the necessary gear amongst your diving equipment and on the boat during lobster season. Replace anything that needs replenishment before heading out on the water. Your vessel should also maintain an idle speed within 100 yards of another boat when its dive flag is flying.
A saltwater fishing license is mandatory. You must be able to present this document if asked by a game warden or coast guard. Make sure to keep it with your lobster permit for easy access!
Useful Tips For A Successful Lobster Season
When you embark on a fishing trip to Key West during lobster season, you can try a few things to make your endeavors successful. Here are just a few things commercial fishermen use to ensure success on the waters when hunting for lobsters.
Use salted Herring! This is the primary choice for commercial fishermen as it’s a favorite food for lobster. When there is a shortage of Herring or the price is too steep, the next best options are Bluefin, Cod, Mackerel, or Menhaden.
Lobsters with a V notched into their tail are marked for conservation and should be tossed back.
Lobsters can be found in the depths of the ocean but are also harvested in shallow waters less than 40 meters deep.
Be patient when you find the lobster! Don’t try to grab it; use a net and a tickle stick to coax the lobster into your net slowly. Be mindful of their antennae, as these will give you away if touched.
Best Fishing Locations For Lobster Season In The Florida Keys
When you want to catch a Florida Keys spiny lobster, the best place to look is the Gulf or Bay side of the Middle Keys, north of Marathon, South of Long Key, and the 7 Mile Bridge.
This area has an abundance of natural lobster habitats, including Duck Key, Long Key, Conch Key, and Lower Matecumbe Key. The most popular spot for scoring a lobster catch is amongst the rocks surrounding the bridges of Duck Key.
Lobsters love to nestle into rocky areas and coral five to 15 deep in the water, but you can often catch a glimpse of their antennae in their hiding spots. Not seeing any antennae? Try diving deeper into the rocky areas. If you find a location with no other fishermen, keep it to yourself and harvest lobster year after year.
Lobster Species Found In The Florida Keys
The spiny lobster, also known as the Caribbean spiny lobster, is the most prevalent species in the Florida Keys. These are considered a delicacy in the Caribbean and Key West and are also known here as crawfish.
They are harvested recreationally and commercially for food in the Florida Keys and generate roughly $5 million annually for the local economy.
Tools Of The Lobster Season Trade
Here are all the tools you’ll want to have on hand when you go fishing for lobster in Key West, Florida.
A short-handled lobster net and tail snare. Use the snare in the reefs and nets around sand flats
A dive flag for your boat
A Tickle Stick – A thin fiberglass rod about two feet long that helps coax the lobster from their hiding spots
Gloves to protect your hands when handling the lobster
A mesh game bag to hold your catch
A lobster gauge to accurately measure your catch
How To Get Your Fresh Lobster Home When Traveling
The key to fresh lobsters is ensuring they remain in a cool and moist environment during your travels. Pop them alive or dead in a cooler with gel packs or cold packs to keep them fresh until it’s time to feast. Never pack them with dry ice, as the carbon dioxide will suffocate live lobsters and freeze and crack the delicate shells if they make contact.
The Best Way To Experience Mini Lobster Season
Use these tips and tricks to make the most of your fishing trip to the Florida Keys during lobster season. Once you get the hang of locating and hunting spiny lobsters, you’ll be back for more year after year!
Only some people want to fish for lobster during the mini lobster season in the Florida Keys. If you’re searching for the best way to view these sea creatures in their natural habitat, be sure to schedule a tour with us to find lobsters outside of fishing areas.