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Key West Mini Season – Keys Lobster
Special Event

Every July, Florida opens its waters for a two-day lobster season. This exciting event is known as “Mini Season” and offers bug-starved divers the chance to catch some lobsters, celebrate with friends, and enjoy legendary Keys hospitality.

What is Keys Mini Season? Key West Lobster Season Explained

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation and Commission (FWC) regulates lobster fishing rules in the state. The FWC schedules when you can catch lobster, what size the lobsters must be, and where you are allowed to catch lobster. There is a regular lobster season in Florida. But there is also a special two-day “recreational mini-season” a week or so before the standard season opens.

What is Lobster Mini Season?

Thousands flock to the Florida Keys each year for the thrilling “Lobster Mini Season.” The official name for a two-day mid-summer lobster season is “Spiny Lobster Sport Season.” However, local residents call this two-day fest Mini Season due to its extra-short timeframe. Mini Season is a big deal in the Florida Keys. Expect lots of traffic on US 1 and most hotels and charter to be booked well in advance. Regular lobster season runs from August 6th through March 31st.

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Lobsters get the other four months off to relax, grow, and scurry around the reef untouched–except for those two days of Mini Season. Mini Season is always on the last Wednesday and Thursday of July, and the Keys fill with lobster-hungry adventurers. So if you can’t live without that sweet crustacean taste, make your plans for Lobster Mini Season 2022.

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Florida Lobster Mini Season 2022

This year, Mini Season is on Wednesday, July 27th, and Thursday, July 28th, 2022. Mini-season is extremely popular, so if you will be visiting Key West during those dates, make your plans soon. For full details on Mini Season rules and regulations, visit the FWC lobster rules page.

What is a Spiny Lobster?

The lobster you catch in the Keys and the rest of Florida are Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus). Spiny Lobsters are sometimes called rock lobsters and sometimes called crawfish, which is extra confusing because they are very different from the little mud-bug crawfish you get in the Louisiana bayous. The locals just call them “bugs.” These lobsters have edible meat in their tails. Spiny Lobsters are found all over the Caribbean, Central America, The Bahamas, and Florida. They have long, spiky antennae and no claws. They are usually red-brown to light tan in color with darker and lighter spots.

Are Spiny Lobsters Different from Regular Lobsters?

If you travel to the Northeast, you’ll probably eat American Lobster or Maine Lobster (Homarus americanus). They are a completely different species of lobster and look very different.

American Lobsters have edible meat in their tails and large claws. They are usually served whole in restaurants. Maine lobsters’ shells turn vibrant red after cooking, hence the “Red Lobster” seafood chain.

How Do You Catch Lobster in Key West?

If you’re new to lobstering, you’ll want to pick up some gear and get ready. There are quite a few YouTube videos on how to catch Spiny Lobster and where to go. There are also a bunch of great recipes.

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Lobster Season In The Keys

You can catch lobster throughout the entire state of Florida. However, the Florida Keys are the ideal location. The water is crystal clear, the world-famous reef provides an excellent habitat, and the post-dive entertainment is spectacular. Many folks like to make a vacation out of their Mini Season adventures and bring the whole family.

In the Keys, you can easily see the lobster, enjoy snorkeling and sunbathing, and come back to cook your catch on a picture-postcard beach. Visitors enjoy cocktails at world-famous cocktail bars, enjoy a memorable sunset, and then relax at a hospitable hotel or inn. Spending Mini Season in The Keys is truly an unbeatable experience!

Do you need a License for Lobster Mini Season?

Yes, bug hunters will need a Florida recreational saltwater fishing license and a Spiny Lobster permit to partake in Mini Season.

Other Lobster Mini Season Rules in the Keys

Here are a few other things to keep in mind before setting out on a bug-hunting adventure. The FWC is extra-active during the Mini Season, so follow the rules to make the experience enjoyable for everyone. For full regulations, check the FWC’s lobster fishing website.

• A lobster permit is in addition to your saltwater fishing license.
• Measure your lobster while it’s still in the water. Its carapace must be at least three inches long–use a gauge to make sure. If in doubt, let it go.
• It’s against regulations to harvest egg-bearing females.
• Each license-holder can catch six lobster a day.
• During Mini Season, snorkeling and diving are not permitted within 300 feet of residential or commercial shoreline, or within 300 feet of public or private marinas.
• Several areas are off-limits including all of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park off of Key Largo, Dry Tortugas National Park, and some areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Biscayne National Park in Biscayne Bay.
• Night diving is prohibited in the Florida Keys during Mini Season. Any kind of swimming at or under the surface of the water counts as night diving. When the sun goes down, it’s time to relax with friends and cook your catch.

Diving for Lobsters

Lobster hunters can snorkel (free dive) for lobsters or scuba dive. Scuba divers should be appropriately certified and have recent experience to tackle Mini Season. Divers should check their equipment and make sure that everything works perfectly.

In addition, divers should make sure they are fit enough for the rigors and excitement of lobster diving. Don’t over-extend yourself to get that bug–take a break and catch the next one. After all, there’s plenty of lobster in the sea!

Key West Lobster Boat Charter

A lobster boat charter is a great way to get to the best spots. After all, no one knows the best secret sites like the locals do!

Charter boats can get into less-traveled spots, so you can dive and hunt with just your group. In addition, you won’t have to trailer your own boat to the Keys, mess with navigation, or worry about anything but the hunt. Instead, you can relax, unwind, and celebrate your trophies on the way back.

How Do You Find the Lobster?

Lobster spend their time hiding under rocks and coral heads. You’ll occasionally come across one scurrying across the sea grass or sandy bottom, but that’s not likely during Mini Season.

To find them, just look for their antennae. Lobsters back themselves into little caves and overhangs where their antennae usually stick out.

How Deep are the Lobsters?

You can find lobsters pretty much anywhere in the Keys. They like to hide, so the best places are around structures. Wrecks, bridges, reefs, or rock piles are good places to hunt them.

Depth isn’t really an issue. You can find lobsters in canals and under bridges in a foot or two of water. You can also find them far offshore, 100 feet down in wrecks on deep dives. So they’re basically everywhere, but you are unlikely to find them in open areas of seagrass or sand.

Step-By-Step – Catching a Spiny Lobster (Bug Hunting)

There are a few lobstering tools that are considered must-have items. You need a tickle stick, lobster gauge, net, sack, and a pair of good diving gloves. Some people also like to use a lobster snare, but it’s not necessary. Here’s how you go buggin’, Keys-style.

Step 1: Tickle Them

Find the lobsters by looking for their antennae. Using your tickle stick and some patience, “tickle” their antennae to pique their curiosity. After a moment or two, they’ll start coming out from under their rock.

It’s really important to remember not to touch anything on the reef during this phase. Nearly everything on the reef, even those dull-colored rocks that the lobster are hiding under, are living corals. Don’t grab them to hold yourself down.

None of this is easy to do while free diving, but even scuba divers need to be good at controlling their buoyancy.

Step 2: Grab Them

Ok, the next step happens fast. Once the lobster is out of its hole, it’s thinking, “What is this amazing tickling? I’m so curious! Holy crap, there’s a human, and they’re going to eat me!”

Needless to say, you’ve got to work quickly before they finish that thought.

When the lobster runs, it will flick its powerful tail (powerful thanks to all that flavorful, delicious meat!). It will then swim backward to get away from you. So, the ready and waiting bug hunter already has their net, gloved hand, or snare positioned and ready for their flight. With a little practice, you’ll be able to tickle them out of their holes and grab them with the other hand.

Why are gloves so important? Well, you don’t get named “Spiny Lobster” without good reason. Their exoskeletons are hard with rugged, sharp spikes. You won’t like the results if you handle them without gloves.

Step 3: Measure

Before bagging your little friend, make sure he or she is legal to take. There are two things you need to check.

First, check for eggs. Turn the lobster over and look under the tail. If you see eggs, let her go! We all want some lobster to catch next year.

Second, take out your lobster gauge and measure! This is important because FWC will likely inspect your catch. The carapace must measure more than three inches. Using a gauge is quick and easy, so you’ll never get fined for catching under-sized lobsters.

If the lobster passes these tests, they’re ok to take. Put them in your mesh bag and head home. You need to keep the lobsters whole until you get home as it is illegal to wring the tails on the water. The daily bag limit is six per person per day.

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Experience the Thrill of Lobster Mini Season in The Keys

There’s nothing like the thrill of catching lobster in Mini Season. You only have two days to make the most of Mini Season, but you know what they say – short and sweet. And lobster meat is pretty sweet.

If you get hooked on hunting bugs during the Mini Season, come back to the Keys for the regular Spiny Lobster season. The regular season runs from August 6th to March 31st. If your trip to the Keys doesn’t align with Mini Season, book us for a regular fishing or snorkel charter, and just tell Captain Zak to take you where the bugs are!

To book a Mini Season lobster charter, please call ahead for pricing and availability.

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