Lobster might be ready to take a South Florida ‘walk’

If you’ve been diving mostly north of the Keys for lobster lately, you probably have worked pretty hard to gather a limit of six per person. While the late-July mini-season and the first few weeks after the start of regular season on Aug. 6 proved bountiful for many bug hunters, these days the pickings are pretty slim.

But that all could change in the next couple of weeks.

Deerfield Beach lobster guru Jim “Chiefy” Mathie, whose book, Catching the BUG, is must-reading for beginning and intermediate underwater hunters in southeast Florida, believes a lobster “walk” soon could be in our future.

The “walk” is more like a march, when long lines of crustaceans move single-file, head-to-tail — usually heading north — on open, sandy bottom as shallow as five feet deep along the Broward County coastline. Their slow movement and seeming disorientation makes them very easy to catch. The walk usually happens a few days after tropical storms or hurricanes have passed to the south of the region and can last anywhere from a day to several weeks. After Hurricane Katrina’s passage in 2005, the event went on for nearly a month.

But Mathie, 60, a retired division chief with Deerfield Beach Fire Rescue who’s been bugging successfully in local waters for more than 30 years, says there’s typically an annual walk that has nothing to do with tropical weather disturbances. He said it usually coincides with postseason baseball (and his birthday) in mid- to late-October. It hasn’t happened yet this season.

“Typically, sometime in October, we’ll see a migratory walk,” Mathie said. “This time of year, I’ve seen it where it’s just because it’s this time of year. They’ll be in 10 feet of water sometimes. I’ll know there will be a walk because they’re acting stupid. After the walk, they disperse.”

By “acting stupid,” Mathie means the animals — which usually hide in caverns and crevices on the reef by day — can be found out in the open on top of the reefs in “pre-walk” groups before heading out to the sand.

Of course the only way to check for a pre-walk or walk is to be out on the water scouting.

Last Monday, Mathie, dive buddies Chad Carney and Ken Udell, and I each made two dives north and south of Hillsboro Inlet from Mathie’s 29-foot SeaVee at a depth range of 30 to 70 feet. Exploring scattered patch reefs and other fertile bottom, we bagged a total of eight lobsters, and Carney and Udell speared some nice hogfish. Clearly the lobsters were not in pre-walk mode because the few we found were partially concealed beneath dark coral ledges.

Mathie caught two from one 35-foot-deep ledge that I had passed without seeing anything. Using his custom-made snare first as a tickle stick to gently prod them out and then as a noose to encircle their mid-sections, he quickly measured them with his gauge and secured them in his zippered mesh catch bag.

Back on the boat, I asked him how he managed to spot them in the jumble of coral, sea fans and schooling fish.

“The sand was white in front of the hole where they dug it out to get in there,” Mathie replied.

On our second dive, I was proud of myself for spotting a bug that I thought Mathie hadn’t seen. I shook him and pointed to the ledge where the animal sat with its antennae sticking out.

Mathie put his index finger and thumb together and tapped them several times, indicating the lobster was too small. But I wanted to catch it anyway and measure it for myself.

Using a bent aluminum tickler stick, I tried to place the tip behind the lobster’s tail, but accidentally poked it in the legs. It immediately shot backward deep into its hole. No matter how hard I tried to prod it out, it wouldn’t budge.

Finally, Mathie reached in with his gloved hand — something he doesn’t recommend due to the likely presence of lionfish (toxic spines), moray eels (big teeth) and sea urchins (more spines) — and pulled the reluctant quarry from its lair. Placing the gauge between its horns, he measured it — maybe 1/16th of an inch too short. He put it back in its hole.

And had the good graces not to say, “I told you so,” later on the boat.

While Mathie freely shares his knowledge of lobster hunting in his book and at dive club meetings and seminars, do not expect a tip-off when the “walk” begins.

Said Mathie: “I’ll tell you the week after it happens.”

Mathie’s book, Catching the BUG, and his newest, Catching the Spear-It!, are available at South Florida dive shops or at

Read more Outdoors stories from the Miami Herald

 <span class="cutline_leadin">A helping hand: </span>South Florida Congressman Joe Garcia helps Lloyd Louis, 9, cast his bait at the Rickenbacker Causeway during a recent outing with the Mahogany Youth Corporation.


    Youth group teaches life lessons through fishing

    Mahogany Youth Corporation steers inner-city youngsters away from crime and drugs by introducing them to fishing.

  • Notebook

    Snook harvest season begins Monday

    Besides being Labor Day, Monday marks the opening of snook harvest season throughout Florida, following the summer spawning closure.

  • Fishing report

    Captain Glyn Austin of Going Coastal Fishing Charters out of Sebastian reported that catch-and-release fishing for snook with live baits and artificial lures day and night has been outstanding in and around the Sebastian Inlet all the way north to the Patrick Air Force Base. Redfish and a few permits are biting in the Sebastian Inlet and are being caught on small blue crabs. Along the beaches, tarpon, bonito, jacks and sharks can be targeted all the way to Port Canaveral. These fish have been feeding along the big baitfish schools. Offshore reef fishing has been good for cobias and mangrove snappers up to 12 pounds.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category