With lobsters ‘everywhere,’ South Florida divers enjoyed a successful 2018 miniseason

John Strunk of the Chiefy crew shows off some miniseason lobsters in July 2018.
John Strunk of the Chiefy crew shows off some miniseason lobsters in July 2018.

How good was the first day of the two-day lobster miniseason?

“Probably the best miniseason day we’ve ever had,” Jim “Chiefy” Mathie said of Wednesday morning’s diving, which produced 84 lobsters for him and his crew. “We had seven divers and we got our limit. The lobsters were everywhere, literally.”

“It’s the best I’ve seen in a while,” said Roray Kam, who went out from the beach in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea with two friends.

In one hour of freediving in about 20 feet of water, all three men got their limit of 12 lobsters.

“The first ledge was loaded,” said Kam, who swam out at 6:45 a.m. and was back on the beach with his 12 bugs by 8 a.m.

Lou Nelson dove from the beach in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea in his scuba gear and got his limit both days in 15 feet of water.

“The first day, there was major current,” Nelson said. “The second day there was very little current and pristine conditions. You could pick and choose your lobsters.”

Dave Brisbane said this miniseason was special because he and his five companions aboard Frank Schmidt’s boat caught their limit of 72 lobsters both days. Typically, the lobstering on Thursday isn’t as good as it is on Wednesday.

Lobster miniseason is the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July. It gives recreational divers the first chance at catching lobsters since the regular season closed on April 1.

In addition, the 12-lobster daily bag limit is twice the bag limit during the regular season, which runs from Aug. 6 to March 31.

Diving with Andy Rubin in 30 feet early Wednesday morning, John Strunk said many lobsters hadn’t yet moved into holes in the reef.

“When we got down there, the sun hadn’t come up just yet, so you were able to take your flashlight and scan across the surface of the reef and most of them were still out on top,” said Strunk, who was part of Mathie’s crew. “We actually were able to see a couple of clusters of them battling it out and fighting. You just go right behind and pick them off one at a time, so it made really easy work for us right away. We were able to get 12 lobsters probably in the first 12 minutes. It was pretty fast.”

“We used a snare,” Rubin said. “Just reach over them and put the loop over their back. Lobsters are community gatherers and they’re used to things touching them in the rear, so they’re not that sensitive to it. So you can just snatch them up. You grab the last one in line and you work your way to the front of the line.”

There were still some lobsters out and about when Chiefy crew members Roger Soles and Chuck Van Buskirk got in the water a few minutes later.

“Some of them were hanging out and after that, it was in the holes and you had to look for them,” Soles said. “You had to take a flashlight and look for them and dig them out. There were several here and there. Onesies and twosies, and once in a while you’d find four or five.”

Freediver Francisco Loffredi of Brazil also got in on the lobster bounty with the Chiefy crew. Loffredi and his two cameramen went out on Mathie’s 29-foot SeaVee to tape an episode of his new television show “One Breath.” They got plenty of footage of lobsters being caught by Loffredi and the other divers.

Mathie, of Deerfield Beach, who is the author of “Catching the BUG: The Comprehensive Guide to Catching the Spiny Lobster,” said that prior to the start of miniseason, the prospects were not good. Visibility was poor and lobsters were scarce when he and his friends scouted on Monday.

“We had some conditions that changed last week that kind of moved in the bugs really, really close — 10 feet of water. That spot we dove, we found maybe 12,” he said. “Wednesday, I guess they came back out to the second reef and that’s where we were, that 35- to 40-foot stuff.”

That depth produced about four dozen bugs for Mathie and his five divers on Thursday. His miniseason was capped that night at BugFest-by-the-Sea, where he and Rubin won the Great Florida Bug Hunt’s Buddy Team award for the heaviest total weight (20.61 pounds) for 12 bugs caught Wednesday off Broward County.

Mike and Bob Maler of Miami won the Miami-Dade Buddy Team award with 26.16 pounds. Mike Maler also had the two biggest bugs caught diving from a boat, a 4.1-pounder and a 4-pounder.

Randall Reed had the biggest bug caught off the beach, a 5-pounder that he got off Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Todd Haley was second with a 3.2-pounder. Alex Ortega had the biggest bug caught by a town resident at 1.78. Elizabeth Murphy of Dania Beach had the biggest bug caught on a midnight dive Wednesday at 2.6 pounds.

In BugFest’s Lobster Chef competition Thursday night, Barn Sports Facility of Pompano Beach won the coveted title with chef Allan Gentile’s lobster tiradito, which was his take on a Peruvian ceviche dish that featured thin slices of lobster, onion, lemon juice and mango. Billy Jack’s, a Lauderdale-by-the-Sea restaurant, was second out of six teams with fried lobster served on a waffle.

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