As regular lobster season gets underway plenty of options are available

Jim “Chiefy” Mathie puts a lobster into his boat’s livewell after he and his crew caught their limit while diving off Boca Raton.
Jim “Chiefy” Mathie puts a lobster into his boat’s livewell after he and his crew caught their limit while diving off Boca Raton.

For Tom Campbell and his crew on Sand Dollar, the regular lobster season in South Florida picked right up where the lobster miniseason left off.

Lobsters were plentiful when the regular-season opened on Monday and he and his five divers easily caught their limit of 36 bugs.

“We went to the main reef and there were a few lobster there,” Campbell said. “And there’s a rock right near there that we go to that sometimes has lobster. This time it had a lot of lobster. So we caught most of our lobster in the one rock.”

“This regular season has been much better than what I expected,” said Campbell’s dive buddy Peter De Villiers. “It’s certainly a very strong start to the season.”

Campbell, of Lighthouse Point, and De Villiers, of Boca Raton, went to a spot in 35 feet off Pompano Beach that had produced a two-day total of about 150 lobsters for 14 divers during the miniseason, when the limitis 12 lobsters per person per day.

The limit during the regular season, which is Aug. 6 through March 31, is six lobsters per person per day.

“There was an abundance of large lobsters there,” DeVilliers said. “We very quickly collected the six we each needed. We could choose the big ones and push the little ones away.”

“We did really well, the whole crew did well,” Campbell said. “It might mean a good season for the rest of the year.”

It certainly looks that way. Campbell and his crew went out again Thursday and all six divers limited out on their first dive.

When he worked as a coastal engineer, Campbell used laser bathymetry to map the reef systems off South Florida. He brings maps of the bottom on his 39-foot Yellowfin so he knows precisely where to drop off his divers based on the current that day.

“You find out which way the current is going,” he said. “Ifit’s a north current, you start at the very south end of a reef tract and you go north. If you have a south current, you start at the north end. So that’s why we use those maps.”

Another key to locating lobsters is knowing what depth they’re in. If someone you trust tells you that he or she caught bugs in 50 feet of water off Fort Lauderdale, chances are good that you’ll find them in the 50s off Miami.

Local knowledge also pays for longtime divers like Campbell, who has years of experience under his dive belt.

“We have spots that we know that are more likely to have lobsters than others,” Campbell said. “If we check it and the lobsters are there, then we’ll go back a couple of times. If they’re not there, maybe they’re not in the 30s and 40s, maybe they’re in the 50s or the third reef. They’re very depth dependent.”

With six limits of bugs in the boat, Campbell and his divers swapped their lobster snares for their spear guns and headed out to 60 feet. That produced a big mangrove snapper for Campbell,one diver shot a mutton snapper and another got a yellow jack.

“When you’re doing the fishing reefs, they’re absolutely gorgeous. So you’re going over the reefs and there’s fish everywhere,” Campbell said. “Even if you don’t get anything, you’ve had a great dive.”

The good lobstering continued throughout the week. Tuesday, Jim Mathie and his four divers got a quick limit of 30 lobsters in 35 feet off Boca Raton in a spot where they had done well during miniseason.

Not only were the lobsters abundant, some of them appeared to be walking, which is when several lobsters walk along the bottom together in search of a new place to hide during the day. Catching those bugs is easy: A diver can snare or net the bigger lobsters while the other bugs continue to walk.

“There were a lot of clusters under the rocks, but one group was on top of the reef,” said Andy Rubin of his first dive with Mathie. “They were still looking for a hole.”

Wednesday, Chuck Van Buskirk and his grandson Wyatt went offshore with Mathie on his boat Chiefy. They jumped in with their masks, fins and snorkels in eight feet off Deerfield Beach and 8-year-old Wyatt caught his first Florida lobster.

After Mathie, who is the author of “Catching the BUG: The Comprehensive Guide to Catching the Spiny Lobster” and “Catching the Spear-it! The ABC’s of Spearfishing,” and his divers again got a limit of bugs, they went spearfishing in 50-60 feet. Ken Udell shot an 18-inch hogfish and Van Buskirkfound an old speargun that will become Wyatt’s once they clean and repair it.

The following day, Van Buskirk let Wyatt’s older sister Reagan get in on the fun. Van Buskirk and his granddaughter went diving off the beach and she caught several lobsters using a net and a tickle stick.

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