HM Lobster Correspondent Rick took time yesterday to explain what mini-season is all about. You thought The Deadliest Catch was dangerous? 4 people died while grabbing the bugs last week in Florida. Luckily, Rick lived to kiss and tell. Below are a few of his anecdotes from years of lobstering off Lower Matacumbe key.
1. What does it mean to "dive the bridge?"
The legend of the bridge grows with each passing year. To "dive the bridge" is to earn a badge of honor. The bridge consists of the ruins of Flagler's Key West Extension to the Florida East Coast Railroad and is approaching 100 years old. This particular bridge spans about a mile of water and is 20 feet high with an arch every 50'. These concrete arches drop into the water and form large bases that have been worn away over time by strong tides and lobsters. There are lobster holes that divers can fit the majority of their body in, if they trust the 100 year old concrete not to collapse. Divers must also consider the sharks and eels hiding in these holes, completely concealed in the darkness of the bridge's shadow. Once the diver has mustered enough courage to wriggle into a hole, he is faced with an abundance of fire coral. This is ok, because the resulting burning sensation relieves the pain from the mosquito bites while relaxing by the pool later on. A diver on the bridge must always have two things, a dive buddy and a knife. The bridges have been converted to fishing piers and anything and everything is down there. Cars, shopping carts, fishing line, nets and anything else you could think that might trap a diver. The intrepid diver faces all of this at daybreak as this is the most concentrated area of lobsters around and if you aren't there first, you won't get any. Tides can run up to 6 knots and it is not uncommon to see boats with angry wives chasing their tideswept husbands out to sea.
2. Who else is out there hunting? Do you see the same people year after year?
The goddess of the bridge is the Mermaid. She's always there and she doesn't care if the tide is running at full steam or not. She is the water beneath our fins, our inspiration to hop in that water and face the gothic arches of the bridge. She is a commercial lobsterwoman with long grey hair and will not hesitate to swim up right beside you and snake the lobsters right out from in front of you. We don't know her name and haven't ever met her above water, so we just call her the Mermaid.
The master of the white spots is a giant of a man named C.A.. He has an old beat up boat just big enough for him to sit on a bucket and five younger men to stand around. The boat doesn't have to be large because the five divers don't spend much time in it. Their job is to catch lobster and they better do it or bring the wrath of CA upon them. CA drives the boat out to a white spot and tells everyone to jump over. They are to swim around and find the holes within the area and when they have a lobster to toss it into the boat as quickly as possible. DO NOT MISS THE BOAT WITH THE LOBSTER!
3. What other fish are you likely to see while lobstering?
The most common big fish is the inquisitive Barracuda. He's always looking for a free meal and if you make a mistake he's all over that lobster. Grouper are often in the holes with the lobsters. Tarpon are common sites at the bridge which is terrifying when the shadow climbs over you because it is also not unheard of to see a bull shark or hammerhead at the bridge as well.
4. Speaking of Barracuda, have you ever known a person to be bitten by one while kneeboarding near lobsters?
A few years ago, my friends and I took the boat out for some nonfishkilling fun. My friend Andy was the first one in on the kneeboard and was up and showboating. He had just finished a 360 when he felt something hit him. All of us in the boat had seen it and couldn't believe it. A small barracuda had jumped into the air and hit his arm dead on. Andy says it didn't hurt until he looked down and saw the blood gushing forth. He stayed on the board for a bit to clear the area despite our calls for him to drop off so we could help him. We travelled the nearly 30 miles down to Marathon Key to find a doctor to stitch Andy up but three days later the resident dentist on the trip proclaimed the wound healed and removed the stitches with his dive knife leaving Andy with a great scar to show while regaling friends of his time wrestling sharks!
5. What's your favorite extracurricular activity besides lobstering while in Lower Matacumbe?
Drinking... there's not a lot to do in the Keys if you cut out the lobstering and the fishing.
6. Do you always eat your catch or do you try out area restaurants?
Squid Row is the best restaurant by far. Try the Snapper meneuire. Nothing better than sitting around the pool with artichoke dip, mexican dip, nachos, and a Corona.
7. Back to lobstering, what do you mean by "single family homes"?
There is a certain vocabulary one must learn in order to not stand out among a crowd of lobster divers. Lobsters living quarters are often personified to describe what is to be expected when jumping overboard. Single family housing are areas where lobsters live in small holes that rarely hold more than one lobster at a time. Typically, it is a sandier area with lots of current. Hotels are large holes holding many lobsters. When a hotel is found it is customary to scream BINGO!!! when you surface and ask for a bag to hold all of the lobster in. Hotels are found in areas called white spots which are bare areas among the acres of seagrass on the bayside. Typically the bottom is hard with a light dusting of sand. Cuts are the edges of grassflats where the bottom drops down five feet or so. These cliffs get "cut" out by the incoming and outgoing tide and provide cover for lobsters to hide in.
8. How would you characterize the mini-season?
A free-for-all decimation of the lobster population throughout the Florida Keys marred by too many people and too many boats. This is die hard competition but no one knows who he's competing against since he's supposedly limited to only 12 lobsters per person.