Diving In The Southeast Region With Capt. Jimbo Thomas

Captain Tips

Captain Jimbo Thomas

Late July is a great time to do some diving in my region, whether you snorkel, scuba dive or use a Hookah rig. The entire month of July the ocean is flat, unless we get a big tropical storm moving through the area, so you can pretty much dive anywhere you want out of a small boat. We’re fortunate in that we have crystal clear water most of the time in both the bays and in the ocean.

The lobster diving sport season opens up the last Wednesday and Thursday in July, and then the regular lobster season in Florida opens the first Wednesday in August, so there’s going to be a lot of people focusing on diving for lobsters over the next few weeks. In my area, you can find them in Biscayne Bay as well as the ocean, as long as it’s on natural structure.

The real key to doing well lobstering in my region is to look for the isolated areas of reef or ledges or even a rock, as compared to the large area of reef structure. The ideal thing to find would be a ledge or coral head in the middle of a grassy area. These isolated structures tend to get a lot less pressure than the main reef, and they also draw a lot more lobsters because they’re the only structure in the area, so you’ll usually find them a lot more concentrated in these areas. On the outside reef, you have 50 miles of reef and 10,000 nooks and crannies that the lobster can be in, versus if you get an isolated spot, all the lobsters will be on that spot.

Water depths vary in my area. If you’re diving in the bay, you might be in six or eight feet of water, whereas the most popular reef structure offshore for divers is in 60 feet of water. You can go out deeper if you want to, and find some more reef.

Most divers grab the lobsters with a gloved hand, although a lot of people use a tickle stick and hoop net. If you’re going to just use your hands, a tickle stick is still good to have, as it lets you maneuver the lobster out of the hole and closer to your grasp. All you have to do is reach the tickle stick in behind the lobster and tap its tail from behind, and the lobster will move forward. Just keep tapping it until it gets within reach, and then grab the lobster by its body, not the antenna.

Florida law dictates that you always have to have a measuring gauge with you when lobster diving. So once you grab a lobster, you want to first turn it upside down and check for eggs—you have to release any egg bearing females. Then use the gauge to measure the carapace, and if the lobster is legal, either put it in a catch bag if you have one, or bring it back to the boat. If for any reason the lobster must be released, don’t just drop it, swim it back down to the reef and release it near the structure so you know it doesn’t get eaten before it can find a safe place to hide.

A lot of times where we’re catching lobster, the commotion of digging around the rocks and pulling out lobster or pulling their antenna off will draw hogfish, grouper and other snapper, so it’s a good idea to keep a pole spear ready to go in the boat. Then if you see something you want to spear, you can swim back, grab the pole spear or spear gun and shoot the fish before it disappears.

Spearfishing is really popular in my area, and we get some blue water guys who like to jump out on large floating objects like a tree or pallet. Not so much on weedlines, more like the large floating debris you find out there. Guys will hop out on that stuff and get a shot at a wahoo or possibly a dolphin.

In the spring months, we get a lot of cobia on the big stingrays in close to the beach, and you can run the beaches looking for them and then drop a diver overboard on the rays and let them spear a cobia, but that’s pretty much over by the summer months. All you need is good clean water on the beach in March and April.

If you like to snorkel or scuba dive, there’s a lot of great reefs in my area to inspect, and there’s plenty of places you can dive off the beach and see a lot of tropical fish. We’re fortunate that Southeast Florida has so much natural reef structure that just about any rock, reef or ledge will hold fish.

Captain Tips