Since getting PADI Open Water Scuba Certified, my friends and I have wanted to go lobstering! What is lobstering, you ask? Well, July in Florida marks the beginning of lobster season. The season kicks off with two days of "mini-season," which is always the last consecutive Wednesday/Thursday in July (07.29.15-07.30-15). This year, the regular season began on August 6 and will run until the end of March 2016. In order to participate, you must purchase a Saltwater Fishing License and Lobster Permit ($5). After the mini lobster season, you can hunt for lobsters during the day or at night statewide across Florida! Imagine wandering the depths of the ocean at night looking for delicious creatures to eat? (No, we did not go at night this time around. However, I plan to ASAP as lobsters tend to wander around more at night looking for food and mates!) There are tons of regulations I will not bore you with (Re: number of lobsters per license, locations to hunt, taking females with eggs, etc.), but you should check them out or ask local dive shops if you plan on lobstering.
The plan of action: Camp at Curry Hammock State Park on Marathon Key Friday night, then rent a boat on Saturday for snorkeling, free diving, and lobster hunting! Our campsite was located directly across from beach access, which was perfect for nighttime hangout. As I was in the second carpool crew, I arrived at our campsite after dark, but the initial appearance of our campsite was incredible. We drove past an RV with large screen projector before arriving at our simpler and more appealing tented site, lit by an array of tealights and candles. Smells bacon and beef flooded my senses thanks to Grill Master Alejo who always knows how to season a burger. We feasted on the near-gourmet meal before tapping into some brews and talking about life's adventures. Together, our crew of eight campers has been to more countries than I could ever list. I was thrilled to be surrounded by like-minded individuals. We marveled at the sky where you could actually see the Milky Way galaxy! I have never seen such a sight, except for in photographs (sorry, no photographic tools I had with me were able to accurately capture this beauty). We spoke of travels, relationships, and the expansive phenomenon of space. Hopefully, we did not bother nearby campers with our late-night Aguardiente shenanigans and discussions.
In the depths of Sombrero Reef, our intention was not to hunt lobster as it is not permitted in this Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA). The ocean itself was a magnificent blue and green, and seemed never-ending as the horizon met the sky and the clouds reflected pristinely on the subtly rippled surface. Because Sombrero Reef is relatively shallow, we were able to explore its depths by snorkeling and free diving. During free diving, you can engage your inner mermaid by wandering the depths of the ocean without any gear. Unlike mermaids, however, the amount of time spent underwater depends on your breath-holding skills (something I plan to practice!). Oh, and I nearly lost my GoPro in attempt to swim after a sting ray I saw in the corner of my eye, not realizing my GoPole was no longer to my wrist strap as I feverishly began my chase. Fortunately, the GoPole floats and I found it on the surface not too far from where I wandered (thus, I recommend this extension of you plan to use a GoPro in water).
We anchored at a few other spots in search of lobster outside of preservation areas. Using the team approach, we successfully caught SEVEN lobster through a combination of tickling, netting, and picking up lobsters. Perhaps if we used a divide and conquer approach, we would have actually found more lobsters, but our group efforts led to successful catches with each lobster found. Unfortunately, since the "carapace length must EXCEED 3 inches in length," our team of hunters were only able to keep ONE of the lobsters we caught. It was GLORIOUS and EXHILARATING to catch the lobsters! I was only able to hold my breath for an average of five seconds during our active hunts due to adrenaline and excitement. I also swallowed a good amount of salt water (oops).
After hours of boating on the glassy and expansive ocean/bay, our sunburnt crew of eight returned to the boat rental center under Captain Ness/Brian's navigation. The captains allowed me to control the boat's speed and direction for some time, which was my first time behind the wheel of a boat (and not be my last!). Due to our exhaustion, we elected to have Robbie's of Islamorada cook our lobster tail while also being able to feed the monstrous tarpons. The meat to our lobster tail was tougher than we preferred, but delicious - even sans melted butter (who serves lobster without butter?!). Surprisingly, I was more fearful of the tarpons than I imagined I would be because of their aggressive, gigantic nature (have you ever seen one?). One of them literally leaped out of the water with a massively open mouth to eat one of my fish. He was unsuccessful in getting my fish, and luckily I was successful in capturing his attempt on video.
What do I have to say about this trip? For one, I will definitely be boating in the Keys again - hopefully with a crew similar to this one. Secondly, lobstering is badass. Thirdly, I appreciate the beauty of the ocean and its creatures more than words can say. Meeting the lobsters, nurse shark, parrot fish, sea urchin, GIANT starfish (sorry no picture as I drifted from it after having my GoPro thrown to me from a friend on the boat!), and other creatures was thrilling and humbling. I'm so grateful for the crew and the experience. Now for some pictures!
Note: Videos to be added soon. Stay tuned!