Lobster Fishing Key West | Detailed Guide

Lobster Fishing Key West

Key West is a small island located in the Florida Keys and is known for its Caribbean Spiny Lobster. The spiny lobster, also known as the “spinies,” thrive in tropical and subtropical waters from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

These lobsters are members of the Palinuridae family and have a tough exoskeleton covered with spines that makes them difficult to catch. Every year, people take part in the act of lobstering to harvest these lobsters from their natural habitats. 

The process of lobstering requires skill and knowledge as these creatures can be very hard to find and capture due to their size and agility. But when they are caught they provide an abundance of flavor that can be used in countless recipes such as sandwiches, lobster tails with garlic butter, and more. The meat from a spiny lobster is considered a delicacy throughout Key West due to its sweet taste and firm texture. 

Aside from its deliciousness, the Caribbean Spiny Lobster has become a popular catch for tourists who visit Key West each year for recreational fishing trips. It’s also become an important source of local income as many fishermen rely on these creatures as their primary source of livelihood.

Overall, Key West is well-known for its abundant supply of Caribbean Spiny Lobster which is why so many people visit every year hoping to get a chance at catching these crustaceans!

Whether you come for recreation or business purposes, it’s important to understand the rules concerning harvesting before setting out on your next adventure so that you not only enjoy yourself but also help ensure the longevity of this incredible species!

Understanding Spiny Lobsters

Spiny Lobster
Scientific NamePanulirus spp.
CharacteristicsCrustaceans with a hard exoskeleton and long, spiny antennae
AnatomyLong, cylindrical body with a hard, spiny carapace and large, powerful claws
Average sizeUp to 24 inches
Average weightUp to 10 pounds
HabitatCoral reefs, rocky bottoms, and seagrass beds in tropical and subtropical waters
DistributionThe Atlantic Ocean, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, as well as the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean
DietOmnivorous, feeding on a variety of organisms including algae, mollusks, and small fish
Important FactsHighly valued as a seafood delicacy, with commercial and recreational fisheries targeting spiny lobster worldwide. They are also an important part of the marine ecosystem, serving as both predator and prey. Spiny lobsters are capable of regenerating lost limbs, and some species are known to migrate long distances each year. Harvesting of spiny lobster is regulated in many areas to ensure sustainable populations.

Spiny lobsters are easily distinguishable from true lobsters by their remarkably long and thick spiny antennae, as well as the lack of claws on their first four pairs of walking legs. Unlike true lobsters, they have an exoskeleton that covers their segmented body, which is typically a reddish brown color with dark spots and two large cream-colored spots decorating the top of the second segment of its tail.

Moreover, they also have long horn-like antennae over their eyes which they use to scare off predators, in combination with the smaller ‘antennules’ found near their mouth that detect movement and chemicals in the water.

Furthermore, their legs are short but strong enough to support their bodies while moving along the sea floor. These legs can be used to cling onto rocks or other surfaces for protection against predators or enable them to search for food sources such as mollusks, worms, or crustaceans.

Finally, spiny lobsters possess powerful tails that are used for swimming and fast bursts of speed when trying to escape predators. All these features combined allow it to survive in its environment as well as make it one of the most sought-after seafood dishes around the world.

Spiny lobsters are very active in their habits and behavior at night, as they are nocturnal animals. During this time, they move throughout the ocean floor in search of food. They mainly feed on snails, crabs, clams, worms, and even decaying animal matter.

Depending on their age and size, adult spiny lobsters may also hunt for small fish or other crustaceans. Once a meal has been located and consumed, these creatures will retreat back to a safe crevice or cave where they can rest during the daytime hours. 

During the spawning season – typically March through August – female spiny lobsters carry bright orange eggs on the underside of their bodies until they turn brown and hatch into larvae. These larvae then drift with the tides while feasting on plankton as part of their diet. As juveniles grow older and larger, their diet gradually shifts towards hard-shelled prey such as crabs and clams.

Spiny lobster populations tend to be dense around coral reefs or sponge flats due to the abundance of food sources near these areas. Some species have also developed social behaviors including group feeding which can help increase the chances of finding prey items for the entire group to consume.

Fishing Gear and Techniques for Lobsters in Key West

When it comes to fishing for spiny lobsters, having the right gear is essential. The most important piece of equipment is a hoop net, which is circular and works like a trap. These nets are larger than standard lobster traps and handle deeper water better.

To lure the spiny lobster into the net, bait should be added—anchovies, sardines, raw chicken or even cat food are all good options. Heavy-duty underwater gloves will protect your hands from sharp shells and claws when handling spiny lobsters. A tickle stick can also be used to prod them out of their hiding places if needed.

For those looking to spearfish for spiny lobsters, a net or snorkeling/scuba gear may also be necessary. Finally, you’ll need a lobster gauge to measure the width of any lobsters caught – these must meet minimum size requirements in order to be kept legally. All of these items should fit into a mesh catch bag for easy transport back to shore. 

For successful spiny lobster fishing, having the right gear makes all the difference! Making sure that you have all of the necessary pieces mentioned above will help ensure a productive day on the water and ensure that your catches meet legal sizing requirements.

It’s also important to remember that safety always comes first: heavy-duty underwater gloves are essential for protecting yourself from sharp shells and claws while handling your catches.

Additionally, if you’re looking to spearfish for spiny lobsters then extra items such as nets and snorkel/scuba gear become necessary – practice makes perfect here! Finally, don’t forget about bait – anchovies, sardines, raw chicken or even cat food can all be used as effective lures when hunting these crustaceans!

Fishing for spiny lobster in Key West is an exciting and rewarding activity. The most popular and effective methods of harvesting them are by hand or with the use of a bully net, both of which require specialized gear. Hand capture requires a boat, gloves, face mask, swim fins, and optionally a tickler.

This technique is best done during calm weather in clear and shallow water. With this method, skin divers can directly target lobsters with their hands. On the other hand, the bully net is a specialized dip net consisting of a bag of webbing made from 2-inch stretched mesh that is attached to an iron hoop 18 to 24 inches in diameter which is then fastened to a pole 12 to 16 feet long.

To effectively fish using this method one also needs to use a ‘tickler’ which consists of a metal rod 1/2 inch in diameter that is attached to the end of a 14-16 foot spruce pole. This technique involves stirring up bottom sediment around rocks or ledges where lobsters are likely hiding so they are startled into moving out into the net.

Finding Lobsters in Key West

The Florida Keys are one of the best locations for spiny lobsters. The middle Keys area is especially known to be a great place to go lobster diving. Duck Key, Long Key, Conch Key and Lower Matecumbe Key are popular spots for finding these creatures. It’s common to find them within caves, under rocks, and in the nooks and crannies of the coral reefs – so look out for antennae poking out from possible hiding spots!

To increase your chances of success when searching for lobsters in Key West, it’s recommended that keen divers familiarize themselves with the area. Learn about the structure and composition of the reefs as well as what type of creatures inhabit each spot – this will help narrow down your search quickly.

You can also research when is the best time for lobster diving. Additionally, if you have experience swimming or snorkeling at night under moonlight then you should take advantage of this opportunity as spiny lobsters come out more frequently during this time!

It is advised to have a fishing guide or charter if you are a novice when it comes to lobster diving as they can give you a better idea of the area and help make your experience more successful.

Key West, Florida is a great destination for those who love to fish. In particular, the region boasts a great spiny lobster season, with both regular and mini-seasons offering plenty of opportunities to get out on the water and haul in some delicious seafood. 

The regular season begins on August 6 and continues through March 31. During this time, recreational fishers can harvest lobsters for personal consumption. However, the most popular fishing event of the year is the two-day sport season that falls on the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July every year. This mini-lobster season draws in many tourists from around Florida and provides an excellent chance to land some quality lobsters before the regular season begins. 

A good understanding of tides and currents, as well as proper equipment, is essential for success when fishing for lobsters in Key West. High tides are the best time to look for them, as they will be closer to the surface. As well, be sure to bring along a flashlight and gloves so you can easily spot and handle your catches safely.

Lobster Regulations and Conservation in Key West

Key West is a popular destination for recreational harvesters who are looking to enjoy the many benefits of lobstering. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) has put regulations in place to ensure that lobsters are harvested responsibly and that the species remains sustainable.

Recreational harvesters must possess a valid Florida Saltwater Fishing License with a current spiny lobster permit, and they can keep up to six lobsters per person per day. In addition, the FWCC puts limits on harvesting based on size, as carapace length must be greater than three inches for lobsters to be kept or possessed.

The FWCC also regulates two mini-seasons in late July and the full lobster season beginning August 6th through March 31st. Adhering to these regulations ensures that the Key West lobstering industry continues to thrive while still preserving this important species.


Lobstering around Keys can be a rewarding experience for anglers looking for a challenge. With a few gadgets, research, and careful fishing practices, recreational harvesters can successfully take home some delicious lobsters for dinner. Remember to be mindful of the regulations set by the FWCC in order to ensure a sustainable future for this species. With the proper knowledge and preparation, you’ll be sure to enjoy an exciting lobster diving adventure!