Diving for Bugs

Those of you who have read my previous blogs know that each year my daughter, Brittany, and I make a dive trip. While most of our Daddy-Daughter  trips are to some place new, this year we returned to one of my favorite spots—the Florida Keys—to do one of my very favorite types of diving.

After combing the Internet for a neat place to stay, I found a great place on Grassy Key at the north end of Marathon. What an incredible house it was! While the infinity pool was the high point, the spectacular ocean view accented by palm trees on the beach in front of the house, and the fantastic design made it hard to leave each day. I have included a link to a video showing the place for any of you who might have an interest.

While I love bluewater fishing, the sight of lobster antennas waving from beneath a coral ledge gets my heart racing every bit as fast. Most folks envision the Maine variety with large snapping claws when they hear the word lobster. But the type found in Florida and the Caribbean are spiny lobsters and have no claws. However, the fact that they cannot fight back does not mean that they are easy prey.

First of all, they are typically found poised at the opening to a coral cave which often times extends far into the reef. When they are spooked, they simply retreat far enough back that they cannot be reached, or duck into a side pocket. They are also very fast, especially once they are out in the open. It’s amazing how quick they can move by flapping their tails.

I have known divers who would spear them but I always viewed that as unsportsmanlike. Indeed, Florida has now banned the practice as it is not possible to measure their length to ensure they are legal before killing the creature when using a spear.

The text-book approach is to approach them slowly and coax them out by making them curious. Or by the use of a tickle stick and bumping them in the back of their body. Then the diver can either slide a snare up over their tail to catch them, ease them into a small net, or if you’re fast enough, simply grab them.

There is a scene in my book, “The Aral,” in which a frustrated Dawson chases a lobster over the reef like a mad man when one too many manages to get away. I am not proud of the fact that this story was based on my very own experience which nearly caused my good friends Patti and David Gross to choke while laughing at my underwater escapades.

While diving with David on his brand new World Cat, we hit some of his “secret” spots which were teeming with lobster.

Me and Brittany with our "kill"

Me and Brittany with our “kill”

After harvesting and cleaning our catch, we feasted on “bugs.” Bugs is the “cool” name for lobsters but hardly seems to be an apt description for something that tastes so good grilled with lots of lemon butter.

David even shared his favorite lobster recipe which involves coating them in butter, lemon, and spices and them grilling them inside a foil envelope. I had always par-boiled them so that the meat wouldn’t dry out while grilling but his method was far easier and tastier.

The fruit of our diving efforts

The fruit of our diving efforts

We had rented a boat and on days when we weren’t diving with David, Brittany and I would strike out on our own diving mostly not-so-secret spots. There are two types of spiny lobsters: panulirus argus and panulirus guttatus. Argus are the more common and highly sought after species the harvesting of which is tightly controlled by Florida law. We found very few of these in the spots where we were diving on our own during these first weeks of lobster season. The few we did spot weren’t big enough to be legal. We did, however, spot a number of guttatus.

Though they taste just as good as their argus cousins, they are typically much smaller. They tend to remain hidden during daylight hours, preferring the roofs of coral caves which makes them very difficult to catch. I was proud of the fact that we spotted a bunch and even caught a few that were not tucked into impossibly tight nooks.

Each afternoon, on the way back in after our daily dive trip, we would stop by one of the waterfront restaurants where we would tie up the boat to enjoy lunch. I took the opportunity to try lionfish sushi including the “King of the Jungle” which is served artfully arranged with the head and tail placed at either end of the roll.

"King of the Jungle" lionfish sushi roll

King of the Jungle sushi roll

We would then head back to lounge in the pool and reflect on the day’s dive. Great weather, great diving, great friends, and another great daddy-daughter dive trip.

Where will we end up next year? I have no idea but I do know it will be another great adventure.

Link to house: