BY STEVE WATERS
SPECIAL TO THE MIAMI HERALD UPDATED JULY 07, 2023 8:59 PM
The new Chiefy snare is now available for lobster miniseason, which is July 26-27. - JIM MATHIE
Just about everyone who dives for lobsters looks forward to Florida’s two-day lobster miniseason.
The annual event, which this year is July 26-27, is the first opportunity for recreational divers to catch lobsters since the regular season closed on April 1. The commercial season also closed that day, so there should be an abundance of lobsters hanging around coral reefs, rockpiles and ledges.
In addition, because they haven’t been poked, prodded, netted or trapped for nearly four months, the bugs, as they are known because of their insect-like appearance, should be less wary.
Best of all for divers in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, the daily bag limit is 12 lobsters, which is twice the limit during the regular season, which opens Aug. 6.
The miniseason limit in Biscayne National Park and the Keys is six bugs per person per day (www.myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/lobster).
Lobstering expert Jim “Chiefy” Mathie is especially looking forward to the miniseason because his new, innovative Chiefy snare is now available. He developed the snare with Vinny Hogan of Life League Gear/Lobster League, an Oakland Park company that makes a variety of diving and outdoors products ranging from gloves, knives and shears to sunglasses, flip-flops and gear bags.
The snare can be purchased at www.lifeleaguegear.com and in a handful of dive stores.
Unlike most snares, the computer-aided-designed Chiefy snare is made from strong, lightweight aluminum and injection-molded plastic parts secured with stainless steel screws and springs. All of the parts can be replaced, if necessary, instead of having to buy a new snare when your plastic or fiberglass one breaks.
A retired Deerfield Beach Fire Rescue division chief and the author of the how-to lobstering book “Catching the BUG: The Comprehensive Guide to Catching the Spiny Lobster,” Mathie was able to extensively field-test a prototype snare before the lobster season closed and he invited me to try it. I was sold on it with the first bug that I caught.
With its 44-inch length, which is the longest on the market, I was able to insert the shaft deep into a hole in the coral where a lobster was tucked in. Instead of tapping on its tail, a technique known as tickling, I pushed the bug out of its hiding spot with the rigid snare.
“I had a plastic one and sometimes when you tried to stick it in to get a lobster out it bends and you don’t know where it’s at,” said Stan Tsung of Plantation, who pre-ordered a Chiefy snare.
With the bug out of the hole, I placed the snare’s thick monofilament loop around the lobster’s tail and pulled it tight. Unlike my former snares — yes, I’ve also pre-ordered one for miniseason at the introductory price of $74.99, $10 below the cost after the first batch sells out — the lobster was unable to escape no matter how hard it tried.
A unique feature of the snare is a mode selector and thumb release. Lobster hunters can choose the “lock on” position, which is what I used because the snare stays locked. The loop only loosens when the release button is pressed. My previous snares with cable loops never locked this securely, allowing lobsters to slip out unless I immediately grabbed them. And the Chiefy snare’s monofilament loop won’t get bent out of shape.
“I’ve been taking lobsters out of this area since 1981,” said Richard Rice of Pompano Beach. “I’ve tried all the snares and this is the best.”
Mathie and most of his dive crew have used snares without a locking mechanism, which his snare also offers. In the “lock off” position, hunters pull the loop tight with one hand and slide the other hand down the shaft of the snare to quickly grab the lobster. Mathie said that alternative would be ideal when lobsters are clustered together.
“I’m probably going to use it with the lock, unless I look under a ledge and there are 10 of them underneath there,” Mathie said. “Then I’m going to select ‘lock off’ and pick out the big boys.”
Before using a snare, Mathie used a net and a tickle stick, a thin metal rod used to tap a bug out of its hole. The net would be placed behind the lobster in the hopes that it would kick backwards into the net.
“They couldn’t pry the net and tickle stick out of my hands,” Mathie said. “For 25 years, that’s what I used. When they finally got me to try a snare, I said, ‘This is so much easier.’ ”
About 10 years ago, Mathie thought he could come up with a better snare, but there were too many complications, so he shelved the idea. Then he met Hogan, who had the contacts and sources to produce the snare. Eighteen months later, the Chiefy snare is ready just in time for its miniseason debut.
The annual lobster miniseason runs from 12:01 a.m. July 26 through midnight July 27. The regular season is Aug. 6-March 31.
You must have a saltwater fishing license ($17 for residents) and a spiny lobster permit ($5).
The miniseason bag limit is six lobsters per person per day in Monroe County and Biscayne National Park and 12 per person in the rest of the state. The regular-season daily bag limit is six lobsters per person.
Spiny lobsters must have a minimum carapace length of more than 3 inches and must be measured in the water. Possession and use of a measuring device is required at all times. Lobsters must remain in whole condition while in or on the water. No egg-bearing females may be taken.
Night diving is prohibited in Monroe County during miniseason. Taking lobsters in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is prohibited during miniseason. Harvest is prohibited during miniseason and the regular season in the Biscayne Bay/Card Sound Spiny Lobster Sanctuary, Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, no-take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (visit http://floridakeys.noaa.gov) and in the five Coral Reef Protection Areas in Biscayne National Park (visit https://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/bnp).
Dive flags on boats must be at least 20 by 24 inches and have stiffeners to keep the flags unfurled. Dive flags on floats must be a minimum of 12 by 12 inches. Dive flags on boats must be displayed above the vessel’s highest point so the flag’s visibility is not obstructed in any direction. Boats must make an effort to stay at least 300 feet from dive flags on open waters and at least 100 feet from flags in rivers, inlets or navigation channels.
Visit myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/lobster. To report lobster violations, call Wildlife Alert at 888-404-FWCC (3922).