Every year the Florida commercial lobster season ends on March 15th and reopens in early August 1st for traps and harvesting. This little break gives the lobster population a chance to spawn, tend to their eggs, and create the next generation of tasty crustaceans. It also is a time for lobster movement, often from deeper waters, to the shallower reef systems inshore, where food is plentiful and the habitat offers a lot of great hiding places. The last Wednesday and Thursday of July every year are reserved for recreational divers and boaters to get first dibs on all the spiny lobster that have been spawning all spring and summer before the commercial fisheries set their lobster traps. This very special time of the year, as far as the lobster hunters are concerned, is called the ‘mini-season.’ For two days people from the around the country descend down to Key Largo to try their best efforts at catching Florida Spiny Lobster. Although anyone with a Florida saltwater fishing license and a “crawfish stamp” can hunt for lobster during the open season, most non-locals come down only for mini-season. Late July in Florida is a recreational divers Mecca and a frenzy unmatched on the local waterways and reefs during the rest of the year – think the opening day of buck season in upstate PA, just with a lot less snow!
For the past fifteen years, Team IVS divers have traveled from points near and far to Key Largo to take part in Lobster Mini-Season. The size and popularity of the IVS Lobster Mini-Season group has grown steadily over the years starting with just a few people in the early 2000’s to full boats of hunter/gatherers the past few years. IVS combines the two days of Lobster Mini-Season with the group’s usual weekend of Reefs and Wrecks dives in Key Largo, and also often adds a two-day Florida Keys Wreck Trek from Key West to Key Largo option at the beginning of the week to round out a complete week of summertime diving. One of our recent editions of the IVS Lobster week included 17 divers on the Wreck Trek, 24 divers for Lobster Mini-Season and over 30 divers for the Reef and Wrecks weekend – now that’s a lot of diving! The diving conditions all week were a bit windy but manageable for the IVS team. Catching lobster on the shallow reefs off Key Largo can be a bit challenging in bumpy conditions but those same winds tend to keep smaller recreational vessels inland to avoid the rougher seas of the outer reef which meant more lobster to catch for the courageous IVS crew. By Thursday evening last year, Team IVS captured 172 legal sized lobsters in two days of Mini-Season shattering the group’s 2010 record of 107 lobsters and providing the bounty for fantastic annual feast at the Key Largo Conch House.
The Conch House, established in 2004 by Ted & Laura Dreaver, started as the Key Largo Coffee House, and quickly established itself as a great place for a good breakfast. In no time at all, they expanded to lunch & dinner, and at the same time, changed the name to the Conch House to better reflect their all-day fare. Today, with the addition of daughter Stephanie, and sons Justin & John, the family owned Conch House is one of the best restaurants in the Upper Keys due to the establishment’s unmatched combination of ambiance, unique culinary delights and friendly service. Most often, it’s one of the family members who takes care of you while dining at the Conch House. For the annual IVS Mini Season Lobster Feast, the staff of the Conch House graciously takes in hundreds of lobster gathered by the IVS crew and cooks up tasteful dishes of lobster cerviche, lobster fritters and of course broiled lobster tail with drawn butter…Hmmmm!! During one of our most IVS Lobster Feasts, the Conch House served up over 150 lobsters with no leftovers to spare. Forty-plus hungry people generally attend the lobster feast including the complete weekend contingent of IVS Reefs and Wreck divers, some of the staff of our favorite local dive operators, and a few local friends who often dive with the IVS crew. Everyone at the annual lobster feast eat like kings (and queens!) and are guaranteed to have a fantastic time. The warmest appreciation and thanks go out to the intrepid hunters and spotters of IVS who ultimately make this annual event possible. Plus, a big thank you goes out to the professional staff of the Conch House each year for putting together a wonderful annual lobster feast. See you all again next Lobster Mini-Season!