About three weeks ago, Oksana and I took her brother and sister-in-law, Andrey and Natasha, down to Key West. They were visiting from Russia and we took it upon ourselves to show them a good time. Andrey received his PADI open water certification course in Katmchatka this spring — in the COLD! — just so he could dive with us here in the States.
On our last trip through Key West, Oksana and I stumbled upon a little dive shop called Dive Key West. We had a wonderful experience with them, so we knew right where to take Andrey. What we didn’t realize, however, was that we would be there for the opening day of lobster season…
Technical notes: I had a little problem with… ahem, I mean I was fortune enough to have a learning experience with the audio on this podcast. I don’t know why our Zoom H2 picked up interference from our iPhones — they were both clear across the room and it’s never happened before — but our “clean” audio track was riddled with cell phone noise. The (slightly) lesser of two evils was to use the crappy audio record by the Canon 5D’s on-board mic. I have no idea where the clicking sounds throughout that track came from (because we were careful to turn off the AC and check for other noises in our hotel room.) At any rate, I did the best I could with a little noise reduction and music. Anyway, next time: phones powered all the way off.
The following is a transcript of the above video for Google’s benefit (ignore it, watch the video instead!)
So we were back in Key West, getting ready to do our dives, and we asked what they had available and the guy behind the counter said, “Oh, are you going to be here for the start of lobster season?” And I said, “Tell me more…!”
On my previous 28 dives, I’ve been drilled to never ever touch any marine life under water. Having to catch lobster was a huge change. We had no idea what we were getting into!
We had three people going on the dive: Arlo, Andrey, and myself. We signed up for the dive, and paid for our guide, who gave us a brief introduction:
(This is Cole)
“Get my attention and be like, ‘Big! Lobster!’ and I’ll come over and I’ll try to get it, okay?” (This is Oksana translating for her brother…) “If you guys just want to practice with some smaller ones, or something like that, then, you know, go ahead and do it.”
We decided to purchase one Lobster Assassination Kit. The Lobster Assassination Kit consisted of a tickle stick, measuring tool, a hand net, a mesh bag, and a pair of rubber gloves.
“He’s going to be inside, underneath one of the ledges of coral. So you’re going to go behind him and you’re going to tap his butt, okay? Because when you tap the butt, it’s sort of like when they’re in the wild, the larger ones stay in the back of the hole and they tap the other ones with their antennae when they’re trying to get out, so they move out of the way. So you get behind them, put this up against the coral and you tap them out, until they get over here, and they you can either just tap them into there, or if you spook them, they swim backwards and they’ll actually just swim straight into the net. Put it down, okay? If you’re holding it up here, they can swim back out, so make sure…”
“We’re going to be working our way out to the reef out here. It’s going to be a 25-minute ride out. Ten minutes prior to the arrival, the captain will let us know, I’ll pass that information onto you guys. Trying to give you a little early warning there, so that way you can be ready to get into the water once we’re on site. Especially if you are sitting close to the stern of the vessel, please try and be ready before we’re there…”
When you’re on a dive, looking for lobsters, you tend to swim around and look for little holes under the rocks and what you look for in those holes are two antennas sticking out. And when you spot those, you know there is a lobster in there.
Most of the little lobster holes we found would have one, or maybe two, lobsters, but we were incredibly lucky because the second lobster hole we found… there must have been ten of them underneath this one rock and there were three, separate entrances. But we had no idea what we were doing.
We had only one Lobster Assassination Kit. We really had to figure out a way to work as a team, and we had to do it fast!
We’d start out just jamming the stick under there and wiggling it around. We were swimming into each other and kicking each other in the face. We were catching regulator hoses on other people’s equipment. It was… it was chaos; it was a nightmare!
But before long, we got our teamwork down and had one person tickling the lobsters out, while another person would capture them with the net and then two people would swim together, measure them, and figure out a way to extract them from one net and put them into the bigger bag. It’s not until you tickle them out from under that rock, that’s when you realize just how fast lobsters are! And those suckers would jet off, so quick!
And, by the way, they swim backwards.
By the second dive, we could essentially have done it ourselves. I was getting pretty good at tickling them out of the hole, tapping them just in the right direction, so they’d swim right into the net. And the only thing I couldn’t do, without the gloves, was transfer them into the keeper bag.
All that chasing around, after those lobsters, paid off for us.
We had to let go any whose carapace were smaller than three inches and any egg-bearing females. So, while we caught maybe 20 lobsters or so…
We ended up catching nine of them. I would have stopped at four lobsters, one for each of us for dinner, but Oksana’s brother wanted as many as we could possibly get. He was having a blast under water!
And it was really fun to sit on the deck of the dive boat, and having our dive guide count all of them, because we got really good-sized lobsters.
“Oh, very nice”
Back on the dock, we were shown how to clean our lobsters…
“Are you supposed to cook them first? Or does it matter?”
“So you stick the antenna up his butt, and you pull out the poop track. It’s called an “antannenema!”
We ended up just putting ours on ice and taking them to a restaurant.
(Restaurant, Conch Republic)
They ended up cooking all nine lobster tails for us, and serving them on a huge platter. Almost more lobster than we could eat… And it was really cool to see it brought out on the plate and all the people around us in the restaurant, they were like, “Ooo, look at that plate!”
For my brother, it was his first dive out in the open water, in the warm water. And he loved it! He loved chasing lobsters and he was so excited when we got out. He said, “You know what? Next year we’re back in Key West, and we’re diving again. Diving for lobster!”