Local divers take advantage of two-day mini spiny lobster season, encounter shark

It’s not every day that lobsters show up on the docks in Destin. But if it’s the two-day spiny lobster mini season in July, the lobster is going to make an appearance.

And local divers didn’t disappoint Wednesday and Thursday as they brought in a bucket of lobster each day captivating folks as they walked along the docks.

Capt. Tom Schmitz of Emerald Coast Scuba and five others went out both days on the Under Pressure.

Wednesday they brought home 32 shovelnose lobster, half dozen or so lionfish, a couple of black snapper and a few goggle eye.

“It was very calm, nice and beautiful today,” said Bryan Hill of Fort Walton Beach who loves to dive.

As a matter of fact, Hill said, “I’d rather be under the water than above the water.”

Wednesday was a good and productive dive.

“The visibility was good for 40 feet … you saw everything, red snapper, amberjack, triggerfish," Hill said. "The whole spectrum was out there.”

Included in that spectrum were several shark, or as Anna Schmitz referred to them, “the men in gray suits.”

“We saw bunches of (sharks),” Schmitz said, who owns the dive shop with her brother, Tom Schmitz. “They were kind of doing their own thing … nobody got aggressive with them.”

On one dive Anna said she saw three shark. Tom was going down on a solo dive, but didn’t make it very far when saw six shark at one time. His 20 minute dive turned into a three-minute down.

Nevertheless, the crew was able to make three successful 20 minute dives each and grab up plenty of shovelnose lobster.

Tom said they were diving to the west of Destin in about 100 feet of water.

“They are all the way on the bottom. The low lying rocks are where I find more lobster than the bigger stuff,” he said.

And the shovelnose, or slippers, tends to live in clusters, so when you find one you want to look for others, Tom said.

In the daytime, the shovelnose lobster is looking for shelter. He explained they will be in holes, underneath the rocks or ledges hanging upside down.

So how do you capture one?

“Strictly do it by hand,” Anna said. “The first thing you do when you see one is, chill out, take a deep breath, relax.”

Secondly, she said, to let out air and get on their level.

“With these guys they hide upside down under the wreaths," she said. "Don’t hesitate or they’re gone.”

Sometimes if the lobster is down in hole, a diver will use a “tickle stick.”

Anna explained that you maneuver the stick in the back of the hole and tickle the lobster on the tail. At that point the lobster thinks something is behind it and walks out.

“Then you can invite her dinner,” Anna said, noting the lobster is hers to keep at that point.

However, it’s a bit different with the spiny lobster.

“They are called spinies because they are covered in rosebush thorns that can cut you up like crazy,” she said. "Bag them tail first."

On Thursday, the Under Pressure crew backed in with three spiny lobsters, about a dozen or more shovelnose and a porgy.

Schmitz said they saw 10 spiny lobsters, but only kept three because the other seven had eggs, which are not suppose to be harvested.

This time the shark, which usually stays at bay, got a little pushy.

Diving instructor Jason Dodd was in a hole and started to back out with a lobster when he got “bulldozed.”

“He bulldozed me with his head,” Dodd said.

At that point, Dodd and the other guys headed to the surface.

The shark didn’t attack, but Dodd said it did follow them up, making him a bit edgy.

As for what kind of shark, Dodd said, “big.”

But despite the unwelcomed visit from the “men in gray suits,” the divers got their lobsters.

Lobster season opens up Aug. 6 and will run through March 31.

There are no limit on shovelnose, however, Anna said if there are about six or eight in a cluster, they only take a couple.

As for spiny, the limit is six per person.