Later this month some 200 divers will descend on Lauderdale-By-the-Sea, Florida to celebrate the start of the eight-month commercial lobster season with BugFest-By-the-Sea, a dive festival and competitive lobster hunt (boasting $15,000 in prizes) that starts at midnight on July 30 and ends with a 4 p.m. weigh-in the next day.
Bring in the biggest bug caught on either a boat dive or right off the beach and walk away with $500 cash (last year's champ tipped the scales at nine pounds). The biggest lobster caught on Tuesday's midnight beach dive wins an Atomic Z3 Regulator, while the biggest caught Wednesday morning off each of the dive boats nets the hunter a wrist computer. The prize for the highest total weight on either Wednesday or Thursday is $250, with a charter trip being awarded to the 24 divers with the highest total weight for both days. There's a catch limit of 12 lobsters, and legal size limits apply.
If you're new to lobster hunting, there's a free seminar onsite. While scooping up lobsters from the floor sounds easy in theory — just tickle a lobster's backside and, when it walks forward, place your net behind it — reality proves a bit more difficult; the spiny sea bug may have small claws, but it's fast.
“A kick of that tail and they go about 25 yards in three seconds,” says experienced diver and lobster hunter Steve d’Oliveira, the event organizer. “There is definitely a learning curve, but it’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it.”
In addition to the contest, BugFest features free snorkel trips and workshops on beach diving, underwater photography, lionfish, and reef fish identification. Wreck diving and PADI Digital Underwater Specialty Certification Courses are available for a fee. If you are already certified, Lauderdale-By-The-Sea bills itself as Florida's beach diving capital, with a natural reef only 100 yards out and an artificial one just 200 feet offshore. Popular boat dive sites include the Sea Emperor, a 170-foot hopper barge upside down in 75 feet of water, and the wreck of the Rodeo 25, a 215-foot Dutch freighter that sunk down 90 feet just off Pompano Beach in 1990 and now harbors French angels as big as platters, as well as blue tang, damselfish, and Goliath groupers. Divers can also explore the Copenhagen, which crashed into the Pompano Drop-off during a storm in 1900 and is now a State Underwater Archaeological Preserve, and the Mercedes, a 190-foot wreck in about 85 feet almost due east of Sunrise Boulevard.
More Info: Greater Fort Lauderdale waters remain warm year-round, ranging from 72 degrees in winter to 80 degrees in summer. The area is the only place in the continental US with a living coral reef accessible from the beach, and has the largest collection of warm-water wrecks in the Western world, together offering 100+ dive sites. To compete for prizes, BugFest registration fee is $20.