Florida may be the best fishing destination on Earth. However, as synonymous as the Keys are with fishing, they offer an often-overlooked subset of fishing—chasing shellfish. It’s an odd oversight, as many of the shellfish available in the Keys’ coastal water are among the most delicious fare the sea offers. Don’t forget the performance fishing shirts, though. Like any other Floridian fishing adventure, shellfishing is hard work in hot, humid, or even stormy conditions.
PREPPING FOR A SHELLFISH HUNT
Stalking anything living in Florida’s coastal waters means hours on end under Florida’s unrelenting sun. Facing up to triple-digit temperatures and humidity, with UV rays both streaming down and reflecting up from the water, is no joke, so be prepared. Suit up in a high-performance fishing shirt and invest in a fishing mask. A high-quality fishing mask provides the same cooling cover and UV protection that high-tech polyester fishing shirts do, but for your face and neck. You should also wear polarized shades and a shade-providing hat.
Spiny lobsters may lack claws and be referred to unappetizingly as “bugs” by the locals, but they’re no less delicious than their cousins from Maine. Spiny lobster gathering in the Florida Keys is undertaken by “bug”-hunters in either SCUBA gear or by free-diving purists. Whichever you choose, it’s going to require spending a lot of time on a boat (and in the water) under that harsh Florida sun. Be sure to hydrate, cover up with performance gear offering UV protection, and be vigilant about that sunscreen. Also, don’t forget a tickle stick to coax the lobsters out of holes, crevasses, or cracks, and a “bug bag” to carry them with you once you’ve caught them.
Hunting for stone crabs is one of the most interesting seafood-stalking adventures available. If you appreciate sustainable food practices, stone crabbing is for you. That’s because only the claws of stone crabs are harvested. The crabs themselves must be released unharmed so that their delicious claws can grow anew. Catching stone crabs involves either attempting to lure them with traps or diving for them. Both involve exertion under the Florida sun, meaning it’s an activity that can likewise benefit from the protection of high-performance apparel.
Shrimping is likely the least well-known of the shellfish-catching options in the Florida Keys. That doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. The Florida Keys’ pink shrimp are a local delicacy nearly as ubiquitous and popular as Key lime pie. That’s saying something. Shrimping is mostly accomplished with a net and is pretty straightforward—you watch for shrimp in the water and scoop them up. Your best option is to ask around at the tackle shops for the shrimping hotspots. Shrimping can be done during the day when the protection of high-performance gear is again a must. Or you can beat the heat and shrimp at night when moisture-wicking fabric can help keep you dry and your body temperature regulated.