Hunting lobster with the Kimbrells

Quentin and Amber Kimbrell hold up a lobster they caught on a boat in the Florida Keys. The couple started lobster hunting in 2018 and fell in love with the hobby. They catch approximately 100 lobsters every season.

Quentin and Amber Kimbrell’s lives are full of roaches. For most of the year, they breed them in Jackson at Quentin’s business, Kimbrell’s Coldblood Inc., which raises and sells Dubia cockroaches to reptile food retailers across the country. But it’s another kind of “roach” — the roach of the sea, more commonly called “lobsters,” which guide part of this couple’s life outside their office.

In 2022, Amber created the company SEMO Short Stays, which specializes in short-term rental solutions and property management of area Airbnbs, after renovating multiple properties in the Cape Girardeau area and beyond. One of the properties she owns, named Pineapple Palace, is located in the Florida Keys. They’ll visit two to three times a year and rent out the home when they’re not there. The main draw of visiting: lobster hunting.

Quentin and Amber met in March 2018 on a scuba diving trip in the Cayman Islands. They had an instant connection, started dating and then tried lobster hunting in the Florida Keys. Their first hunt was on Aug. 6, 2018, the first day of Florida’s lobster season. Similar to their own connection as a couple, Quentin and Amber instantly fell in love with the hobby.

In order to hunt, Quentin says individuals must have Florida fishing licenses with lobster stamps, unless they choose to hunt off a charter boat with a group fishing license. Quentin and Amber typically take their own boat out and scuba dive to depths of 10 to 25 feet beneath the bright turquoise Florida Keys water. This is where their hunt begins.

Amber will hold the tickle stick, a long tool used to poke and lure lobsters out of their hiding spots. Quentin will hold the net. Before they can catch lobster, they must locate them, and this can be a difficult feat, depending on the species of lobster.

Caribbean spiny lobster, the most commonly caught species in the Florida Keys, can be found by spotting their antennas in coves and holes. The Spanish, or spotted spiny lobster, are much smaller and hide upside down under rocks. Amber says the best way to catch the Spanish lobster is by hand, since they are too small for the tickle stick and net. She added that it’s usually Quentin who attempts this. Slipper lobster, the third species in the Florida Keys, are slow, big and easily camouflaged among the underwater rocks and scenery.

Quentin and Amber Kimbrell search for lobster while scuba diving. They met each other on a scuba diving trip in the Cayman Islands.

“[The Slipper lobster] just look like armored tanks,” Amber said of the odd-looking species.

Once Quentin and Amber locate the lobster, they work as a team to catch them. Amber pokes the back of the lobster’s tail, which contains the muscle that propels their bodies backwards. As she nudges the lobster forward with the tickle stick, Quentin positions his net behind it; So eventually, when the lobster becomes frightened, it shoots back into the net. They’ll store their catches in a “lobster hotel,” a small container with a one-way valve carried on the hip.

Both Quentin and Amber agree the most important part of lobster hunting is to follow the laws. Each person can only bring up six lobsters per day, and the lobsters must be present on the person. For example, Quentin couldn’t carry up seven lobsters, even if one of them was Amber’s. He can only bring up six, and if he brings up more, Quentin says he “could go to jail,” unless the extras are Spanish lobsters, which have no limit as an invasive species.

“They do not play down there [in the Florida Keys],” Quentin said. “Every mini-season people will be going to jail.”

Mini-season is the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July every year. Quentin says it is a short season meant to give Florida residents a chance to hunt before the commercial lobster hunting begins on Aug. 6 and lasts through March 31.

During mini-season, Quentin says authorities set up checkpoints to look through boats’ coolers and ensure hunters aren’t breaking the laws. In addition to the lobster limit per person, there are also restrictions on the size of lobster that can be caught. The lobster’s caprice, or body shell, must be at least three inches long, which is why Quentin measures every lobster before surfacing. It is also illegal to catch pregnant lobster. Quentin and Amber say it’s easy to tell if a lobster is pregnant, as there will be over 20,000 orange eggs on its underside.

Three years after their first hunt, the Kimbrells got married on the first day of lobster season, August 6, 2021, in the Florida Keys. For their honeymoon, they chartered a yacht and headed out to Dry Tortugas National Park off the coast of Key West. It was just the Kimbrells and their yacht’s captain, Ryan Jenkins, out on the water for one full week. They brought vegetables, potatoes and ingredients for side dishes on the boat with them, but caught all their protein for meals, including lobster and fish.

In one season, the Kimbrells say they’ll catch more than 100 lobsters, then freeze the processed tails and eat them over the course of the year.

Quentin also likes spearfishing and owns a custom speargun made at Killshot Spearguns in Islamorada, Florida. Anytime he goes spearfishing, Quentin and Amber look for lionfish, an invasive species in the Florida Keys. Lionfish are a venomous marine fish native to the Indo-Pacific sea. Quentin says lionfish are hurting the coral reef and native fish populations, because they’ll “eat anything that’ll fit in their mouth.”

This is why there is no limit on the number of lionfish one person can kill in the Florida Keys, because when someone spears a lionfish, it’s helping the Florida Keys coral reefs survive. Lionfish are also edible and can be grilled like any other fish, as long as the individual is careful when removing the venomous spines attached to their dorsal fins.

Two lobsters hide within the coral and rocks. When the couple hunts lobsters, the first thing they look for is antennas poking out from the underwater landscape.

Quentin says other fish in the reef are starting to eat lionfish, but only if they see the lionfish has been killed by hunters.

“There’s been instances where the groupers [type of fish] will get in your face and bother you, then swim off ‘cause he knows where a lionfish is and he will show you where the lionfish are, so you can spear them. They will wait for it to be dead and then go to eat it,” Quentin said. “You don’t think of a fish being that smart.”

Wildlife is abundant off the coast of the Florida Keys. The Kimbrells often see lionfish, nurse sharks, jellyfish, sea turtles and eels, among other sea creatures. At the mention of the word “eel,” Amber shakes her head. The couple recounts their experiences of eels getting tangled around their bodies and “sliming” up their scuba equipment. To breathe, eels open their mouths wide and gulp water, which Quentin says can make them look aggressive, even if they aren’t.

“They’re not aggressive, but they’re so dumb, you need to stay away from them,” Quentin said.

The Kimbrells underwater activities don’t stop at spearfishing and lobster hunting. They also help transplant staghorn coral in Islamorada’s reefs through Islamorada Conservation and Restoration Education (I.CARE), a non-profit organization focused on restoring the island’s reefs. Amber also says they take trips to Venice, Florida, to search for shark teeth, specifically prehistoric megalodon shark teeth.

“Again, it’s the hunt,” Amber said. “You’re doing something underwater.”

And that’s what the Kimbrells truly love about lobster hunting: The hunt. The thrill. The capture. After lobster season is over for the year, the Kimbrells will usually rent out the Pineapple Palace and wait to return to the Florida Keys until lobster mini-season in July.

Quentin asks, “Why are we going to the Keys if we can’t lobster hunt?”

Watch the Kimbrells’ lobster hunting adventures on their Youtube Channel:

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Amber Kimbrell holds up a lobster while underwater. When hunting, the Kimbrells typically dive 10 to 25 feet below the surface.