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Scallops. You’ve certainly heard of them and have probably eaten them, but have you ever gone hunting for them? If not, you’re in luck. Here’s what you need to know about scalloping season in Florida. Well, what are you waiting for? Dive in!
First, Some Scalloping Basics
There are two types of scallops, sea scallops and bay scallops. Sea scallops, also known as U10 scallops, are the larger of the two. These are found on the ocean floor, around 200 meters beneath the surface. A little smaller than a ping pong ball, they are a seafood restaurant staple. If you get your hands on some wrapped in bacon, you won’t be sorry. We can talk about those another time, though. The star today is the bay scallop.
Bay scallops can be found in shallow water—as little as two feet deep—making them very accessible and fun to catch, even for children who are good swimmers. Bay scallops are about the size of your fingertip, around a third of the size of a sea scallop. They may be tiny, but they sure are tasty! These delicious little morsels will quickly become a favorite food, especially once you learn to catch them for yourself. Want to hear more? Keeping reading.
Planning Your Scalloping Trip
So, what does it take to go scalloping? There are a few things you will want, in order to have the best time possible:
- A house, cabin, hotel or motel room on the water by the scalloping grounds, preferably for three days or more. We especially love a more rustic motel with an old Florida, log cabin look and feel. It adds to the adventure.
- A laid back group of friends who are up for a good time.
- A boat (yours, a friend’s or a rental). Possibly more than one boat, depending on how many are in your group.
- A saltwater fishing license from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (one per person who will be scalloping).
- A dive flag, masks, snorkels and fins, mesh bags, two 5-gallon buckets per boat, lifejackets and rafts for the kids (we like to bring a paddleboard leash or bungees to hook rafts to each other and to the boat, as there can sometimes be a strong current), water bottles, snacks and lots of sunscreen.
- Several old spoons that you don’t mind getting a little scratched up. (More on that later.)
Pro scalloping tip: Pay attention to the bag limits, no matter your boat capacity. Since you are allowed to keep two gallons of scallops per fisherman or ten gallons per vessel, you’ll want no more than five people per boat, for maximum scallop hunting success. Otherwise, the boat may hit its limit too quickly, before everyone is done for the day.
The Adventure Begins
On the west coast of Florida, scalloping season typically opens up around June or July and runs into September. During this time, you will have the chance to get out and catch these tasty morsels for yourself. Always consult Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Recreational Regulations for Bay Scallops for seasons, harvest zones and bag limits before planning a trip, as these can vary greatly by destination.
At this point, the real fun begins. We like to head west to Homosassa, a small town loaded with charm, state parks and springs. We drive through beautiful tree canopies to a little motel right on the river that offers boat dockage, a super-convenient feature for daily boating excursions. They have grills and kitchens available (because scalloping can be hungry work), there is an onsite restaurant and bar for when we don’t feel like cooking, and live music most nights. The onsite boat ramp right is a nice perk as well.
We like to arrive the day before our first outing. This allows time to comfortably bring boats over, get them in the water, unpack, relax, and begin to soak up the feeling of being on vacation.
Scalloping Day is Finally Here
The day kicks off with a hearty breakfast cooked in our efficiency, followed by an eight-mile trip down the winding river out to the bay. This journey isn’t really for the faint of heart. It’s a fun, curvy ride and markers indicate hidden rocks below the surface, so you definitely want to pay attention to the buoys and stay on the beaten path.
The good news is, there will likely be hundreds of boats making this journey with you, so don’t worry about getting lost. If you follow these boats out to the scalloping grounds, they will give you a pretty good indication of some of the best scalloping spots, too. Be sure to watch for local wildlife, such as frolicking dolphins, on the way.
Once you pick your spot, anchor up and raise your dive flag, just get on your mask, snorkel and fins, and jump in. Don’t let the timing of the boat ride fool you. Depending on tides, you’ll only be in about four to eight feet of water. As you swim around, just keep your eye out for scallops down below. When you see one, dive down, grab it with your hand and toss it in your bag. Note that they will try to swim away, which is pretty hilarious to watch the first time it happens to you.
Congratulations! You’re an official scalloper.
The Scoop on Scalloping Success
You should know that when you see your first scallop underwater, you will think it is the size of a softball and that you’ve found one of the biggest bay scallops ever. You didn’t—your eyes are playing tricks on you! The water has a magnifying effect, which you’ll quickly realize once you bring it to the surface.
Scalloping may not always be easy as it sounds, as they can blend in with the sand or hide in the tall seagrass. Look for their glowing blue eyes, think of this as an underwater Easter egg hunt and have fun! Once you get used to it, you’ll be an expert in no time.
Pro scalloping tip: Where you see one scallop, you will likely see another three to six, so look around and try to grab as many as you can before making a trip back up to the surface.
The Scalloping After-Party
When you are on a good scalloping spot, you can reach the limit in just a few hours, or less if you are more aggressive. It can be so nice out on the water, that it’s a shame to have to go in. Don’t worry, the fun doesn’t have to stop. We like to tie boats together, crank some music and float on rafts with friends for a while before heading back. And then after that, you get round two of the fun river ride, which is even more exciting with a captain who is skilled in navigating the curvy path.
Next, you need to decide what to do with your scalloping spoils. Back near the docks, you will find plenty of entrepreneurs willing to shuck your catch for a few bucks a gallon. This is the easiest answer, as you just drop off your buckets and when you come back, they’re ready to cook. The biggest benefit here is that you can go right to the next bit of scalloping adventure fun…your post-scalloping swim in a brisk natural spring.
Just pass Monkey Island (yes, monkeys actually live there) and head over to this refreshing 72-degree hidden gem. Though it is adjacent to Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, you can only get here by boat. Float on a raft, enjoy your beverage of choice, rinse the salt water off and just chill out—literally.
Another way to really get into the spirit of the trip is to shuck the scallops yourself. There are plenty of theories on the best way to do this. One method involves tossing their scallops on ice so they open right up and using a knife (the entrepreneurs seem to prefer this), but while this can be effective, it is also dangerous so we don’t recommend it.
Scalloping hack: Use the spoon approach instead. Keep the scallops in water in the bucket, as they will naturally lay with their shells open. Simply take the spoon, place it into the open shell and the scallop will “bite” the spoon. Next, pry it open and use the curve of the spoon to trace the inside of the shell and remove the meat. It helps to have your group together doing this, and it also helps to have a cold beer handy. If your group has some kids in it, they can even handle the job.
Before calling it a day, enjoy your fresh catch and go listen to some live music at the bar, which also happens to be near the boat ramp. This is where the real entertainment is.
It gets crowded—very crowded—during scalloping season. You’ll sometimes see boats lined up twenty deep to get in or out of the water. Not every boater is an ace with a trailer, and the loading and unloading process gets more nerve-wracking when there’s a crowd watching your every move. Those who don’t know what they’re doing should prepare for some friendly heckling by both the scalloping crowd and the locals.
This is a right of passage that all who wish to go scalloping endure. And for on-lookers, it may very well end up as one of the most memorable parts of your trip. Once you’ve witnessed enough of the fun, go kick back, relax and think about doing it all again tomorrow.
If scalloping sounds like a fun adventure, don’t hesitate to start planning your trip. Between the limited harvest zones and short season, reservations go quickly–sometimes up to a year in advance. As with any boating trip or vacation, proper planning will make a world of difference in the experience that you have. And with those details all in place, you’ll have plenty of time to start gathering scallop recipes!
WANT TO READ MORE?
If this trip caught your eye, be sure to check out 7 Hidden Gems in Florida You Did Not Know Were Fun, too.
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Photo Credits: Michelle Knapp
Source: Sea Scallops vs. Bay Scallops: What’s the Difference?, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Recreational Regulations for Bay Scallops, MacRae’s of Homosassa, Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park