Have you ever been scalloping? Me neither! So last weekend, we loaded up the car and drove to Scallop Country – ok, it’s really called Citrus County, on Florida’s west coast (but they’re really famous for their scalloping grounds)! To get your bearings, Citrus County is 90 miles from Tampa, 90 miles from Orlando and 60 miles south of Cedar Key.
We stayed in Homosassa at the Homosassa Riverside Resort, aptly named because it’s right on the Homosassa River. From our balcony, we had a panoramic view of the waterway, bustling with recreational boaters. To me, this resort is ideal for families. First, they have several different sized units. We stayed in a Riverview suite with a kitchen, separate bedroom, and a pullout sofa in the living room. They also have an onsite restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner; an onsite bar with live music; a bait and tackle shop; and a marina with all the fishing and tour boats you’ll need. Lest I forget to mention Monkey Island, just a stone’s throw from shore, where 5 monkeys live and play.
No Special Equipment
In the morning, we walked to the marina and met our expert guide for the day, Captain Don Chancey. He’s got a custom built 24’ Carolina Skiff called Flats Chance and he was ready to show us the ropes. We brought our own food, drinks, masks, snorkels, and sunscreen. Oh, and mesh bags, which I bought at the Bait & Tackle shop for $4. Most guides have equipment to loan, as does Captain Don, but it’s nicer to slobber on your own stuff, don't ya think? (At the marina, we also met a video crew from VISIT FLORIDA. They shadowed us all day aboard a separate boat, Reel 'em in with Captain Todd.)
In no time at all, we were at our first dive spot in the Gulf. Since we were on a ‘vessel for hire’ we didn’t need Florida fishing licenses. Otherwise, you need one, but it’s easy, cheap and you can get one online. Captain Don raised the dive flag and told us how to dive down, pick ‘em up, and put them in the mesh bag. I had my 6- and 12-year old sons with me, and I also brought my 18-year old nephew Luke (since my spouse was working again!) to help keep an eye on the little one. In the water we went!
Scalloping is a combination of snorkeling and Easter egg hunting. When you spot one, it’s really exciting! The water was shallow (5-6 feet) and even Devon could easily dive down and pluck them from the seagrass (he’d take off his snorkel THEN dive down)! Dustin and Luke had an easy time of it. One thing to note: scallops can swim by opening and closing their shells so be a little careful when you handle them as they can pinch. I learned the hard way.
In a few hours, we had more than enough for dinner. Now mind you, we are total amateurs at this, so I’m sure that someone with actual skills could get their limit rather quickly! (The limit is two gallons in the shell or one pint of bay scallop meat per day, per scalloper.)
Cool Off in the Springs
To reward us for our hard work, Captain Don took us to Homosassa Springs, on the opposite end of the river. It was definitely a treat to jump in crystal clear, 72-degree, fresh water after snorkeling! There were lots of folks just floating about, enjoying the day. Many times, you can see manatees.
Cleaning the Scallops
You’ve got a few options for cleaning your bay scallops. You can do it yourself (the Captains made it look easy), or you can hire the locals. You'll see them at the docks (some have signs) and you just hand over your ‘catch’ and some cash, and they’ll hand you a Ziploc of scallop meat when they’re done. Many local restaurants will do it for you, too, if they’re not busy. Just ask.
And, you don't even have to cook them yourselves. The onsite restaurant, Riverside Crab House, will prepare your scallops blackened, broiled or fried for $8.95 a portion. Plus, you get two sides (like Cucumber Salad, Hush Puppies, Greens, Caesar Salad, French Fries, Baked Potato…the list was long)!
Ideal Family Fun
On the Martin Family Fun Scale, I’d have to give our scalloping adventure a Perfect 10. We loved our time on the water and under the water. And the scenery here is "The Real Florida." Picture big ol' trees, winding roads, more wildlife than people, completely unspoiled and full of character.
Scallop season is July 1 – Sept. 10 so you have plenty of time to plan your attack on those sweet little bivalves. I know we are already dreaming of our return to Scallop Country – oops, I mean Citrus County! Stay tuned for the video...