Gulf Coast Scallop Season: Catch Them While You Can
Steinhatchee, Homosassa and Crystal River are hotbeds for scallops. Catching the mollusks can be fun; eating them is the reward.
By Terry Tomalin
Steinhatchee – Jim Henley can't wait for the Gulf Coast’s scallop season. The Harvard-educated fishing guide likes to catch his share of finfish, but when the summer wind blows, he drops everything to hunt for these tasty mollusks.
"This is my favorite time of the year," said Henley, who gave up a successful career in the financial industry to spend more time on the water. "The scallops are big and the meat is sweet. It just can't be beat."
Henley, a Georgia native, tells his clients that they will be in and out of the water in a matter of hours. "I guarantee they will find all they need to eat and then some more. The scalloping here is that good."
This fishing town of fewer than 2,000, about three hours north of Tampa, was one of Florida's first settlements. Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto and President Andrew Jackson were visitors. Today, Steinhatchee caters to the outdoors crowd.
For most of the year, tourists come to fish the rich grass beds for trout, redfish, sheepshead, black sea bass, mangrove snapper and tarpon. But when summer comes, local fishing guides break out the Bimini tops for their boats and switch to scalloping in Steinhatchee.
Steinhatchee, Homosassa and Crystal River are the state's prime scallop grounds. In these Gulf of Mexico communities, freshwater rivers flow into the ocean, stirring up the right mix of salt and fresh water for the scallops to thrive.
If rains are heavy, too much freshwater can flood the bay and wipe out a crop. If the water is too salty, they die.
If you're looking to get in on "the hunt" during the Gulf Coast’s scallop season, then you'll need a boat, mask, snorkel, saltwater fishing license and dive flag. The best time to go is on a slack tide, when the grass blades stand straight up.
Bay scallops are masters of camouflage. It takes a keen eye and steady hand to locate these critters in the thick beds of shoal and turtle grass that flourish in the shallows off the state's west coast.
Once you spot a scallop, get ready for a chase. These mollusks, unlike their clam and oyster cousins, can swim. By squeezing their shells together, scallops expel a jet of water that rockets them across grass beds.
As you approach the scallop, beware of the bivalve's bewitching stare. These animals have a row of purple eyes that can mesmerize even veteran scallopers. So don't be distracted. Many a scalloper has returned home empty-handed after hesitating at the moment of truth.
And remember that while a scallop may look harmless, it is a wild animal trying to survive. The scallop's strong adductor muscle, which provides the delicate meat that you seek, can snap the shells shut like a vise. Scallops will pinch, and it hurts.
When talking about the shellfish, old-timers sometimes say, "The scallops are in." But the idea that scallops migrate is an old fish tale. In fact, scallops stay close to the grass beds in which they were born.
These creatures spawn in the early fall, and it doesn't take many to repopulate an area. One scallop can lay a million eggs that float around for two weeks to a month. The eggs then attach to blades of grass.
When You Go...
There are advantages to delaying a scallop search until later in the summer. First, the scallops are bigger, which means more meat for the table. Second, most people think the grass beds have been picked clean. So on a weekday in August, you pretty much have the place to yourself.
It is legal to land up to two gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell, or one pint of scallop meat each day during the open season. Recreational scallopers may not possess more than 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell or a half gallon of meat aboard any boat.
You may catch bay scallops only by hand or with a landing or dip net. They cannot be sold for commercial purposes.
For more information on seasons, zones and a map, go to myfwc.com.
Charters and Tours
Ready to experience what's often described as an underwater Easter Egg hunt? Here are some area outfits that will take you on a scalloping adventure.
Black Pearl Charters
Just tell this full-service charter company what you want, and the folks there promise to deliver. Besides scalloping, they offer inshore and offshore fishing, spear fishing, jet ski tours, eco tours, private manatee viewing tours, booze cruises, a day at the sandbar and more. www.fishblackpearlcharters.com/
Blue Heaven River Tours
Great Captains! Great Boats! Great Prices! These are just a few of the reasons this company is ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for things to do in Homosassa. Since they’re located a mere seven miles from Crystal River, you’ll spend less time traveling and enjoy more time searching for scallops and exploring the scenic river. Blue Heaven also features swimming with the manatee and nature tours, dolphin tours and fishing tours. www.blueheavenrivertours.com/
Book to Hook Fishing Charters
Locally owned and operated, Book to Hook offers private half or full day charters for up to three people on their custom, 21-foot guide boat. They aim for their guests to be comfortable, excited, and happy-- and to catch a bundle of scallops. booktohookfishingcharters.com/
Buccaneers West Coast Charters
Discover the pristine waters of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Homosassa on a scalloping jaunt with Captain Randy Cribbs, an expert inshore flats fishing guide. He’ll provide the license as well as the scalloping gear. bwccharters.com/
Captain Mark Zorn
Take your pick from a private, group or family fishing charter with Captain Mark Zorn, an 8th generation native Floridian. Climb aboard his 24-foot Carolina Skiff to experience an exciting, tasty treasure hunt for scallops. www.discovercrystalriverfl.com/directory/captain-mark-zorn-scalloping/
Captain Mike's Fishing Adventures
Captain Mike Brothers, a master captain, certified diver and expert instructor, lives on the Gulf of Mexico, only four-and-a-half-miles by boat to the scallop grounds. It’s one of the few charters that will take out just two people, so if you’re looking for a day of private adventure, he’s your guy. All snorkeling gear is provided. scallophunter.com/crystal-river-scalloping-captain-mike-brothers/
Captain Mike's Sunshine River Tours
Sunshine River Tours invites your gang to join them for a fun day hunting for scallops in the Crystal River area onboard one of their 20-foot pontoon boats. They offer guided manatee tours, airboat rides, snorkeling, kayaking and equipment rentals as well. swimmingwiththemanatees.com/
Captain Rick Spratt Charter Fishing
Captain Spratt specializes in manatee tours, inshore fishing, scalloping -- and good times. He promises that on every trip, the day is yours to create as you please. www.captrickspratt.com/index.html
Captain Ron Barton
What’s your pleasure? Choose from a scallop trip, ecotour, dolphin tour in the Gulf, or a manatee tour to the springs. www.discovercrystalriverfl.com/directory/captain-ron-barton-scalloping/
Cast N Reel Fishing Charters
Cast N Reel Fishing Charters believes each fishing charter is about sharing quality time with friends and family, and they’re dedicated to delivering that experience by creating close ties with each customer to best understand their needs and preferences. www.discovercrystalriverfl.com/directory/cast-n-reel-fishing-charters-scalloping/
Discover one of the wildest rivers left in Florida on your scalloping trip: the Chassahowitzka River. Pristine, natural and scenic, this spring-fed river is accessible only by boat or canoe. www.chassahowitzkacharters.com/
Crystal River Fishing Adventures
Let Captain Jeremiah Carlucci, an experienced angler who has been working on the water for over 20 years, guide you on your quest to catch ever-so-yummy scallops. The seven-hour adventure includes a short drive out to the scallop grounds through a mangrove forest, a fun day of scalloping, and a journey to beautiful Three Sister Springs to end the trip. www.crystalriverfishingadventures.com/
Crystal River Guide Service
Charter fishing, scalloping trips and private manatee tours are a few of the ways you can experience the abundant marine and wildlife of the Nature Coast with Crystal River Guide Service. crystalriverguideservice.com/
Crystal River Kayak Company & Dive Center
Offerings include scalloping trips, kayak rentals, kayak trips, dive tours and SCUBA certification, plus boat tours to swim with the manatees. The Crystal River Kayak Center boasts the closest launch to Three Sisters Springs. crystalriverkayakcompany.com/
Crystal River Watersports
Crystal River Watersports offers scalloping as well a wealth of activities that can be combined for a full day or even weekend of fun, including manatee tours in Crystal River, Indian River and King's Bay – and they can teach you to SCUBA dive, too. www.discovercrystalriverfl.com/directory/crystal-river-watersports-guides/
The folks at Explorida urge you to spend your summer enjoying salty dives and sweet memories on a scallop charter, which includes all the gear you need as well as an in-water guide. Your captain will share some of his favorite recipes with you, or give you the inside scoop on local restaurants that will cook your catch for you. explorida.com/scallop-charters/
Fantasy Fisherman - Captain Aaron Shields
Explore the waters of Florida’s Nature Coast with this experienced captain on a scalloping adventure. He also takes visitors on fishing adventures of all kinds. discovercrystalriverfl.com/directory/fantasy-fisherman-captain-aaron-shields-scalloping/
Flats Chance Charters
Enjoy a half day of scalloping on the pristine grass flats of Homosassa with Captain Don. For the best of both worlds, combine a scallop excursion with a flats fishing trip. www.flatschance.com/homosassa-scalloping/
Florida Cracker Riverside Resort
If you’re looking for an old-Florida vibe, you can’t do better than the Florida Cracker Riverside Resort. Snuggled against the banks of the Homosassa River, the resort’s marina offers scalloping equipment and tours in addition to boat rentals and manatee tours. www.floridacrackerriversideresort.com/
Fun 2 Dive
Billed as a one-stop water-fun shop, this semi-private guide service will take you on a scenic boat ride into the Gulf of Mexico’s clear-water grass flats, where you’ll find plentiful scallops as you snorkel amid the fascinating sea life. This highly-rated company also offers manatee tours. www.fun2dive.com/tours/scalloping-adventures/scalloping-trip/
High Octane Fishing
Your aquatic Easter Egg hunt – as scalloping is often described-- will begin as a boat ride out to Crystal River’s grass flats, where your Captain will keep track of your limit and will even help you clean your catch. High Octane Fishing also provides inshore, offshore, shark, flats, and back country fishing charters. highoctanefishing.com/scalloping/
This Florida flats fishing guide will take you on a scalloping expedition, or one focused on catching redfish, trout, grouper and tarpon. www.homosassafishing.com/
Homosassa Fishing & Manatee Charters
On this scalloping adventure, all you need to bring is some sunscreen, a snack, and an ice chest to bring home your catch; leave the rest to Homosassa Fishing. For a special treat, indulge in the VIP/Extended Day Trip which includes the scalloping charter as well as a snorkel tour of the surrounding in-shore reefs, rock piles and caves, capped off with a dip in the crystalline waters of the local springs. www.homosassafishingcharters.com/scallopingcharters.html
Homosassa Red Fishing
Captain Charlie invites you to join him for a day of sun, swimming and scalloping in the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll need to bring your own mask, snorkel and fins; Captain Charlie supplies the license, scallop bags, and ice coolers. www.homosassaredfishing.com/scalloping.html
Hooked Life Charters
Captain Bill Matthews of Hooked Life Charters urges you to bring an underwater camera to take pictures on your search for scallops-- the sea life is stunning and plentiful. The company features full and half day trips, affordable rates, friendly service, a fishing license, and all the gear you need. www.discovercrystalriverfl.com/directory/hooked-life-charters-guides/
Huntin & Hookin Adventures
Book a full or half-day charter for a scalloping trip with Huntin & Hookin Adventures in beautiful Homosassa. Inshore fishing charters and manatee tours round out the offerings. www.discovercrystalriverfl.com/directory/huntin-hookin-adventures-scalloping/
J. Lowe's Guide Services
Captain Jason Lowe’s mission is to catch scallops and have fun doing it, and he’s a staunch believer that your day on the water should be a trip to remember, whether it’s your first trip out or your 100th. He also offers inshore fishing trips targeting redfish, trout, cobia and sharks. https://jlowesguideservice.com/scalloping-trips/
Manatee Tour & Dive
The folks at Manatee Tour explain what scalloping with them is like in these words, “You will float along the surface quietly, patiently, over a sand bar in the Gulf of Mexico, and take in the wonderful world of various fishes, plants and coral. Then suddenly you will see one. A scallop! Take a deep breath, dive down and grab it before someone else does!” manateetoursusa.com/scalloping/
Merry Manatee Tours
Enjoy a private scalloping charter on the Homosassa River and Gulf of Mexico custom-tailored to your needs. The Merry Manatee offers nature tours, manatee observation and photography and sunset cruises as well. www.discovercrystalriverfl.com/directory/merry-manatee-tours-guides/
Nature Coast Charters
This private charter claims Crystal River scalloping is the best. They have a good point, since the scallops are plentiful, the water is shallow and clean, and the water temperature is usually between 72 and 90 degrees. www.naturecoastcharters.net/scalloping.html
Nature Coast Manatee Tours
Dive into family-friendly fun on a six-hour trip exploring the scallop beds of Homosassa Bay on the Yabba Dabba Too! houseboat. All gear and lunch are included. The company also features private manatee tours and shark fishing charters. www.swimwiththefloridamanatees.com/
Plantation Adventure Center & Dive Shop
Perfectly situated on the headwaters of the Crystal River at Kings Bay, this full-service marina and dive shop facility offers scalloping charters as well as manatee tours, fishing, birding, diving, and sunset tours. The marina is encompassed by an eco-friendly, 232-acre resort, The Plantation on Crystal River, which offers package deals that include accommodations and breakfast with your scalloping trip. www.plantationoncrystalriver.com/marina-and-dive-shop.htm
Red Ed's Adventures
Captain "Red ED" Brennan describes scalloping as ‘part snorkeling experience, part treasure dive and part saltwater fishing experience.’ Vastly experienced, he invites you to spend quality time with your family and create memories that will last a lifetime. www.homosassaredfish.com/scalloping.php
Redfish Hunter Charters
Splash in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico on a scalloping charter; your mask, fins, snorkel and mesh bag are included. Airboat and inshore fishing tours round out the offerings. www.redfishhunter.com/
Reel Time Outfitters
Reel Time says, ‘When the sun hits those little bluish eyes in the shell, you know you’ve found what you’re looking for.’ Choose from a scalloping trip, a fishing trip, a combination of the two, or adventures like ‘gator or turkey hunting. www.facebook.com/ReelTimeOutfitter/
River Adventure Tours
River Adventure Guides aren’t only excellent scalloping guides; they also understand the importance of hospitality combined with a fun and comfortable setting. You can try other adventures, too, including kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing and airboat tours.
River Safari’s highly qualified captains ensure you’ll have a phenomenal scalloping trip to the Gulf of Mexico. Everything you need for the day’s adventure is included. The company also offers boat rentals and airboat, pontoon, and manatee swim tours. www.riverventures.com/scalloping
Choose a semi-private, six passenger scalloping trip, or for the ultimate thrill, combine it with a manatee snorkeling experience.
Salt River Outfitters
Salt River Outfitters knows that Crystal River and Homosassa boast the most pristine saltwater and grass flats for scalloping, and they’ll share their favorite spots with you. Their services run the gamut from fishing guides to waterfowl, hog, and gator hunts in central Florida. www.saltriveroutfitters.com/scalloping-tours/
Sea Education Adventures
Climb aboard the ‘Big Blue Barge’ for a scalloping journey, a sunset cruise, a full-moon adventure, or a swim with the manatees. seaeducationadventures.com/
SeaDaddy's Dive Center
SeaDaddy’s can take you on a scallop trip, but that’s just the tip of the sandbar. Their services include manatee swims, kayak rentals, fishing trips, spear fishing, dive tours, snorkel tours, and eco and bird watching, as well as dive and snorkel instruction. seadaddysdivecenter.com/
Dive into fun on a scallop trip with third generation fishing guide Captain Kelly Kofmehl. All of his charters are private trips, tailored to meet your needs, whether you’re a newbie, an avid angler, old, young or somewhere in between. www.spottailscharters.com/
A Florida native, Captain Duane Baker has been fishing the back country of the Citrus County coast for twenty years, and he vows to make every effort to ensure you have a great day scalloping. You can also enjoy back country fishing and eco-tours with the Captain. windsplittercharters.com/