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Scalloping: Florida Adventure of a Lifetime

By Diane Bedard Posted on May 28, 2019

This is the five year anniversary of NatureCoaster.com. In honor of the event, we will be running two weeks of our most popular stories, beginning with our first scalloping adventure in Homosassa.

It was early – much earlier than I like to wake up. The alarm was scheduled to go off in 7 minutes, but I was ready to greet the day. I had been counting down for two weeks and I was ready to go on my first scalloping adventure!

At one time, the West Central coast of Florida supported a robust commercial scallop industry, with 400,000 lbs. of bay scallops being harvested in Florida in 1957. By 1992, the commercial harvest was near zero. Fishery groups banded together and worked to restore the scallop populations to healthy levels and by 2005, most years showed a healthy level.

2016 pre-season surveys showed a good population in the Nature Coast, so this would be the year to actually try this area tradition. Because my husband is not fond of seafood, I sought another friend to try the adventure with me.

When to go Scalloping & Who to Charter with

2019 Scalloping season information is available here. You can find a NatureCoaster partner to book a scalloping tour with here.

We enjoyed the sunrise as we eased up the Homosassa River, headed out to the scallop grounds.

Starting out early gets the best catch

Jade Palmer was the brave soul who jumped in my car at 6 a.m. and we traveled to MacRae’s of Homosassa to meet Captain Ed Brennan of Red Ed’s Adventures at 7 a.m. sharp!

Ed is a 50-something Irishman who has lived in Homosassa since the mid-1980s. He claims that he is the undisputed “Scallop King.” As part of our charter, everything we needed to hunt for our shellfish: snorkel, mask, fins, a bag to put our bounty in, and instruction in the technique that was most likely to yield the most scallops was included.

After we settled into the open boat, Red backed into the Homosassa River. The surface of the water looked smooth as glass while we glided away from civilization.

The captain opened the engine up; the air was fresh, the water still, and the sunrise was breathtaking to behold. We drove past several inlets, channels, and tiny mangrove islands that broke the surface irregularly. At one point a mullet fish flew alongside the boat!

We surely appreciated the beauty and tranquility of being some of the first scallopers on the water that day.

Getting out early has its advantages

Captain Red was navigating the Salt River out toward the Gulf of Mexico. We traveled for a half hour with the world to ourselves. As the engine hummed, Jade and I enjoyed the beauty of the sun rising over Florida’s Nature Coast.

The boat slowed to a stop amidst lush sea grass beds. The Crystal River Power Station was in the distance. All around us was peaceful and serene. This is the environment that scallops thrive in. Our Captain put up the dive flag to warn other boaters that we were swimming about as required by Florida law.

Jump in and get Scalloping NatureCoasters! You’re gonna LOVE it!

Ready, set your dive flag, and get wet

We donned our snorkel, masks and fins, lifted our legs over the side of the boat and dropped into the clear salt water, enveloped in balmy wetness.

I looked down and sure enough, there was a scallop sitting upright in the grass below. I took a deep breath, bent at the waist and dove with my arm extended to pluck it from its nest below. I joyfully placed it into my net bag and looked around for Jade. She was floating peacefully turning her head back and forth to locate the elusive bivalves below.

Jade shows off a beautiful, gentle starfish that she found while searching for scallops.

Found it – and then they’re all over!

Suddenly Jade dove, then quickly came back to the surface, showing her catch. Captain Red cheered us on. He helped us to dive more efficiently, sharing some of his “Scallop King” techniques and was able to assist in harvesting the gallons and gallons of deliciousness we brought back to shore.

We swam into the current so that when we got tired, it was an easy float back. The current was tricky to see from above the water, but when submerged the sea grass flows back and forth with the current and the sparkle of sunlight breaks through the water, creating a whimsical pattern.

Recreational Scalloping is a blast. If you choose to go on your own, remember to get your Florida Saltwater Fishing license and use a dive flag.

It’s like swimming in a giant aquarium

Fish were swimming with me, under me, by me. Soft corals and sea anemones were embedded in the grass. The underwater life was stunning. It was such a magical experience to be in that giant “aquarium” that I forgot the purpose of my snorkeling several times and just relaxed in the sea.

Suddenly another scallop would appear below bringing me back to focus. Our captain had explained earlier that if you find one scallop, there are often more in the vicinity. He claimed to have brought up at least ten in a single breath.

scalloping
The net can help you hold multiple scallops per dive, if you can hold your breath.

Can you get more than one at a time?

Although I tried on multiple occasions to bring up more than one scallop in a breath, I inevitably ended up breathing in sea water and still harvested only one scallop, either dropping the other or kicking up the sand which reduces visibility and thusly, how many scallops I could find, so I resigned myself to being a single scalloper for my maiden adventure.

In the twinkling of an eye, Captain Red called us back to the boat. It was time to return. With his help, we had amassed 5 gallons of raw scallops and would now head back to the dock for cleaning and cooking. As I looked around, there were many boats dotting the vista now, each with a dive flag and snorkelers searching for the prized Gulf bay scallop. It was about 10:30 a.m. “That’s why we leave at 7 a.m. promptly,” Captain Red said, “It gets crowded out here, especially on weekends.”

Scalloping diver image courtesy of FWC. Image by Tim Donovan.

The scallops are alive and active

Jade and I looked down at the scallops and watched them jostling and spitting in the five-gallon bucket. It was entertaining. Take a minute to enjoy the video.

We gave each other a high five and sat down while the Captain took up the boat’s anchors. The waters had stayed serenely still. “The quiet water helps with visibility,” Captain Red said, “It’s a lot easier to see the scallops when the water is clear.” We agreed and were very happy with our adventure’s harvest.

localboys scallop cleaners in homosassa
Local Boys offers dockside cleaning of your fresh caught scallops in Homosassa.

Local Boys cleaned our scallops for a nominal fee

As we pulled up to the dock at MacRae’s, Local Boys Scallop Cleaning was there to clean our catch. The $5/gallon to clean them was more than worth it to me.

This seasonal enterprise, owned by Cletis Huggins, and operated by the Huggins family is available throughout the entire scallop season.

While the scallops were being cleaned, Captain Red walked us over to Shelly’s Seafood and Wild Sassa to experience some local fresh seafood places. Homosassa is a tight-knit fishing community, proud of its offerings. Wild Sassa can cater your scalloping adventure if you feel so inclined. I am told that the food is amazing, whether you eat at the picnic tables out front or on your vessel.

fresh scallops cooked for us
We made arrangements ahead of time with Oysters restaurant in Crystal River to cook our fresh-caught scallops for us.

Have your scallops cooked for you too

After tipping our captain, we picked up our cleaned scallops and headed up to Oysters in Crystal River to have our fresh catch cooked. I called William Bunch, Oysters owner and Chef, to alert him that we were coming. He welcomed us when we arrived and took our freshly caught and shucked scallops to the kitchen for processing.

After agreeing on having some scallops blackened and some fried, Jade ordered clam chowder and I ordered gumbo. We enjoyed the soups and relished in our adventure as we waited for the main course.  William went back to work his magic.

We were still giddy from our adventure and talked about how beautiful the water was, how much fun it was to hunt for scallops, and the wonderful feeling of the salt water while communing with the sea life in the Gulf.

scallop dinner by carol lyn parrish
Scallop Dinner catch by Carol Lyn Parrish. Image courtesy of FWC.

There are more than scallops in a scalloping experience

We had seen dolphin, osprey, mullet and who knows how many fishes swimming around us. Jade commented, “The water, the sea life, and waving sea grass made this experience more than I could have imagined. The scallops are a bonus – and I can’t wait to eat them!”

Just how good are fresh caught and cooked Gulf of Mexico scallops?

In time, William came back with two large bowls of our catch, one blackened and one fried, along with plates for each of us with heaping sides of macaroni and cheese and his delicious hush puppies.

The scallops were so tender, succulent, flavorful… and satisfying. Wow! We ate them all.

Now it was time for a nap, so I dropped Jade off and that night I went back to my kitchen.

scallops on the half shell
Scallops on the Half Shell: easy, quick and delicious!

But wait – there’s more…

We still had a lot of scallops left, including about 4 dozen we had the Huggins’ clean “on the half shell.” I placed all my scallop shells on cookie sheets and preheated my oven to 450 degrees. After melting ¼ cup of butter, I gently brushed some on each scallop in its shell. Then I sprinkled blackening seasoning on and placed them in the preheated oven for 3 minutes.

Delicious, nutritious and fun. I ate every one of them while they were hot. The fork was leaving too much scallop on the shell, so I switched to a spoon and enjoyed every morsel.

Scalloping is fun and easy for all ages and fitness levels. FWC photo by Carol Lyn Parrish

The Short & Sweet skinny on Scalloping adventures in the Nature Coast

Hopefully this article has helped to whet your appetite for a scalloping adventure. It is so fun and easy!

There are a lot of ways to go scalloping, from frugal (wade out in the gulf) to top-shelf (charter your Captain) and in-between (take your own boat or better yet – join a group charter). Whatever way best fits your budget, you are sure to enjoy the experience of floating in the Gulf, hunting for each scallop and then bagging your catch. And, of course, consuming these delectable gems.

For all the latest Florida FWC regulations on scalloping, click here.

There are several scallop tour operators on NatureCoaster.com. The ones at the beginning of the list are our partners. They paid to be listed first, which helps us keep NatureCoaster.com work for you. But give any one a call and book your trip before September 24.

2019 Scallop season map
The official Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission Scallop season map for 2019.

Don’t forget to Book Ahead

Many local restaurants will cook your catch. It is a good idea to call ahead to make sure they can accommodate you.

The dock at MacRae’s of Homosassa is the only place I know of that has a scallop cleaning service. Many captains will clean your catch for you. Some have a set price and some will do so for a tip, but please make sure you are clear about your expectations before booking your charter.

If you are going to rent a boat to participate in this endeavor, please discuss this with your marina before you rent. You will need a saltwater fishing license, snorkel, mask, fins, and to show a dive flag, as well as knowledge of where to find the scallops. You will want to have a cooler and ice to store your bounty while you travel, as well as sunscreen and drinks for your time on the water.

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