“Just ONE more scallop!” I called after the captain motioned us to the boat for the return trip. I just wanted to find one more mollusc to add to my treasure trove. I was having too much fun and had no intention of stopping. (I get the same way when I look for shark teeth on Venice Beach or prehistoric fossils on the Peace River.) You just can’t get enough…especially when your catch is tonight’s dinner!
From the end of June to mid-September, Florida’s Nature Coast is buzzing with old-fashioned family fun. The Florida scallop season is open for recreational divers and the local rivers and bays are filled with frenetic activity. There are a handful of locations to dive for scallops such as the Homosassa and Crystal River areas or farther up the Florida coast to Steinhatchee on the Big Bend and St. Joseph’s Bay on the Panhandle.
Homosassa Springs, our choice for the scalloping trip, is home to a well-known state wildlife park, not far from the scallop grounds. Quaint and sweet, the park is well worth the visit, especially for the kids. The low-key “old” Florida attraction is complete with a native Florida animal park and a manatee underwater observatory. The actual Homosassa Spring originates at the park.
Planning Your Scallop Trip
If you have a boat, you might want to consider bringing it. (You must have a current fishing license for scalloping.) Otherwise, another way is to hire a captain with a boat. I recommend going to the Citrus County Convention & Visitors Bureau, which will provide you with plenty of information and a list of available guides. We hired a guide ($50 per person) for the half-day boat excursion and it made life easy, especially traveling with someone who knows the area. Another good source for scalloping information is the Sea Grant Marine Extension.
For the trip, be sure to pack cold drinks, snacks or even lunch. Our captain provided the necessary dive gear of masks, fins, snorkels, net bags and a cooler of ice.
We met our captain and boarded a deck boat early morning at the Homosassa Riverside Resort dock, in Old Homosassa. Once you depart the dock, you join the flotilla of boats heading to the Gulf of Mexico. Excitement fills the air as boaters head to the scallop grounds. Boats head to the best scalloping in Citrus County which is around the grass beds bewteen the Crystal and Homosassa Rivers.
The boat ride takes around 20 minutes meandering down the river towards open water. The scalloping grounds are in the shallower waters of Homosassa Bay. We snorkled in five to seven feet of water. All boats hoist diver flags to remind fellow craft that divers are below. Once you have selected a good spot to anchor, the gear goes on and it’s time to get in the water.
Diving for Scallops
In the water, swim on the surface and scan the Gulf floor below. As you orient yourself, you begin to spot the scallops, which are often found on the edge of the grass bed where it meets the sand. Scallops are usually upright with an open shell and have a ring of blue eyes poking through the opening. Grasping the scallop’s closed end is the best way to capture each scallop.
Our captain moved the boat around as we canvassed the area. If we were in a good spot, we stayed. Otherwise, we moved to another location.
More than Scallops
Scalloping is a lot of fun, but the added benefits are being on – and especially under – the water where we saw some beautiful sea life like seahorses, coral, and even starfish. This was an unexpected treat.
It’s addictive, the more scallops you find, the more you want. But wisely, there are limits to what each individual can gather. Two gallons of whole scallops or one pint of meat per person is the law.
Once back on the boat, scallops should be placed on ice or if you are ambitious you can clean your scallops on the boat. A scallop or oyster knife is used to open the scallop and remove the white muscle from the shell. There are also plenty of available (for hire) scallop cleaners on the docks when you return.
Eating Your Bounty
Once you have your scallop collection, you’ll need to keep them on ice. Since we were staying in a hotel, we took some with us to dinner and had them cooked there. (Many of the restaurants will accommodate you for a fee.) We enjoyed a restaurant called Pecks in Ozello, at 139 No. Ozello Trail, off Highway 19 and they did a great job of broiling the scallops in butter, lemon and garlic. I guarantee scallops will never taste as good. The fresh sweetness of the scallops with the garlic and butter was out of this world. For simple scallop recipes, try this link.
We received the restaurant tip from Shelly, owner of Shelly’s Fish Market next door to MacRae’s (in Old Homosassa at 5380 So. Boulevard Drive), near the main boat ramp. If you can’t get enough of the fresh seafood and want to take some home, be sure to stop by Shelly’s. Everything in her seafood case is super fresh.
By the way, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Crystal River and enjoyed it. Very reasonable with a special rate for scallopers.
A few more recommendations for you: get up as early as you can to scallop. It’s a busy time. Also, if you can go mid-week, it’s always a bonus to beat the crowds.
Enjoy one of Florida’s most enjoyable sports – pure family fun for everyone!