It's scalloping time!

By Tracey Minkin
July 15, 2020
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Courtesy Florida's Sports Coast

Summertime is scallop time—and while you may think this just means ordering them up fresh from local seafood shops and waterfront restaurants, it can mean something far more fun for folks willing to grab a snorkel, fins, and mesh bag, and head for the warm, crystalline waters off Florida's Gulf Coast.

It turns out that you can be your own scalloper (with a proper license and perhaps a little help from a captain who knows the best scalloping grounds), and the pursuit is every bit as enjoyable as the bounty. 

How to Scallop

If you can swim, you can scallop. The bivalves (these are officially bay scallops) love to hang out in sea grass anchored in the shallows (see below), so your quest is to snorkel quietly along the surface water gazing down through your mask. When you spy a scallop, you'll likely see its shell opened up toward you, and the goal is to slide your hand down around the creature before it catches on and swims—yes, swims!—away. 

Courtesy Florida's Sports Coast

Believe it or not, scallops swim with tiny bursts of locomotion that propel them through water, so "catching" them does take a certain degree of stealth (and maybe even a little skill), which only make the process more focused and incredibly fun. Slide your quarry into your mesh bag and keep on snorkeling... what could be better? On a rich scallop ground, you can easily net enough bivalves for your share of dinner, and most captains will help you clean them before heading back for that fresh-from-the-Gulf meal. 

Courtesy Florida's Sports Coast

Want to see how it all goes down? Here's the folks from Florida's Sports Coast doing the scalloping thing:

When and Where to Go Scalloping in Florida

Scalloping season runs from mid-June to late September—but the official season varies along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Hire a local guide to handle your license and catch requirements and check out these insider spots for snagging your share of the treasure.

Florida's Sports Coast

Opened for the first time in 2019 for recreational scalloping, Pasco County (known as Florida’s Sports Coast) is easily accessible via Tampa and offers a short, rich season from July 17-26. Book your excursions with Captain Mark Dillingham, a local scallop savant. Get the whole scoop, here. 

Homosassa and Crystal River

An hour north of Tampa, the towns of Homosassa and Crystal River perch along fresh-water rivers flowing into the salt Gulf (a brackish combination that scallops love) and are charmingly old-fashioned base camps. Grab a guide from the Homosassa Guides Association (see if legendary Captain “Red Ed” is available). The season runs from July 1-September 24. Get all the information you need, right here.

Steinhatchee

Farther up the coast, the old Florida fishing town of Steinhatchee claims to be the world’s scalloping capital (its season runs from June 15-Labor Day), and Captain Crystal Pesek of Crystal Sea Charters offers trips for groups of up to 6 people. Explore your options in this sweet scalloping spot, here.

Saint Joseph Bay

The serene protected waters of Saint Joseph Bay off the Florida Panhandle are home to Black’s Island Vacation Resort and open for scalloping August 16-September 24. 

Want to know more about scalloping? Visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for more information.