We’ve lived in Pinellas County for 15 years and last year was our first time going scalloping. This is now an activity that our family will enjoy each summer. If you’re not a boater or if you’ve never been scalloping before there’s a lot of information you need to know before you get out there.
What is scalloping? Think fishing, but for scallops. Bay Scallops can be found off the gulf coast starting in June each year. Bay scallops are smaller than sea scallops that we get at most restaurants – but just as tasty!
When is scallop season? Depends on where you want to go in Florida, but the scallop season opens in June and runs through early Fall. You do need to check these dates each year since the exact dates do change from year to year. Visit https://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/bay-scallops/ for full details.
Gulf County: Aug 16-Sept 24
Franklin – NW Taylor County: July 1-Sept 24
Fenholloway – Suwannee River: June 15-Labor Day
Levy, Citrus, and Hernando Counties: July 1-Sept 24
Pasco County: 2023 Dates – July 1-Aug 6, 2023
Where do you go scalloping? Can you do it from a beach or do you need a boat? There are some places in Florida where you can wade out from public beaches to scallop, but most scallop collecting happens from a boat. The top scalloping locations in Florida include: Homasassa Springs (best by boat), Crystal River (best by boat), Steinhatchee (boating or from beaches), and Port St Joe (boating or from beaches). If you’re in Hillsborough or Pinellas Counties, the best spot to go is just north of Tarpon Springs near Anclote River. We’ve scalloped in both Pasco and Crystal River and had totally different experiences at both locations.
We don’t have a boat, what do you recommend? Find a friend with a boat or charter a boat. In the popular scalloping areas you can join a tour boat or hire your personal boating captain to show you the ropes. If you’d like to scallop in Pasco County I’d highly recommend Anclote Charters. We hired Capt B for our first scalloping trip and it was an amazing experience! They knew exactly where to take us to find scallops and had all of the equipment that we needed. I’ll talk more about equipment in a minute. In Crystal River my brother rented a boat for the day. The main difference here was not being familiar with the prime scalloping areas – we had to move around several times and never really had the same experience on our own.
What equipment do you need to scallop? Good news, you don’t need much! Bad news, don’t wait until the day before your trip to find everything. During scallop season the stores tend to run out of the essentials.
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Drawstring Mesh Bag – you’ll need something small and lightweight to collect scallops in while snorkeling.
Snorkel Set – You really only need a mask and snorkel – you can skip the flippers!
Dive Flag – If you don’t have a dive flag you MUST get one! It is required by law and will keep you and your party safe! It alerts other boaters that there are people in the water so they are required to slow down.
Reef Safe Mineral Sunscreen – You shouldn’t go out in the sun without a good mineral sunscreen. If you’re in the ocean a reef safe sunscreen is best! We love the Stream to Sea brand – a local Florida small business!
Cooler – You’ll want a cooler on board the boat with you to keep your scallops cold. Fill the cooler with water to keep them alive until you get to shore. Then add ice to get them home safely.
Other items that might come in handy include a sun hat (keep your scalp and face safe from sun exposure on the boat ride), swim shoes (these are extra but if you don’t like feeling sea grass on your toes you’ll want them), dip net (to help you gather a swimming scallop), gloves (again, not necessary but a scallop can close on your fingers).
Where and how do we scallop when we find the spot? Scallops hang out in shallow sea grass beds. When we went in Pasco County it was less than 7-9 feet deep and we could stand up in some spots. In Crystal River the sea grass beds were a little deeper, closer to 10 feet in depth. You’ll probably anchor the boat near other scallopers so you’ll know you’re in the right place. Look for sea grass and then look for scallop shells. Once you find them the first time you’ll know exactly what you’re looking for. They typically hang out near the bottom, hiding in the sea grass. It’s easy to miss them. You may notice 2 little beady blue eyes looking up at you. As you reach down to grab them they may close their shell or swim off. Some scallops can be seen from the boat, while others are hiding a little deeper in the sea grass. If you’re going for your first time I highly recommend taking someone with you who’s scalloped before. Once you grab the scallop slip them into your mesh bag and keep hunting!
Is there a scallop limit? Do you need a license? What are the rules? I recommend reviewing the FWC Website for current regulations and daily limits. Each county has their own limits. Find them here: FWC Bay Scallop Season and Bag Limits
Can you eat bay scallops? How do you cook them? Yes – bay scallops are delicious! They are much smaller than sea scallops so you’ll need a lot of them – but no more than your daily bag and vessel limit allows! When we scalloped in Pasco last season we had plenty of scallops for a meal. In Crystal River we went late in the season and had some trouble finding a good spot – so we decided to stop by the store on the way home to buy extra for dinner! You have a few options for cleaning and cooking your scallops. If you don’t want to hassle with cleaning them, most marinas have a restaurant nearby that will shuck and bag them for you. If you’re lucky, you may even find a restaurant that will cook your meal for you!
How do you clean scallops? This part was new to us. Our boat captain showed us real quick before we went home and we quickly realized it wasn’t something that was easy to repeat on our own. We managed to figure out a system after watching a few YouTube videos and with some practice. I’m sure there are several tricks that experienced scallopers will be able to share – but here’s how we did it!
We decided to bread ours lightly and pan fry them. Next time I’ll skip the breading and just sauté them in some butter for a few minutes. They were delicious and well worth the time it took to clean them – but next time we’ll probably spend a few extra dollars at the marina to have them professionally shucked!
This year we’ve decided to go on our friends boat who have never been scalloping before. They have the boat and know their way around the water and we know where to go and how to scallop. It’s a perfect combination – and what’s more fun then spending the day on the water with good friends!! You can stay out all day and you will be exhausted when you get back. Be sure to pack plenty of snacks and lots of water!
Have you been scalloping? First time planning your trip? Leave a comment below and share a tip or question. I’m happy to help answer any questions you may have.
Plantation on Crystal River has some amazing packages if you are traveling to scallop. We stayed there earlier this year when we went swimming with the manatee. Starting July 1st, guided scalloping package rates start at $829* for mid-week stays for two guests and includes:
- Two-night stay in a garden or water view deluxe room, patio room or golf villa
- Guided scalloping tour including mask, snorkel and fins with one of the area’s top captains
- Souvenir bag with mesh scalloping bag, scallop recipes and water
- Chef-prepared cook-your-catch from the day’s harvest (scallops or fish) for lunch or dinner and serve with two sides**
- Breakfast daily
For those bringing their own boat, rates for the unguided package begin at $429* for mid-week stays for two guests. This rate includes ramp launch, trailer storage and seawall tie. Seawall tie is first come-first serve.
Once daily scallop limit has been reached, they can be prepared by the hotel for a delicious cook-your-catch meal. Guests are asked to help protect the precious waters by not putting empty scallop shells back in the water.
If guests choose not to book a scalloping package, guests can still have their scallops cooked**. For just $15.95 per person, the chef at West 82° Bar & Grill will prepare guests’ shucked scallops during lunch or dinner one of four ways: scampi style, au gratin, sautéed in lemon butter or Chef’s choice. The meal also comes with two sides.
For more information on Plantation on Crystal River, visit PlantationonCrystalRiver.com or call 800-632-6262.