Enjoying Florida Scalloping
Scalloping off the Gulf Coast of Florida has been referred to as an adult Easter egg hunt. These tasty mollusks can be easily found in west coast waters of Florida. They are very sensitive to freshwater and will move to deeper water after strong rains and at the mouth of rivers. Some old-timers will say, “The scallops are here.” The idea that scallops migrate to shallow waters is an old fisherman’s tale. Scallops actually stay close to grass beds where they were born. Scallops spawn in early fall, and with one scallop laying up to a million eggs it doesn’t take long to repopulate an area. The eggs float around for a few weeks before they attach to blades of sea-grass.
Rest assured, even if you do not harvest a single scallop, fond memories with friends and family can be made in the beautiful old Florida water!
It is essential to have a dive flag, mesh bag for your catch, mask, snorkel, and fins (gloves are optional). The current can be strong and will wear you out fast if you do not have on fins. Scallops can be caught by hand (gloves are optional, they do pinch) or dip net. When caught, be sure to place it into a brightly colored small mesh bag, in case you drop it you will have a better chance at retrieving.
Before you go, be sure to purchase a Recreational Saltwater License at MyFWC.com/license/recreational/saltwater-fishing/
The 2020 bag limit is 2 gallons of whole scallops (in the shell), or 1 pint of scallop meat per person per day with no more than 10 gallons of whole scallops or 1/2 gallon of scallop meat aboard the vessel at any time. Scallops can be harvested by hand or with a landing or dip net. They can be evasive critters for not having anything but a clapping shell to move with. They are also masters of camouflage in the grassy areas they inhabit. Some refer to it as looking at a crossword puzzle; your eyes will begin to see them better the more that you do it. Tip: Look for their blue eyes lined on shell opening.
Please refer to map of legal harvest areas for the 2020 season and always be sure to reference the FWC website for the most up to date information.
Scallops can be found in water 2 – 8 feet deep all dependent on the tide. Look for clear water with sea-grass beds along sand holes. The best time to hunt is on the slack tide when sea-grass blades stand straight up. 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 of the state’s west coast.
If you see a scallop and surface for air before picking them up be sure to mark the spot, they can easily blend back into the surrounding sea bed never to be seen again. Scallops may try to swim away using their strong adductor muscles (The sweetmeat you are after!). They usually do not swim away unless approached and if they do they do not swim very fast or very far. Tip: Always look for the boats; there are usually many boats in the scalloping grounds even during weekdays!
Cleaning the Harvest
When you return to your boat, your catch should remain in the ocean water until you are ready to prepare for cleaning. When you are ready to clean them, place on the ice in a cooler out of the melted ice water. Scallops are sensitive to temperature as well as salinity changes and can quickly die. The ice relaxes the adductor muscle that holds the shells together and makes them much easier to open. You can use a knife or a spoon, to open the shells and scoop out the internal organs. Some people purchase an inexpensive wet-dry vacuum to suck out the intestines. You can leave the meat in the shell or remove it for meal preparation.
Consider Booking a Guide
Many local guides are available for surprisingly affordable rates! Half days as low as $200 are not hard to find. Navigating these coastal waters can be extremely challenging and many seasoned boaters have damaged their boat motors lower unit to rock beds in low tide. Websites such as FishingBooker.com can provide you with an easy way to book your next adventure.
Good luck and be sure to tag us with #StaySeasoned in your adventures!