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Scallop Season And How To Catch Scallops For Beginners

Bay Scallops Of Florida: Complete guide for How to catch your limits

One of the best times of the year is scallop season in Florida. Thousands of people flock to north Florida's Gulf coast for their chance to catch bay scallops. Many people often refer to scallop season for North Florida as the lobster season is for the Florida Keys. Honestly, this is something everyone should experience at some point in their life. It is something that should be planned out to avoid the madness of the crowds. We hope you will learn from our experiences and have the time of your life. We have carefully put together a beginners guide for scalloping the gulf side of Florida successfully. This complete bay scallop guide should prepare you for this scallop season. We can not catch them for you, but we can prepare you for when you get out there to catch your limit of bay scallops enough to feed your family a delicious scallop dinner.

When Is Scallop Season In Florida

Scallop season in the Florida Gulf runs from June 16th to September 30th. The FWC has broken down the counties where you can harvest bay scallops into 8 different regions. These regions include Gulf County, Franklin County, Dixie County, Taylor County, Levy County, Citrus County, Hernando County, and Pasco County. Each County or scallop zone has its own time frame of when scallops can be harvested. 

FWC 2018 Scallop Zones

FWC 2018 Scallop Zones and Harvest Dates

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute keeps tabs on the bay scallop population and usually can accurately predict pre-season reports as to how well the season will be. From our experience early in the season and the more rural parts of the gulf coast from Steinhatchee, Keaton Beach and St. Marks seem to be the best areas for harvesting scallops. Every year we travel to Steinhatchee Florida to partake in scallop season and always come away with our limits.

Where To Stay And Eat In Steinhatchee

Sea Hag Steinhatchee

Sea Hag Marina In Steinhatchee Florida

Steinhatchee is a small fishing and scallop town in Taylor County Florida. There are not a lot of places to stay and often times they fill up fast months in advance. In these small cities, you will not find any major hotels and will struggle to even find places to eat. We have been visiting Steinhatchee Florida for almost 3 years now and absolutely love it. If you are on a quest to go scalloping then this is where you need to be.

Roys Steinhatchee Florida

Roys Restaurant in Steinhatchee Florida

Because of how small Steinhatchee is there are not many restaurants to chose from. Fortunately for the visitors, all restaurants there do a great job at making food. The three most popular restaurants in the area are Fiddler‘s (Best breakfast in town), Roy’s and Who Dat Bar and Grill. The only chain restaurant in town is Hungry Howie's Pizza that you can pull up to with your boat. About 25 miles north of Steinhatchee is Keaton Beach. This is the closest beach that is accessible by car.

The key to finding lodging in Steinhatchee or surrounding areas is booking in advance. There is no such thing as a last minute trip during scallop season. Some of the best places to stay are the Shacks at the Sea Hag, Pelican Pointe at Fiddler’s, Steinhatchee Landing Resort, River Haven Motel, Good Times Motel as well as rental homes around Steinhatchee all the way up to Keaton Beach. Airbnb is limited to the number of rental homes and rooms so make sure you look early and book fast.

Scalloping is fun and we do not want you to miss out. So check it out months in advance. I honestly book a year in advance to ensure I get the best deals and the exact places I want to stay. 

First Time Scalloping: What Gear and Equipment Do I need?

Scalloping Equipment

Scalloping Equipment (https://ncbs.ifas.ufl.edu)

You made it to Florida and you are ready to go scalloping. The first thing you should do is secure a boat rental if you do not own a boat. We go scalloping in Steinhatchee so there are several marinas that offer boat rentals at a good price during this time. Some of the best marinas that offer boat rentals are Steinhatchee’s Sea Hag Marina, Good Times Marina, River Haven Marina and Ideal Marine. There are several guides in the area that offer scallop adventures and provide you with everything you need from fins, mask, bags and dive flags.

If you are like us then we decided to buy everything we would need so we could make scallop season a thing to do every year. There are a few essential things you should have before you venture out on the water. Visit a local dive shop and purchase a mask, snorkel, and fins. You will be swimming in water of about 3 feet to 10 feet. You must have this to successfully scallop. The next thing you will need is a dive flag. A dive flag is for your own safety. If you are renting a boat from one of the local marinas they will provide you with a dive flag for the boat. I suggest you but a floating dive flag that you can attach to your bathing suit in case you wander away from the boat. This will allow boaters to see you in the water and prevent you from getting hit. The next thing ever scalloper needs is a bag. This will be used to put the scallops in while swimming around. Always make sure you get a bag that will stand out from the bottom in case you drop it and one that has an attachment for putting it on your wrist or to your bathing suit. Another thing that some people will use is small net to scoop them off the bottom. This is not a necessity but some boaters find them fun to use when snorkeling. One more thing that I have seen people use are gloves. I personally do not use them unless I am cleaning scallops. I do not worry about measuring any scallops until I am back on the boat. I try to keep scallops that are around 2.5" to 3". The FWC does not have a minimum size limit just a quantity limit.

Limits of Scallops

FWC Daily Bag Limits for Scallops From Scallop Harvest Areas.

Always keep a 5-gallon bucket on the boat. This will be needed to measure the number of scallops to keep per person on the boat. You are allowed to keep 2 gallons of bay scallops in shells or 1 pint of cleaned scallop meat. The maximum you can keep for the boat is 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in shells or 1/2 gallon bag of bay scallop meat cleaned.

Wading For Scallops

Wading For Scallops

If you are wading off the beach or land then a good pair od wade shoes are needed. This will help prevent injuries from stepping on stingrays and cutting your feet on oyster shells. I often see people who are wading for scallops use a hand net so they are not getting their entire body wet.

The FWC will be out in full force during this time. Always measure what you have caught accurately to prevent any fines or tickets from being issued. Knowing the limit of cleaned scallops is actually a lot of meat. You only eat the adductor muscle of a scallop so a lot of it is wasted. I personally freeze all the scallop remains and use it for sheepshead chum. 

Best Techniques For Catching Scallops

Once you find scallops the majority of the time you will find your limit in that area. The common areas you will find scallops are on the grass flats. The water depth will often vary. I have found them from 3 feet to 10 feet of water. If you are scalloping late in the season the shallow areas will have been picked over. Often you will have to go a little deeper to find them. There are several things that a snorkeler must remember. A bay scallop has a white side and a dark side. When they are dark side up in the grass sometimes they are hard to see. Usually, you will have no trouble locating them when they are white/light side up. I was told by an old captain on my first scallop trip that you look for the eyes. Scallops have blue eyes that you will see in the grass sometimes before you even see the shell.

Bay Scallop

Bay Scallop Sitting On The Bottom

As you can see from the picture above the scallop has many of the blue eyes. These eyes are light sensitive and are for detecting danger around the scallop. The eyes are called ocelli and the scallop pairs them with small tentacles for protection. 

When looking for areas to scallop often times you should target grass flats that are mixed with white sand areas. The scallops will often be on the outskirt of the sandy patches in the grass. Often times you should take the tides into account. When tides are falling, depending on how close you are to the river, the water can become murky and hard to see in. I have always found tide rising on a sunny day to be the best time for scalloping.

Scallops actually swim with the currents. They are one of the only mollusks that will swim away from you. I did not believe this the first time I went scalloping. I quickly learned this when I had to swim after my first scallop I was trying to catch. Because they swim with the tides, if you find a lot of scallops in a certain area often times you can visit the next day and it will be re-populated with scallops.

What Are The Dangers To Scalloping?

One of the biggest dangers with scalloping is getting hit by a boat while in the water. You often times see people snorkeling without dive flags which is dangerous and a risk of being hit. Another thing that snorkelers must remember is the dangers of snorkeling. If you find yourself if currents this could be dangerous. If you can not hold your breath then diving under the water can be dangerous. There honestly is not much in the water that can hurt you. One of the biggest things that can hurt you and are often found near or around bay scallops is sea urchins. Sea urchins are best left untouched, although they will not hurt you if picked up. Stepping on them is the main reason for harm. The same goes for stingrays. You will encounter many stingrays on the flats. The threat of them is stepping on their tail and being stuck with their barb. This is something you never want to experience and why a good pair of wade shoes are required when wading these flats. Certain times of the summer brings in jellyfish. These jellyfish deliver a nasty sting. Avoid areas where there are lots of jellyfish if you do not want to get stung.

The one thing that is the most dangerous thing you can encounter when out on the water is the weather. One minute your scalloping and having a fun time and the next thing you know a storm is building and blowing in. Take my word for it, it happens fast. All boats require you to have a radio and tuning in to a local marina for weather reports is a good idea in the summer months. This will help you avoid all thunderstorms and keep you safe. Along with the weather, during the summer months, the heat can get to people while out on the water. It is a good idea to drink lots of water to remain hydrated and prevent any heat exhaustion. The last thing you should be worried about is the other boat drivers. Often time people like to enjoy drinks on the boat. This is true for lake fishing or out on the ocean. Always be aware of your surrounding and never assume that other boats see you. By thinking this way will keep your boat members safe.

Scalloping For Florida Bay Scallops Should Be Fun And Something The Whole Family Can Do

When people ask me is there a skill involved with scalloping I always tell them "No,  the skill is in cleaning them". Scalloping should be a fun day on the water for the whole family. Once you know the laws, where to go and have the right equipment it will equate to the time of your life. It's an activity that even small children can do in the shallows. You will experience so much wildlife and nature while scalloping it will give you an appreciation for the flats of the Florida gulf. Once you catch your limit in scallops you will have the best scallop dinner for you and your family.

If you have any questions or comments we want to hear them and answer them. Feel free to leave us a comment below or email us at info@hfdepot.com. Send us your scalloping stories and picture to be featured on all of our social media pages. Maybe you have a tip that we have not mentioned we would love to hear it and share with our readers. If you have always wondered what it would be like to scallop on the Florida Gulf for bay scallops then we hope you find this article informative.

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Comments

Gary - August 17, 2018

Great article…thank you.
My family is planning to scallop this weekend for the first time. The unfortunate side is we will not be able to get to the Steinhatchee boat ramp until noon. I hear that it may take an hour(s) to launch and even longer to retrieve. Do you have any advice/insights/experience with this and although there is parking across the street from the amp is there ample parking?

Thanks again and blessings

Tracy - July 20, 2018

This is a very accurate article on scalloping. My family grew up in the area and I have been snorkeling fir scallops numerous times. The warning about having a dive flag is on point and even with that you still need to be on guard about careless boaters and jet skiers who seem to be oblivious. Stay near your boat and be aware of any motor sounds, very muffled as they may be, while under water. Keep popping your head up to check for safety. It may also help to have a lookout who stays on the boat to alert for any dangers such as boaters, storms, etc.

I just came back from scalloping last week and they were definitely plentiful but the FWC is out there too and they are checking limits, etc.

I’ve not been to the other restaurants in Steinhatchee but have been to Roy’s and it is very good By the way, it is pronounced "Steenhatchee ". Pronounce it any other way and locals will know you’re not from around those parts, lol.

I stayed in Keaton beach in one of the rentals and it was very nice. It was nice being able to have the boat right downstairs at the dock.

Also, next year I plan on bringing a camera to take video underwater and the view is beautiful and you see other sealife other than just scallops. One more caution…..sunscreen, sunscreen sunscreen!

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